The 2014 World Cup is closer than you think.
When the United States men's national team plays a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo ( live, Wednesday, 2:30 p.m. ET ), 302 days will separate them from the start of the big dance in Brazil. That's a lot of time in a civilian life. But in international soccer, it really isn't.
After this game, the United States will have no more than seven games until the start of their presumed World Cup preparations and really very little chance to sort out whatever needs sorting out.
On Sept. 6 and 10, they will face Costa Rica away and Mexico at home, respectively. On Oct. 11 and 15 they play, in order, Jamaica at home and Panama away. Those are all CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, from which the Americans probably need two more wins to qualify directly for Brazil. Then, they should have Nov. 13 or 14 and Nov. 20 to play a set of friendlies -- provided they haven't unexpectedly dropped into fourth place in qualifying, requiring a two-game playoff with New Zealand for the final ticket to the World Cup on those dates.
John Anthony Brooks (L) and Aron Johannsson (R) received their first US call-ups (Photo: Boris Streubel/Bongarts/VI Images via Getty Images).
Between November and FIFA's mandatory release date for World Cup-bound players -- which is to say, when World Cup camps will start -- on May 26, the only time the national team will get together is for the 48 hours surrounding a Mar. 5 friendly date.
If that sounds like a great many games remaining to get things right, consider that the first four, or at least the bulk of them, will be highly competitive with World Cup places at stake -- if not for the United States then at least for their opponents. November's games, meanwhile, will be for fine-tuning the style and system crafted during qualifying. March will be scarcely enough time to even get the players reacquainted with one another. And the World Cup camp, while it will probably include a friendly or two, is hardly the time to be trying and tinkering.
The only time head coach Jurgen Klinsmann really has to try things out, to blood new players without heaping the burdens of high stakes on them, to see what alternatives he has, is now.
August has traditionally made for a strange time to play a friendly. Players on teams in fall-spring leagues are just getting their seasons started. Those in spring-fall leagues are gearing up for the home stretch. It's little wonder this international date is being scrapped from FIFA's international calendar next year. But in this instance, it provides an opportunity.
Klinsmann left almost all of his Major League Soccer players at home. Many, like Landon Donovan, had just been active in the Gold Cup. Only Seattle Sounders Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson got the call - their recently-acquired teammate Clint Dempsey, notably, did not. Those gaps will allow the German coach to try out some other options.
Goalkeeper Cody Cropper, defender John Anthony Brooks and forwards Aron Johannsson and Bobby Wood received their first call-ups and could make their debuts. Brooks and Johannsson are also eligible for Germany and Iceland, respectively. And while an appearance in this game won't tie them up for the USA -- it isn't part of an official competition -- their introduction to the program has enthused many.
Several players have seemingly leveraged a strong Gold Cup performance into this A-team call-up. Defender Michael Parkhurst demonstrated that he can play out of the back, as Klinsmann demands of those in that line -- so did Michael Orozco Fiscal but he had to withdraw from the squad because of a groin injury. Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona developed as viable options on the wing. Mikkel "Mix" Diskerud did the same in the middle, in one of the box-to-box roles.
Defender Tim Ream, midfielder Danny Williams and forward Terrence Boyd will get a look after getting little national team love of late; Ream hasn't appeared for the USA since Oct. 11, 2011; Williams has made just one appearance this year; Boyd has two, but for a total of just 18 minutes.
Scattered among the regulars -- goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan; defenders Geoff Cameron, Edgar Castillo and Evans; midfielders Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan; and forwards Jozy Altidore and Johnson -- this game will comprise an open tryout of sorts for all those with serious aspirations of making the World Cup.
Theirs shall be a stern test. Bosnia is undefeated in six UEFA World Cup qualifiers , of which it has won five. They have scored 23 goals and conceded just three. Forwards Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic -- a former All-American at Saint Louis University -- are splendid craftsmen. So too are playmakers Miralem Pjanic and Zvjezdan Misimovic.
Video: Klinsmann talks about USMNT success in Gold Cup
"They are top-class players and that's what we like to go against," said Klinsmann in a statement. "We want to have the highest benchmark to always measure ourselves up against. We also want to see the new faces in our group and take that opportunity of getting a couple interesting answers on specific players. We're also excited to bring some new faces into the senior team."
The excitable Klinsmann spoke excitedly about the choice of the dual nationals -- for now anyway -- to have picked his team. About Johannsson: "Very excited" and "excited." On Brooks: "Another exciting move."
All new additions to the team are typically welcomed by a United States fan base that is forever clamoring for some overlooked player or another. The ones now in camp have been particularly hyped.
For them and those getting another shot, as well as the observers, the opportunity to add depth ahead of next summer is indeed exciting. But really very little time to make an impression remains now. About 90 minutes is all.