Three US-born players are leading leagues in scoring, but none will play for the national team in World Cup qualifiers against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced the squad Monday, leaving out Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), the Dutch Eredivisie’s No. 1 scorer, and Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), who is challenging the MLS goal record. Aron Johannsson, a 21-year-old Mobile, Ala., native who tops Denmark’s Superliga scoring list, recently confirmed that he will play for Iceland.
Altidore is probably the biggest surprise exclusion after getting off to a fast start and totaling eight goals in eight matches. Wondolowski has 25 goals this season, two short of the MLS record set by Tampa Bay’s Roy Lassiter in 1996. But Wondolowski, 29, has never been involved extensively in the national team program and at his age is not likely to be featured in the future.
Klinsmann called in five strikers: Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), and Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders).
Donovan was ruled out of two World Cup qualifiers after he sustained a knee injury in the Galaxy’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake Saturday. He will likely be replaced. The role of Gordon, who has yet to make a national team appearance, will doubtless be as a late-game, desperation substitute. Gordon has 13 goals — six on headers — this season.
Dempsey and Gomez have developed some chemistry and likely can carry most of the scoring load. If Johnson, 28, can recapture the form of his younger years, he could provide a spark off the bench.
Mexico-based Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis) and Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca), who made significant contributions in recent national team matches, also were not recalled.
Two former Revolution stars — Dempsey and Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland) — plus Attleboro’s Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) were named to the team.
The US will play at a converted cricket ground, Vivian Richards Stadium, in North Sound, Antigua, Friday and host Guatemala at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City Monday.
The US has a 2-1-1 record (7 points), tied with Guatemala and Jamaica for first place in Group A of CONCACAF qualifying. Guatemala and the US are even in goals (6) and goal differential (plus-2), the first two tiebreakers. Jamaica has outscored opponents, 4-3.
The top two teams in the group advance to a six-team fourth round Feb. 6-Oct. 15, 2013. The first three “hexagonal” nations advance to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the fourth-place team will meet an Oceania representative in a playoff.
Keep your head up
Revolution coach Jay Heaps has noted that he had few high-level soccer role models while growing up in Longmeadow. Among Heaps’s main points of reference was Pelé, through an instructional tape.
Heaps recently told Pelé how he had followed the advice of hanging several soccer balls in order to practice heading.
“On the instruction tape, there were about 10 balls hanging from certain heights,” Heaps recalled during an appearance with Pelé at Gillette Stadium. “So, I had to replicate it with four of my friends.
“We hung soccer balls from trees. It happened to be in November, though, so after about 10 balls the tree branches started snapping. My dad comes home and sees us and says, ‘What are you guys doing?’ ‘Dad we’re trying to be like Pelé.’ ”
Heaps, who also played basketball as a walk-on guard at Duke University, was among the most effective defenders against high balls during a 10-year MLS career, despite being 5 feet 9 inches tall.
“I think that’s where I got my jumping ability,” Heaps said of the Pelé drill.
Wait until next year
Though the Revolution were eliminated from playoff contention earlier than any previous edition of the team, Heaps believes they can rebound next season.
The Revolution (7-17-8, 29 points) have their highest loss total since 1999.
“When I took over at the end of last year, at that point fall recruiting had already been done,” Heaps said. “So now we’re in the next phase. We have a good group and we have to strengthen that group, make additions here and there. These guys have gotten experience and maturity and there are a few guys we want to lean on.”
Heaps talked about filling two positions.
“A defensive midfielder or center back that has experience and that is knowledgeable about the league,” Heaps said. “And also has played at a high, high level. Someone long in the tooth, but who still has a lot left.
“We’re looking at a couple different positions. We want to get speed as well, a forward or a wide player, so we can open teams up more. We have technical ability and now we want to expose teams’ back line.”
Heaps would not reveal the plans for goalkeeper Matt Reis, the team’s longest-serving current player. Reis, who joined the Revolution in 2003, has made 27 starts and needs one more for his contract to be guaranteed next year, according to a team source.
“I don’t like to talk about players’ contracts, it’s not my department,” Heaps said. “For me, it’s about bringing back players we want and going forward — the contract sorts itself out, so to speak.”
Backup Bobby Shuttleworth has started the three Revolution games since the team’s playoff chances ended.
“We know Matt Reis, we’ve seen him for a while, and he’s a hell of a goalkeeper,” Heaps said. “We haven’t seen enough of Bobby. For me to assess the team and what do we need — we’re putting together a complete dossier on all the players we have and players we want to bring in. And we need to know what we have here, first and foremost.”
The Revolution have two games remaining, at home against Chicago Oct. 20 and at Montreal Oct. 27.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.