There’s an old Woody Allen short story in which a character is playing gin rummy against the Grim Reaper, with his life at stake.
As he deals out the cards, he says, “You want to play a tenth of a cent a point to make it interesting?” To which Death replies, “It’s not interesting enough for you?”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s latest roster selection got us thinking of this. The Americans travel to Antigua and Barbuda for a must-win game on Friday, then return to the U.S., to Kansas City, to take on Guatemala on Tuesday in a match that will determine whether or not they advance to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
These are huge games, but apparently they’re not interesting enough for Mr. Klinsmann. Hoping to add a little extra danger, he deprived his team of Jozy Altidore, who is leading the Dutch top flight in scoring with eight goals in eight games, and Chris Wondolowski, who leads MLS with 25 goals, two short of Roy Lassiter’s 17-year-old league record for goals in a season.
For a final thrill, Klinsmann also skipped German-American Terrence Boyd, a super-athletic striker who has five goals in nine games for Rapid Vienna this season.
Actually scratch that—the Boyd omission wasn’t his final attempt to add edge to an already extremely edgy pair of games: The U.S. coach also called up five players—Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Fabian Johnson, and Graham Zusi—who are carrying yellow cards and will miss the final qualifier against Guatemala if they get booked against Antigua and Barbuda.
The Altidore omission, according to Klinsmann, is because the coach has been unhappy with the player’s performances—both in practice and in games—for the U.S. during the past six or seven months.
He’s sending Altidore, and all of his players, a message. You have to perform to keep your spot. Sure, fine. But is this the right time to be playing motivational head games?
We’d say it’s the time to get your best players on the field and get three points.
And now—just as we were writing this post—comes the news that Landon Donovan and Brek Shea have been ruled out with slight injuries—injuries Klinsmann was aware of before calling them in.
There hasn’t been a lot about Klinsmann’s year-plus in charge of the U.S. that has inspired confidence, and this latest round of developments isn’t doing him any favors.
The U.S.—pretty much any version of it—should be able to get three points against Antigua and Barbuda, so this may all blow over in the end, but the episode makes you wonder about Klinsmann’s fitness for the job.
He’s said repeatedly that club form was key to being called in to the U.S. team, and now, with the biggest games of his tenure on the line, he’s throwing that one out the window by not calling in Altidore and Wondolowski, who are in sizzling form for their clubs, and Boyd, who’s appeared in nine of his team’s 11 games and scored five times.
He also said that now is not the time to be experimenting with new players and new styles; it’s the time to focus on results. Yet, with the biggest games of his tenure on the line, he’s called in two new players in Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon.
And the Donovan-Shea bungle is just plain stupid: Shea didn’t even dress for FC Dallas’s last game—and they were fighting for their playoff lives. Yet Klinsmann had both players fly to Miami, take a test, then fly back to LA and Dallas, respectively.
His roster, now down to 22, looks like this:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake).
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander, Spain), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, England), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana, Mexico), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany), Maurice Edu (Stoke, England), Clarence Goodson (Brondby, Denmark), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland, Denmark).
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Roma, Italy), Joe Corona (Tijuana, Mexico), Jermaine Jones (Schalke, Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim, Germany), Graham Zusi (Kansas City).
Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Tottenham, England), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Alan Gordon (San Jose), Eddie Johnson (Seattle).