Every player selected by the new United States of American football coach Jurgen Klinsman for this off-Broadway pair of friendlies against Venezuela and Panama shares the same goal: find a way to land a chance to audition with the top group next month in Italy.
Although it isn’t an easy task, a handful of players (Brek Shea, for example) have already booked their tickets to Genoa, but there simply aren’t that many spots available when the European- and Mexican-based regulars take up their normal stations in the squad and on the field. This month-long grind has provided Klinsmann with an extended opportunity to assess the assembled and primarily domestic standouts and carry the capable options onwards to the more pressing tasks ahead if he so chooses.
Saturday’s underwhelming 1-0 victory over Venezuela in Glendale, Ariz. offered evidence about how some of those candidates might slot into the international scene in this still-forming regime, while this quick trip to Central America supplies a rare opportunity to test these players under the types of conditions they may see – albeit magnified considerably – during World Cup qualifying.
With the prospect of earning a place in the regular squad in mind, the Musings picked five players to watch carefully ahead of tonight’s game (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3/Galavision):
1. Teal Bunbury, Sporting Kansas City forward: Bunbury struggled to make any sort of impact in his start on Saturday. Plowing a lone furrow may appear to suit him given his physical capabilities, but his inconsistent technique on the ball makes it less than a compelling fit at the moment. He fared somewhat better when Chris Wondolowski (more on him later) entered during the second half, but his late withdrawal while the Americans chased the winner spoke volumes about his contribution on the night.
Fortunately for Bunbury, the shallow forward pool may just earn him another chance or two. He needs a partner – or, at the very least, less service to his feet – to display his best qualities down in Panama. a goal would be nice, but his all-around performance will merit the most scrutiny in a situation where he needs to show he can meet the technical standard required under Klinsmann’s direction.
2. Geoff Cameron, Houston defender: the converted midfielder showed he would have little trouble fulfilling Klinsmann’s preference to build out of the back. Cameron stepped up regularly, assessed his options and distributed when appropriate. his penchant to push into midfield fits into this group nicely, particularly with the presence of at least one designated holding player in midfield to plug any gaps created by those surging forays.
Cameron will likely receive a second consecutive start in Panama and must hope he will face more pressure inside his own half to really prove his international credentials. Klinsmann couldn’t have missed Cameron’s poise on the ball during this extended spell in camp. Now the Dynamo defender must show he possesses the defensive technique (solid enough) and positional awareness (not quite there yet, but improving) to provide a viable alternative to the reserve options currently available.
3. Benny Feilhaber, new England midfielder: Some of the tricks and twists are back into the 2010 World Cup standout’s game after a rather frustrating spell with the Revolution during the second half of last season. Feilhaber’s teeming confidence manifested most overtly in the defense-splitting pass to Brek Shea during the first half against Venezuela, but the former U.S. stalwart couldn’t translate those noticeable moments of quality and his generally tidy work on the ball into the production required to shine in the free midfield role afforded to him.
Feilhaber did enough to merit a second straight start in that same creative spot on the field. With no less than four players – Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, the injured Stuart Holden and Jose Torres – apparently ahead of him on that particular depth chart, he will need to display more than glimpses of his ability to sustain his push to reclaim a regular berth in the squad.
4. Heath Pearce, Chivas USA defender: Classify Saturday’s performance as a valuable opportunity missed. the former U.S. regular needed to display his two-way capabilities in order to establish his credentials as the second-choice left back behind the right-footed Timmy Chandler. his display offered little of that precious evidence with his series of halting and ultimately ineffective runs into the attacking half proving particularly disappointing.
A prototypical fullback’s performance in Panama would bolster Pearce’s case. He may have played center back for his club side for much of last year, but his path to international redemption starts and finishes with consistent and potent forward runs like the ones he engineered during his best spell on the international scene some four years ago. Neater work in possession would help the cause as well.
5. Chris Wondolowski, San Jose forward: a typically active display from the resourceful striker turned a few heads in the waning stages of Saturday’s friendly. his presence as a second out-and-out striker added some menace to the American attack and posed problems for the Venezuelans, but the unfortunately commonplace miss from close range popped up once again and he saw another headed opportunity well saved. On the whole, the prolific Earthquakes striker emerged with credit on an evening in which few of his teammates ended up in the plus column.
All of the toil and all of the work rate in the world won’t make up for a lack of precision at the sharp end. Wondolowski consistently works himself into the right positions to finish off moves. He must now show that he can complete them appropriately – preferably as an impact substitute off the bench – in order to prolong an international career that few expected to see revived after last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.