In a surprising move, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon to his U.S. Men’s National Team roster for a pair of World Cup qualifying matches. The 30-year old target forward and second leading scorer on the MLS Western Conference regular season title winning Earthquakes earned his second call-up to the USMNT, apparently edging out teammate Chris Wondolowski on the 24 man roster.
"That was more tactical related," said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in a media teleconference. "We wanted to bring in both Eddie (Johnson) and Alan (Gordon) because both are really strong in the air. We expect two difficult games where the opponents will play more defensively and get a lot of number in their box and in front of their box to play more defensive against us, so we want to get really strong in the air. That was the reason we brought in Eddie and Alan into the squad, two guys that are good in the air and can lay balls off."
In the previous set of semifinal round qualifiers, Klinsmann relied on Jozy Altidore to play at the point of the offense, but a simmering feud coach and player resulted in the talented young forward being left off the current roster.
"We decided to bring in Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon and give them a chance to show how much they’ve improved. They are both doing really, really well in MLS right now, and that’s simply the reason. We are excited about moving on."
Gordon has been a key member of the Earthquakes in 2012, and has recorded career best marks of 13 goals and 8 assists in 23 appearances with San Jose this season. To put those numbers into perspective, in eight previous MLS seasons Gordon had amassed a total of 22 goals and 16 assists in 118 appearances. As a reward for his efforts, Klinsmann called Gordon into his first USMNT camp ahead of the team’s August friendly against Mexico, but the Earthquakes forward did not get capped in the U.S.’s historic 1-0 victory at Estadio Azteca.
The inclusion of Gordon on the 24 man roster this time around is especially impressive given that the U.S. needs a pair of results in their two remaining semifinal round matches to advance to the "hexagonal" final round. If Klinsmann and company can’t beat the likes of Antigua & Barbuda on October 12 on the road and Guatemala at Kansas City’s LiveStrong Park four days later, then the U.S. will not have an opportunity to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Spurning the 51-times capped Altidore for the uncapped Gordon represents somewhat of a gamble for Klinsmann, but the USMNT coach seems confident that he has made the right choice. Gordon may not have the minutes with the national team and World Cup experience of Altidore, but Klinsmann feels he has the right attitude and dedication to be successful for his country.
"He’s a guy who went through ups and downs," said Klinsmann of the journeyman MLS player. "He struggled physically and had a lot of injuries, but he always had the right spirit towards his job. He never took things for granted, he worked always hard, and he’s a giver."
Following corrective surgery at the tail end of the 2011 season to repair a sports hernia and other accumulated damage, Gordon was not sure if he would ever play professional soccer again. Instead of retiring, he dedicated himself to his rehabilitation with a renewed vigor for the game, and Gordon returned to the San Jose Earthquakes in the preseason and made his ninth MLS season his best ever. Even at 30 years of age, and with his 31st birthday coming up next week on the same day as the qualifier against Guatemala, Gordon should be considered a roll model according to Klinsmann and his path to this selection an inspiration to other players hopeful of playing for the USMNT.
"It proves to you how if you stay on course, if you work hard, if you are completely dedicated to what you do, that you can get those rewards," said Klinsmann. "And this is a reward for Alan to come back in."
Unimaginable a short 12 months ago, Gordon has the opportunity to help his country along its path toward qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.