Copa America will test U.S. and offer valuable experience for future stars
DALLAS, Texas -- Experience may have trumped potential on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's Copa America Centenario roster, but with nine players 25 or younger making the cut, young players' participation in next month's tournament stands to benefit the national team for years to come.
Outside of World Cups, Americans rarely get the chance to test themselves against the world's best in international games of consequence. As a result, participating in South America's prestigious regional championship -- in particular, this beefed-up, one-off version celebrating the competition's 100th anniversary -- is important to the U.S. team in ways beyond just how it performs after the hosts kick off the event on June 3 against Colombia.
"It's a huge opportunity on so many different levels," said starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan on Monday, before the team trained at SMU ahead of Wednesday's penultimate tune-up against Ecuador in nearby Frisco, Texas (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN). Guzan is one of just two members on the current squad (Kyle Beckerman the other) who has participated in a Copa, having played in Venezuela in 2007.
"To take that experience, you have a taste of what it means for these other countries, what the Copa America means to them. When you play against these big teams and big players, it's always going to be beneficial."
Guzan had just one cap entering that Copa almost a decade ago, one that featured a largely experimental U.S. team. The Americans had beaten Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final just days earlier, and then-coach Bob Bradley had to release the majority of his players back to their clubs. As a result, just five took part in both tourneys: Guzan, Jonathan Bornstein, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber and Kasey Keller.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. promptly went three and out. Yet the experience was invaluable to Bornstein, Clark, Feilhaber and Herculez Gomez, all of whom would end up starting World Cup games three years later in South Africa.
"I felt more confident after playing in that Copa America," Bornstein said in a phone interview. "The games were a little faster. Players made decisions quicker than they do in CONCACAF. It definitely prepared me to play in some really hard games later on."
"I got my first cap against Argentina, and the very first play, I'm trying to take the ball away from Lionel Messi," Gomez told ESPN FC. "It was surreal."
Like any major competition, Copa America is also a shop window. Two years ago, DeAndre Yedlin's energetic contributions off the bench in Brazil caught the eye of scouts: he ended up landing a big contract with Premier League Tottenham. Still just 22, Yedlin believes teammates like Steve Birnbaum and Darlington Nagbe (both 25), along with 24-year-old Gyasi Zardes, could benefit from the extra exposure.
"A lot of people will be watching," Yedlin said. "It's a good opportunity to put yourself on the radar or whoever it may be, whether its [for] more national team call-ups or different clubs."
It's not a World Cup, of course, but as far as developing the next generation of national team regulars, it may well be the next best thing. "There's nothing like a World Cup, but having played in a big tournament before gives you something in your corner, some idea of what to expect," Gomez said. "These guys are in store for something special this summer."
Chandler injury scare?
Defender Timmy Chandler finished the German season strong with Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt, but his Copa participation appeared briefly in doubt after he limped out of his club's 1-0 win against Nurnberg on Monday -- a victory that preserved Eintracht's top-flight status for another season.
As it turns out, any fears about Chandler's health appear to be unfounded. According to a U.S. team spokesman, Chandler contacted assistant coach Andi Herzog after the match to assure him he was fine. The German-American will arrive in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Tuesday afternoon, as planned. He won't participate against Ecuador, however, which is why FC Dallas standout Kellyn Acosta was added to the roster for the friendly at Toyota Stadium even before Chandler's injury scare.
Yedlin cool on his future
Yedlin spent the Premier League season on loan at Sunderland and helped them avoid the drop, but the right-back is still not sure which team he'll play for next year.
"Nothing's come up yet," he said on Monday. "Like I said before, I wouldn't mind going back to Sunderland, whether it be on loan or whatever. I think it's a great club and I had a great experience there, so I'd be open to that. But nothing has come up, so right now I'm just focusing on the Copa America."
The successful experience in England has Yedlin riding a wave of confidence going in. "I definitely feel more and more comfortable," he said. "Defensively I've grown, and obviously the right-back position is a defensive position, so it's a good thing. I think it also just comes with getting older. I'm maturing as a person and as a player."
Horvath joins the team late as scheduled
Third-string Copa goalkeeper Ethan Horvath has one more league game to play for Norwegian side Molde before the Tippeligaen takes a break for the European Championship. As a result, former U.S. U-20 standout Zack Steffen will serve as Klinsmann's No. 3 behind Guzan and Tim Howard until Horvath joins the group just before the tournament.
Howard has only seen Horvath play once, in March's Olympic qualifying loss to Colombia. "But I've heard good things," the veteran told ESPN FC recently. "One of the things I like about him -- and again, I've never been around him -- is he looks like a goalkeeper. When you see him move around the goal, he looks the part."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.