Julian Green and Sacha Kljestan give Jurgen Klinsmann food for thought
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As much as conceding a late goal and settling for a 1-1 draw with New Zealand in Tuesday's friendly in the nation's capital was a letdown for the U.S. national team ahead of the Hex, the last 10 days were worthwhile for coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players.
This match and last week's 2-0 win in Cuba were played with an eye on Mexico and Costa Rica when the final round of World Cup qualifying begins next month, of course. So while Klinsmann lamented the result in his opening remarks afterward -- "we wanted a win, not a tie," Klinsmann said -- the Americans were also mindful that there's a bigger picture, and it's far more important.
"The challenge is now to go back to our club teams and get yourself back in a good rhythm right away," U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. "Get yourself back on the field, and put yourself in a position to be in the next group." The increased competition for roster spots coming out of this camp means making the cut won't be easy.
Klinsmann can only select 23 players for the Nov. 11 game against El Tri in Columbus, Ohio, and the tricky trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, that follows four days later. So despite the disappointing ending to Tuesday's match -- the host was outplayed by the Kiwis for significant portions of the game -- there could be more jockeying for spots as at any time during Klinsmann's reign.
"For us, it was important to see the individual performances of everybody," Klinsmann said. "We saw a lot in these 10 days that helps us make up our minds toward the Mexico clash."
With a goal in each game, the previously forgotten Julian Green, still just 21, was easily the biggest winner over the last week-and-a-half. Yet Green is no certainly to be among the chosen few, not with fellow attackers Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya, Lynden Gooch, Christian Pulisic, Jordan Morris, Chris Wondolowski, Bobby Wood and potentially Gyasi Zardes, who missed the last two months with a broken foot, all vying for places on the squad.
Klinsmann said it was "difficult to say" how much Green's inclusion is dependent on him getting playing time with Bayern Munich over the next four weeks. Green is hardly the only question mark, and that goes for the lineup as well and the larger squad.
Take DeAndre Yedlin. The 23-year-old has been the Yanks' first choice right-back for the better part of a year, but his place is now suddenly in doubt after the coach said that "in the last camp and this camp, he struggled."
On the flip side, Sacha Kljestan has been a revelation in central midfield. The New York Red Bulls string-puller stepped into the position left vacant by the injured Jermaine Jones and has played himself in contention for a starting role alongside Bradley over the Americans' last three games. Tuesday's match marked Kljestan's 50th cap but just his fourth in two-plus years. He won't relinquish his place without a fight.
"I had to work really hard to get back here and I'm not going to let it slip through my fingers," said Kljestan, who hasn't played a qualifier against Mexico in almost eight years. "It's been a long time since that game, and I'm a lot better player now."
There's lingering uncertainty at the goalkeeper position, too, even with veterans Brad Guzan and Tim Howard left out this month. Guzan, Klinsmann's No. 1 at the Copa America earlier this year, has been on the bench at English club Middlesbrough. Tim Howard, now back in MLS with the Colorado Rapids, will be less than four months from his 38th birthday when the Mexico tie kicks off in Columbus.
"The reality for all of us is you can only control what you're about," Bradley said. "There's no guarantees for any of us."
Klinsmann, for his part, put it more bluntly.
"It will be not easy," the coach said, "to choose those 23."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.