Stoppage Time: Aging U.S. roster needs influx of youth
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - U.S. men's soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear with his team that World Cup qualifying was "not about experimenting," but "about who we think are the best."
"It's a clear signal to other players," Klinsmann said, "that right now it's down to business."
On the surface, it's tough to dispute the views of the former Germany star as the United States embarks on its first qualifying cycle under the 47-year-old former World Cup winner.
Tests against Scotland, Brazil and Canada precede the start of qualifying and it could be foolish for Klinsmann to stray too far from the known, as the core that has led the American team for years has proven its ability.
But even with Clint Dempsey coming off the top club season for an American in Premiership history, and a number of other veterans seemingly at their peaks, the final roster announced Friday leaves major concerns about the future.
Almost half of the 23-man roster - 10 players - have already reached their 30th birthdays, and two more, including Dempsey, are 29. With just a little easy math, that produces a team that will include 12 players 31 or older in 2014.
"If tomorrow was the World Cup, this is the group that comes in for our World Cup roster," Klinsmann said.
In two years, that will be a problem.
Jozy Altidore, 22, Michael Bradley, 24, and Maurice Edu, 25, are regulars for Klinsmann - and all possible starters - and a few other young players were on the final roster as well.
But where are Juan Agudelo, Eric Lichaj, Tim Ream and Brek Shea? The oldest, Ream, is just 24. The youngest, Agudelo, is 19. If not all of them, at least one or two deserve more of a chance at this point.
Agudelo is the top young forward Klinsmann could use, Lichaj started the last nine Premiership games for Aston Villa this season, Ream played 13 matches in the Premier League for Bolton and Shea has the makings of a future star.
Surely, Klinsmann could find a few minutes for those four during qualifying - time otherwise spent on aging but less important players - even if it is just against Jamaica, Guatemala or Antigua and Barbuda in the opening round. That, in addition to practice, would be invaluable for all four of them.
When qualifying reaches the final stage, those young players - along with the likes of those younger players on the roster, Terrence Boyd and Joe Corona, a pair of players who are just 21 and have one combined cap - become spectators.
Against Mexico and Honduras, for example, there would be too much on the line for the United States. But it's possible some of those young players would be ready for the challenge at that time as well, if given the chance now.
The Americans have won four straight matches, including a 1-0 win over Italy. And when qualifying starts June 8 against Antigua & Barbuda, expect even more positive - and lopsided - results.
But even if the journey leads to a seventh straight World Cup in Brazil as expected, where will it leave the quickly aging U.S. roster down the road?
Germany, by comparison, has just one player over 30 in star Miroslav Klose on its Euro 2012 roster, and his ready-made replacement, Mario Gomez, is just 26.
Overall, Germany's 27-man provisional Euro team has 17 players - yes, 17 - who are 24 or younger, and many of those will start or play important roles in the tournament.
OK, it may be unfair to compare the United States to Germany, but it was very easy to show the discrepancy between the two countries - and at the same time show just how different the future looks for the two.
Not every country has such an influx of young talent, and holding on to older - proven - players is not unusual. But the difference for German boss Joachim Loew is that he just continues to give young players a chance.
It was a process started by Klinsmann, who overhauled an older Germany roster during his time as national team boss from 2004-06 and produced a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup.
But while Loew, an assistant under Klinsmann, has continued to experiment and develop youth, his former boss has fallen into the trap of holding onto older talent at the expense of both the present and the future.
"Age," Klinsmann said, "is not really relevant for me."
Then he continued, "I'd love to have a lot of youngsters breaking through and become more productive every day."
How can they without getting an opportunity?
Expect it to come back to haunt Klinsmann, and the United States, in the long run.
05/25 15:20:27 ET