The U.S. men’s national soccer team has a new head coach, who was formally introduced in New York on Monday.
So now what?
Juergen Klinsmann will spend the next day or two assembling a roster of approximately 20 players for the Aug. 10 friendly against Mexico at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. New to the job, Klinsmann is likely to rely heavily on established players and then begin experimenting and expanding his horizons for the September friendlies against Costa Rica in Carson, Calif., and Belgium in Brussels. (Expect a split squad for those affairs, which will take place four days and several thousand miles apart.)
Although the Mexico match falls on a FIFA international fixture date, it also comes as European clubs prepare to open their league calendars. To build goodwill with managers ahead of future call-ups, Klinsmann might allow some regulars to remain overseas. We already know Mexico will not call in its most dangerous player: Manchester United’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who suffered a concussion in training last week and, according to Alex Ferguson, won’t play for the Red Devils for a few weeks.
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Klinsmann is tentatively planning to unveil his roster Wednesday, a week ahead of the match. Ticket sales are at 20,000 — an underwhelming figure considering the opponent. Initially, a sellout seemed possible, but several factors are working against this game: a 9 p.m. start on a weeknight; a recent major friendly in Philly (Union vs. Real Madrid); late-summer friendly fatigue; a third U.S. appearance in Philly in 15 months; ticket prices from $38 (upper deck behind the goals) to $395 (field level).
The long-term aim, of course, is to build toward World Cup qualifying, which, for the United States, will begin next June with CONCACAF’s semifinal stage. The preliminary draw Saturday in Rio de Janeiro placed the Americans into Group A with Jamaica and two teams to be determined (probably Guatemala and Haiti). Two sides will then advance to the final round in 2013.
The USA fared better than arch nemesis Mexico, which is grouped with Costa Rica and probably El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. Honduras will be joined by Cuba and likely Panama and Canada.
World Cup qualifying is Klinsmann’s top priority — and only major competition over the next two years as the USA failed to reach the 2013 Confederations Cup and will enter the Gold Cup that same summer against a Mexican side that, because of the FIFA event, might end up sending a secondary squad. (The USA did just that in 2009.)
The USSF is hoping to schedule three or four additional friendlies this fall (two in October, two in November). The annual January training camp seems likely as well, followed by a series of friendlies in the first five months of 2012.
From Klinsmann’s news conference Monday, this might be the best comment:
“I think there are a lot of different challenges ahead of us, especially on the foundation level and the foundation is youth; how they should be trained, how often they should train, how much time they should spend with the ball, how they should develop their talent, and it all feeds into Claudio [Reyna]’s new role here. This is really important to be addressed from the beginning because I think this is what is really missing compared to the leading soccer nations around the world, the first 10-12 nations around the world, is the amount of time kids play the game. If you have a kid that plays in Mexico 20 hours a week, and maybe four hours of organized soccer but 16 hours of unorganized soccer just banging the ball around in the neighborhood, but if he gets up to 20 hours it doesn’t matter how he plays it, with his dad or with his buddies in the street, this will show later on with his technical abilities, with his passing, with his instinct on the field and all those things, and I think that’s certainly an area where a lot of work is ahead of us. If you look at MLS, they took major steps forward. It’s come a long way, but it’s still a hectic style from the college game, which slowly we have to get it more on a technical level, we have to get it on more comfortable level with the ball, and so there are developmental issues. I think there are pros and cons. It’s come a long way, but we have a ways to go still to break into those top 10 in the world. We need to be realistic that we are not belonging there right now, or not yet.”
And so the Klinsmann era begins.....