Five questions facing the U.S. roster for October’s friendlies

Jurgen Klinsmann struck a perfect balance between experience and youth with his October squad, but now it’s up to the youngsters to make the most of their opportunities.

From the moment the October friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand were announced, Jurgen Klinsmann was expected to call on youth in a pair of rather tame friendlies. What may not have been expected was what Klinsmann has produced: A perfect mix of youth and a strong nucleus of regular starters.

Klinsmann didn’t go the route of Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who chose to leave several first-choice starters out of his October squad in order to see a plethora of younger prospects. What Klinsmann did do was bring back in some players who had previously shown signs of being capable of bigger roles, but who for some reason or another had fallen by the wayside.

Danny Williams and Timmy Chandler are two such players. Both have had the kind of club success at positions of need that would have led most to think they could have been regular starters by now. Unfortunately for both German-Americans, they have failed to maximize their opportunities, and Klinsmann has responded by not calling them in as frequently as you would expect. Both are in the October camp, and both have opportunities to seize prominent roles at positions of need.

As much as the roster is led by a strong base of top starters, there is a good collection of young talent in this camp, including Lynden Gooch, who will be taking part in his first senior team camp. The Sunderland winger turned some heads when broke into the Back Cats’ starting lineup to begin the English Premier League season, and is a good prospect in a deepening pool of impressive young American wingers.

In terms of young players who could play themselves into roles in November’s qualifiers against Mexico and Costa Rica, Christian Pulisic heads that list, and the October friendlies could signal his move into a regular starting role for the U.S. He isn’t the only youngster though. Paul Arriola has done well with his looks with the national team and should have an even better chance at more minutes in the upcoming matches.

The goalkeeper position will turn some heads because of the absence of reliable veterans Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, but you can’t really blame Klinsmann for wanting a closer look at the next generation of netminders, particularly given the advancing age of his top two options.

Here is a closer at some of the questions faced by the roster Klinsmann called on to face Cuba and New Zealand:


WHO WILL STEP UP TO GRAB DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD SPOTS?


It has been three months since Jermaine Jones last played after being sidelined by a knee injury, and with the timetable for his return still up in the air, it’s time to start assuming he won’t be available for the November qualifiers. With that in mind, Klinsmann has a pair of younger options who will have their chances to be longer term solutions for replacing Jones.

Perry Kitchen is doing well in Scotland, having earned the captaincy and a regular starting role at Hearts, and Williams is playing well for Reading. Kitchen is still just 24, and coming into his own, while 27-year-old Williams is trying to regain the standing he enjoyed four years ago when he was earning qualifying starts and was seen as the future of the defensive midfield position. He brings more of an attacking element to the spot, which can help offset what the U.S. loses without Jones, but Kitchen is arguably the better defensive option in central midfield.

Neither has to be considered a challenger for a starting role since Michael Bradley looks best-suited at the moment to mind the defensive midfield spot, but with Kyle Beckerman and Jones looking like they’re reaching the end of the road, Klinsmann needs some new blood in the pool at that position in a hurry.


IS THIS TIMMY CHANDLER’S LAST CHANCE?


Whether because of poor form, injuries or simple exclusions from the squad, Timmy Chandler has not seen much first-team action under Klinsmann despite having put together a solid career playing fullback in the German Bundesliga. He hasn’t translated that success on the international front, and has missed out on several chances to be a factor in the fullback conversation.

With Fabian Johnson not in this camp, Chandler can be the latest to try and stake a claim to the left back role. It is safe to say Klinsmann would love to be able to use Johnson in attack, but he has needed him more at fullback against tougher opponents. Can Chandler do enough in the upcoming friendlies to make Klinsmann comfortable with starting him against the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica? That might be a bit ambitious, but a good showing this month could set him up to taking a step closer to a more prominent role in 2017.

Something else to consider is Chandler’s versatility. He can play left back and right back, and with DeAndre Yedlin’s hold on the right back spot looking vulnerable, Chandler could provide some competition there, along with do-everything veteran standout Geoff Cameron.

This is all dependent on Chandler showing up in camp with the right mindset, which is something he has lacked in past call-ups, leading to questions of just how committed he is to the national team cause. If he has a poor camp, Chandler could find himself out of the national team picture for a long time.


WHERE WILL CAMERON PLAY?


Just when we thought we were done with this question, Klinsmann decided to mix things up by trying Cameron at right back in the September qualifying win against Trinidad and Tobago. Now, all of a sudden, we are left to wonder if Klinsmann liked what he saw.

Cameron is Klinsmann’s most reliable defender. Of that, there is little doubt. Yes, John Brooks was outstanding at Copa America, but his penchant for picking up injuries has made him a bit of wild card. The good news is Klinsmann has a handful of good options, including Steve Birnbaum, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Birnbaum has been particularly steady when called upon, which made Klinsmann comfortable enough with moving Cameron to right back against Trinidad and Tobago.

With Brooks back in the fold, will Klinsmann reunite the dominating tandem of Brooks and Cameron in central defense, or will he see what a Brooks-Birnbaum tandem might look like? It could depend on how the fullbacks look in camp. Yedlin and Chandler need to be close to flawless against the likes of Cuba and/or New Zealand if Klinsmann is going to be expected to trust them in November.

If Klinsmann ultimately decides that having Cameron and Fabian Johnson at fullback to cope with the dangerous wingers Mexico and Costa Rica possess, then we could certainly see Cameron stick at right back for the coming months while Birnbaum continues to be rewarded for his steady play.


WHICH GOALKEEPER WILL IMPRESS?


One of the benefits of scheduling a pair of relatively easy friendlies in the same international window is having the luxury to experiment at a position like goalkeeper.

Ethan Horvath is the youngest of the group, and enters as the most highly regarded of the three goalkeepers in camp. He is a full five years younger than the other options, but is already turning heads in Europe with his exploits for Molde.

Bingham posted a national team shut out in last winter’s friendly win against Canada, and has established himself as a steady goalkeeper at the age of 25 (his own goal this past weekend notwithstanding). William Yarbrough, 27, is starting for Leon and has been a big part of that team turning around its fortunes in Liga MX.

One player conspicuous by his absence was Bill Hamid, who suffered a major knee injury to start the year and didn’t get a call from Klinsmann despite having been strong in goal during D.C. United’s recent surge. Given the fact the second October friendly is being played at RFK Stadium, there’s a good chance we will see Hamid get a call for the New Zealand match.


COULD WE SEE AN EARLY LOOK AT HEX LINEUP?


Though it wasn’t mentioned in the announcement of the squad on Sunday, there is a good chance Klinsmann will release some players after the Cuba game and bring in some new faces for the New Zealand match. With that being the case, will Klinsmann trot out as close to a full-strength lineup as possible against Cuba?

That could look something like the team above.

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