Chris Pontius and Brek Shea don’t play the same position. Both are versatile attacking players who have spent time on the wing and at forward, but according to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann they weren’t vying for the same spot on the U.S. national team roster announced Sunday afternoon for Wednesday’s friendly at Mexico. Shea was selected for the team. Pontius was not.
Since we’re pointing out contrasts, Shea and Pontius also couldn’t have bigger differences in current form for their clubs. The 22-year-old Shea, one year removed from vying for MLS MVP and long regarded as one of the U.S. program’s most talented young prospects, has struggled with inconsistency and attitude for most of the season, particularly since the U.S. failed to qualify for the Olympics during the spring. Since the beginning of May, Shea has one assist. During the same stretch, Pontius has scored six times for D.C. United. The 25-year-old also had a goal for the MLS All-Stars against Chelsea, and he’s generally been regarded as being in the best form of his career. He’s just never played for the U.S. even though he’s been invited to a trio of camps.
During a conference call with reporters on Sunday, Klinsmann spoke at length about Shea’s situation and the reasoning for his call-up.
“I had good conversations the last week with Schellas Hyndman of FC Dallas and we both see a lot of upside in Brek Shea,” Klinsmann said. “We all knew that after the big disappointment of not qualifying for the Olympics that our youngsters from that program would eventually fall into a hole. They would go through emotional rollercoasters. That’s what happened with Brek – he went through an emotional rollercoaster and he didn’t have himself under control. Schellas and I – we tried to look through all those elements and we think he needs our support and the feeling that we’re there when things get tough. Things got tough for [Juan] Agudelo, [Teal] Bunbury, [Bill] Hamid, [Sean] Johnson, for all that whole generation that should’ve been in London these last two weeks. It was a tough pill to swallow for them. We are now at a point where we say we have to integrate those players in our plans and give them playing time and possibilities to be close to the international level and the senior national team overall. You see that in Joe Corona and Terrence Boyd. Terrence was one of the players from the Olympic roster that handled it the best because he went back to Europe and took care of his job. For Joe Corona, maybe that moment was just in Mexico and just to keep up playing instead of living that nightmare that they went through for a couple of months like our MLS kids did. Brek has to learn to focus in and learn to become a full professional 24-7 and learn that the highest priority is what you deliver on the field and learn how to live off the field and he’s in the middle of that process. We coaches are responsible to help him in that process. We are happy to have him back and we’ll have a couple good talks over a few coffees and he’ll have to take care of it once he gets back to Dallas and improve on a daily basis.”
It’s worth pointing out that Johnson also did get called in this week, while Hamid did not.
When I later asked Klinsmann about Pontius, his response was that in fact Pontius was an alternate for the U.S. roster.
“One more injury in his area, attacking midfield or forward, and Chris was next in line,” Klinsmann said. “He’s right there. I’m very happy what happened with him the last couple of months in D.C. and his performances.”
I followed up by asking what kind of message Pontius and players like him should take from seeing Shea get called into the team. The response was that there is no message.
“At the end of the day, the only people that can really evaluate the players – the performance or the state of mind, whatever we talk about it – is the coaches,” Klinsmann said. “Only the individual coaches now – in Brek’s case, it’s Schellas Hyndman in Dallas, he knows exactly what’s going on with Brek, and I talk with him about it and work from his information, basically. Also with Ben Olsen at D.C. United, he knows exactly what is going on with Chris. But you can’t compare every case like you’re trying to do because you don’t have the insights. Only if you have the insights about every player’s situation then you can kind of get a better picture of it… As I said, Chris is on our radar screen all the time. He was already in camp, and I have a really good picture about him.”
Klinsmann also revealed, possibly inadvertently, that U.S. Soccer is hoping to line up “prestigious friendlies” next year in honor of the 100th anniversary of U.S. Soccer. More importantly, late Sunday night U.S. Soccer also announced the addition of 30-year-old San Jose forward Alan Gordon, making it a tad unclear where Klinsmann’s line actually starts.
The full roster:
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steven Beithasour (San Jose Earthquakes), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
MIDFIELDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS: Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes)