United States roster for June friendlies a mix of proven vets, rising stars
Jurgen Klinsmann says the U.S. national team's experimental post-World Cup transition period is ending, and that's bad news for three starters from the squad that reached the round of 16 in Brazil in 2014.
Klinsmann left Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi off the 22-man roster he named Sunday for friendlies at the Netherlands on June 5 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) and five days later in Germany against the defending world champs.
Fellow veterans Jozy Altidore (hamstring) and Alejandro Bedoya (knee) are also missing, as is captain Clint Dempsey, who is expecting his fourth child next month. Other regulars (Geoff Cameron, Greg Garza) were excused so they could look after minor injuries.
But central defenders Besler and Gonzalez and midfielder Zusi each played in their most-recent game at club level, and a U.S. Soccer spokesman confirmed their absences came down to a coaching decision.
With several of the 13 new players that Klinsmann has auditioned in the 10 games since the Americans were eliminated in the Round of 16 last summer now entrenched, it seems that the trio, who started nine games between them in Brazil, are on the outside looking in ahead of July's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Eight players on the roster have 10 caps or fewer, including promising young center-backs Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks.
"I want to see Ventura Alvarado or John Brooks play in games like this," Klinsmann said in a release that didn't mention Besler or Gonzalez, the Los Angeles Galaxy star who performed well in the 2-0 win against Mexico in April.
Michael Orozco is the only other central defender named. Jermaine Jones is listed as a midfielder after having manned the middle of the back line in his past four international matches.
"He's going to be back in midfield because of the fact that we have so many high-quality center-backs," Klinsmann said of Jones. "He will be back in his No. 6 or No. 8 role, wherever he fits best."
With Altidore and Demspey ruled out, young forwards Juan Agudelo, Aron Johannsson and Gyasi Zardes have a golden opportunity to earn big minutes against two of the sport's titans.
The 22-year-old Agudelo and 24-year-old Johannsson have been in fine form for their respective clubs, and both scored in their most recent U.S. appearances. Meantime, the 23-year-old Zardes has started the Americans past four games.
"Obviously we have Jozy that we rely on, and Clint, who has done this job for so many years. But we need the next generation of strikers to come in and score goals on a consistent basis," Klinsmann said. "The key message to our young, talented strikers is you have to score consistently. You can't ever get satisfied. They need to have a ratio where they score at least a goal every third game. That's what you expect from an international-caliber striker."
There's less competition in goal, though, even after Brad Guzan lost his job at Aston Villa toward the end of the English Premier League season. The fact that Guzan hasn't played since April 25 seemed to open the door for Nick Rimando, who has started all five games for the U.S. in 2015, and Mexican-based William Yarbrough, who split time with Rimando in the Americans past two outings. But Klinsmann confirmed that Guzan will be his No. 1 this summer.
"Brad will be the starter in the Gold Cup," the coach said, "even if he had some tough weeks at Aston Villa."
Michael Bradley is expected to captain the squad in Dempsey's absence. Bradley has played every minute for the U.S. in 2015, and he wore the armband for the first time in his U.S. career in March when a hamstring problem sidelined Dempsey for friendlies at Denmark and Switzerland.
With the regional championship looming in July and a berth at the 2017 Confederations Cup at stake, Klinsmann will be watching all of his players closely over the next 10 days.
"Eventually, it's down to naming a roster for the Gold Cup that is able to win that tournament," he said. "You have to kind of leave the transition phase on the side. We will go into the Gold Cup with the 23 players that we believe in."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.