Amid Plague of Injuries, Klinsmann Calls 23 for Costa Rica, Mexico


What, me worry?

Facing a must-win game against Costa Rica in Denver on Friday night, followed by the Herculean task of an away match at Estadio Azteca on Tuesday, March 26, the United States has been hit by an unprecedented injury bug.

Already missing their best player, Landon Donovan, who is taking a break from the sport, the American side will also have to do without Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Edgar Castillo, Danny Williams, Jose Torres, and Jonathan Spector.

As a result, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has named a roster that includes just two pure outside backs, Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran and San Jose’s Justin Morrow, neither of whom has ever played a World Cup qualifier before.

Unless Klinsmann opts to start Puebla midfielder DaMarcus Beasley at left back—an experiment that famously failed at the 2009 Confederations Cup—the speedy Morrow, who earns $44,100 a year playing for the Earthquakes, will probably get the starting nod.

No matter whom Klinsmann chooses to start, it will be interesting to watch the patchwork, inexperienced squad respond to a high-pressure moment on Friday night (ESPN, 10:00 ET).

Here’s the complete roster (Club, World Cup qualifying caps/goals in parentheses):

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa – 5/3 SO), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire – 0/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake – 0/0)

DEFENDERS (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake – 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City – 0/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City – 6/0), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy – 1/0), Clarence Goodson (Brondby – 5/0), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes – 0/0)

MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla – 26/6), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake – 2/0), Michael Bradley (Roma – 20/5), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana – 1/0), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor – 10/0), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04 – 6/0), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht – 13/0), Brek Shea (Stoke City – 2/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City – 4/0)

FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar – 18/6), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna – 2/0), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur – 27/11), Herculez Gomez (Santos – 6/2), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC – 12/10)

Given the rash of injuries, there aren’t a lot of unexpected decisions here, but the omission of veteran defender Carlos Bocanegra qualifies as a mild surprise. Bocanegra, 33, has not been getting playing time with his club, Racing Santander of the Spanish second division, and Klinsmann opted not to call him and his considerable international experience. Here’s what the coach had to say about the decision:

“With Carlos, I have had several very good conversations over the past weeks. The reason he’s not here is because he’s simply not playing. He’s not getting any minutes with Racing Santander in the second division in Spain, so he has no flow, he has no rhythm, and he understands the situation. Carlos is still in our picture. This is not the end of his national-team career. He understands that right now he’s behind other players. He’s not in the starter picture and he understands that he gives other players a chance to show what they can prove. A very positive approach from Carlos, very professional. It really shows great character from him. We’ll play it by ear over the next couple of months, how his situation hopefully will improve. He’s on loan until the end of the season. That’s basically two more months and then he probably makes another switch in his career. This is definitely a situation where we re-evaluate it in a couple of weeks down the road.”

Here’s the coach on the outside back situation:

“It’s definitely a challenge, no doubt about it, but bringing in Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow—those are two guys that play that position day in and day out with their clubs. They’re doing very well. I had them both in the January camp so I absolutely think they have the quality to come to the next level now. But we also have other options maybe coming out of midfield. I’m comfortable that we are covered there.”

His comment about “options coming out of midfield” implies Beasley could slot in at outside back. He also suggested Maurice Edu could play in defensive midfield or at center back.

The options on the backline are either inexperienced or unused to playing with one another, or both.

Music to U.S. Fans’ Ears

American soccer icon Landon Donovan has mostly steered clear of the media during his recent hiatus from the game, but earlier this week he popped up at USC sports journalism seminar and answered a number of questions, including this one:

Donovan also talked about several other topics, according to a series of tweets by a student named Jesse Xiao, who was attending the event. A few highlights:

On the 2006 World Cup

“[That] was really my first big failure. There were two weeks when I went into depression … I started wondering if soccer is for me again.”

On Beckham’s arrival in 2007:

“I learned a lot of important things … like what to say and what not to say.”

On why he needed a break:

“I was so exhausted from the weight of the past 15 years … really the past 28 years.”

Donovan also said that he contemplated quitting early in his career, while struggling at Bayer Leverkusen as a teenager.

He’s a sensitive soul, LD is, but a great player who probably has a lot more to give U.S. Soccer.

Look What the Cat Dragged In….

Mr. David Beckham graced the Home Depot Center and the Los Angeles Galaxy with his presence today, participating in his first preseason training session of 2011 with his MLS employers.

He also posted a newsflash for the attending media: His focus has been with the Galaxy all along! Who knew? From the MLS website:

“My main objective was to get fit for the Galaxy and for the MLS season,” Beckham said after training. “My main objective wasn’t to play for a Premiership team. Even if I would have been on loan, even if I would have played the games, this is the time I was always going to come back.”

That quote could make a good launch point for Seth Myers’ “Really!?!” segment on SNL‘s “Weekend Update.”

But before we go judging Becks (any further), check out Landon Donovan rushing to his teammate’s defense with a bold “none of us should judge Beckham” for his offseason choices. “The only person who knows what’s going on and what the real story is,” Donovan proclaimed, “is David.”

Really, Landon?

The Galaxy heads to Georgia early next week for the Atlanta Pro Soccer Challenge preseason tourney.

Joseph, Alston Sent Home from Revs Camp

New England’s Shalrie Joseph has been one of the better players in Major League Soccer during the past eight years, and arguably the best holding midfielder in the league during that span.

He helped lead the Revs to three straight MLS Cup appearances (2005-07) and is a four-time MLS Best XI selection (2005-09).

In 2007 and ’08, Glasgow giants Celtic made repeated bids for the dominating, 6-3 midfielder, but had their offers—of $1 million in ’07 and $2 million in ’08—rejected by MLS.

Joseph’s on-field performance has never been questioned, but last April, we saw the first chink in his off-field armor, as the Grenadian left the Revs to join the MLS substance abuse and behavioral health program.

He returned to New England in May and finished the year without incident, but now he appears to have gone off the rails again. Over the weekend, New England coach Steve Nicol dismissed Joseph, the Revs’ captain, and young defender Kevin Alston, from the team’s Orlando, Fla., training camp.

No one from the Revs has offered any specifics on the reason for the suspension, but vice president of player personnel Mike Burns, when asked if the pair would return to the team, New England  said, “Not for this trip.”

Veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis, who, along with Joseph, is the longest-serving player on the Revs roster had this to say:

“Every year you have to deal with things that are out of your control. As a team, the main thing we have to worry about is the guys who are with us, the guys who are here. We have to prepare for the season. It’s very unfortunate, very distracting, something I think could have been avoided. But we have to move on and we can’t stop doing what we’re doing to get ready for the season just because two guys aren’t here. So, we’ll go from there.”

That “something I think could have been avoided” comment is interesting. How so? A towel at the foot of the door? A spritz of Binaca?  (We kid, we kid.)

Nicol didn’t have much to say, but if we read between the lines of what he did say, we conclude that the Revs’ coach is ticked off:

“It’s not ideal, but everyone is professional here and you don’t want any of your teammates not to be here. But, at the same time, everyone is a good pro and, at the end of the day, you blow the whistle and roll the ball out and you play. That’s the main concern.”

He’s not making a whole lot of sense there, but he does repeat the phrase about everyone being a professional, seeming (in a soundbite version of sputtering rage) to call into question the professionalism of the suspended pair.

This is a big setback for Alston too. The 22-year-old defender received his first U.S. national-team call-up in 2010, and this definitely was not the way he wanted to kick off his 2011 season.

Beckham Extends Tottenham Training Stint, Officially (and Finally) Pisses Us Off

Throughout his injury- and loan-riddled Major League Soccer career, David Beckham has maintained one standard that’s kept us more or less in his corner: Whenever he was able to play, he was exceptionally willing to do so, competing with genuine fire and working extremely hard for his teammates.

We admired that quality and thought it showed a baseline respect for both MLS and his Galaxy teammates. Because of it, we generally gave him a pass on all the stuff that ticked off the majority of MLS fans during the past few seasons.

But now, with yesterday’s news that Golden Balls is going to stay in Norf Lahndan to continue training with Tottenham, instead of returning to LA as planned today to join, you know, his real team in preseason, well, we’re with the legions of MLS fans he’s angered.

Beckham says he’ll rejoin the Galaxy on Feb. 24, just three weeks before their 2011 MLS opener. What message does that send to his teammates, his coaches, and LA fans? We’re not sure exactly, but we know it’s not, You, LA Galaxy, are my No. 1 priority. I am very eager to start working toward winning an MLS title in 2011 and getting to know and cohere with my teammates, some of whom, like the great striker Juan Pablo Angel, are brand new to me. Or something like that. You get the picture.

That’s aggravating enough, but there’s also a sneaky, non-straight-shooting quality to this deal—a quality, by the way, that was present in his first loan stint at AC Milan, which was negotiated on the sly. He started pushing for a proper loan deal to Tottenham right from the start, and when the Galaxy said no,  he kept right on pushing, behind the scenes. (The only thing that prevented it, apparently, was a problem regarding insurance.) Then he left it open-ended about when he would return. Then he said Feb. 9, and now he’s saying Feb. 24.

And today’s news—curiously timed—that Tottenham and LA are planning a “strategic alliance” does little to soften the insult. We doubt Beckham is staying longer to finalize the details of that arrangement.

The Galaxy, in the meantime, played the Portland Timbers in a preseason match yesterday (it ended 1-1). They play San Jose on Sunday and then embark on a 10-day training stint in Arizona. Becks is taking a pass on all of that. And why? Well, the most popular answer is that he wants as much time as possible in front of England coach Fabio Capello’s watchful eye, the better to increase his chances of making England’s Euro 2012 squad.

So look for him to try to sign with Spurs (or another Premier League side) after his MLS contract expires in December. Then he’ll just have to prove that a 37-year-old (by Euro 2012) winger with his effective, but one-dimensional qualities is indispensable to mighty England’s chances at the tournament.

Assuming they qualify, of course.

Digging Out

Hi there. We’re back. Backpost World HQ went into an unannounced hibernation to close out 2010.

We cleared the decks at the day job, then headed out on our annual two-week expedition to the North Country (are you familiar with the term cryptozoology? No? Never mind).

But we’re back, and fired up for 2011. While we were traveling, we did manage to crank out this, and this. The latter features a bit of misunderstood (or poorly executed?) irony that caused some fur to fly in the comments. Check it out for that, and to get caught up on the busy MLS offseason.

In any event, Happy New Year, and please keep checking back: We will now resume our (semi) regularly scheduled posting, starting with a quick-hit look at what we missed while we were away. Coming up soon.

Thierry Henry Out (Again) for Crucial Red Bull Tilt

Is Henry getting Karmic payback for the Hartman incident?

On the eve of New York’s regular-season finale, a home game against the New England Revolution that presents the Red Bulls a chance to clinch the Eastern Conference title, the club announced that prized DP signing Thierry Henry will miss the match with a strained right knee.

It’s the third game the French superstar has missed in the past five weeks, and it makes you wonder if his MLS sojourn is becoming … um, Beckhamesque.

Will he be ready for the playoffs? Is that why coach Hans Backe is resting him now? Or does he have a more serious injury and the club is biding its time before revealing the extent of what they keep calling a “knock”?

Time will tell, but New York could certainly use him tomorrow night, when they face a New England team they have not beaten in five years. The Revs won this year’s first meeting, 3-2, and are 8-0-6 against New York in the past 14 meetings between the East Coast rivals.

They’re also in gleeful-spoiler mode right now, having knocked Kansas City out of the playoffs last week with a 1-0 win at Gillette Stadium.

The Red Bulls should be keenly aware that they face a dangerous team on Thursday, and motivation should not be a problem: In addition to winning the conference title and home field advantage for the playoffs, New York can tie the MLS record for greatest single-season improvement.

If they beat New England they’ll be ten wins better than last year’s Red Bulls, thereby equaling the league record held by … the 1999–2000 New York franchise (then known as the MetroStars).

It’s also fan-appreciation night at Red Bull Arena, and no team wants to go into the postseason on a two-game losing streak (New York dropped its last game, to expansion Philadelphia).

Yes, there is much to play for tomorrow night.

Too bad the club’s biggest player won’t be a part of it.

MLS Week 23: International Infringement

There’s a slate of interesting matchups on the MLS schedule this weekend—starting with the game between defending champs Real Salt Lake and rising threat New York—but just about every one of them will be impacted by international call-ups.

The Red Bulls will be without four starters, two of whom dominated in last week’s impressive win over San Jose.

Dane Richards, who did this, and helped Thierry Henry do this, in the San Jose game, will be on duty with Jamaica, while Rafa Marquez, who controlled central midfield against the Quakes, will suit up for Mexico.

Goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul (Senegal) and left back Roy Miller (Costa Rica) will also miss the game for international call-ups.

Real Salt Lake will be missing its leading scorer, Alvaro Saborio, who’ll be suiting up alongside Miller for the Ticos.

Here are the other games affected by the international fixture date:

Philadelphia vs Kansas City (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Direct Kick)

Missing: Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone), Kansas City.

Los Angeles vs Chicago (Saturday, 4:00 p.m., Telefutura)

Missing: Marco Pappa (Guatemala), Chicago. [The Fire will also be without DP midfielder Freddie Ljungberg due to yellow-card accumulation.]

New England vs Seattle (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Direct Kick)

Missing: Kenny Mansally, Sainey Nyassi (both Gambia), New England

Dallas vs Toronto (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Direct Kick)

Missing: Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman, Nana Attakora (all Canada), Toronto

Unlike the rest of the leagues in the world, MLS does not break for international fixture dates—and sometimes it pays a price.