The U.S. National Team has sealed a berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but in naming his 20-man roster for the final two matches in the Hexagonal Round of World Cup qualifying, Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is sending a message that he wants to finish on top of the group.
Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson and midfielder Brad Evans are among eight MLS players called in by Klinsmann as the U.S. meets Jamaica on Friday at Sporting Park in Kansas City and visits Panama on October 15.
“We want to win these games,” Klinsmann said. “We want to finish off the year on a high note, but we also want to make the game against Jamaica a special one. It’s our last home game of 2013, and we have had tremendous support from all the fans throughout the country wherever we have played. We want to recognize that and give the fans a real good game and three points. These games already count toward the World Cup in 2014 in terms of the internal competition and the mentality we are trying to build.”
Johnson has 59 caps and 19 career goals for the U.S., including five goals this year and four goals in the last six matches. He leads the team in appearances this year, playing in 15 of the 19 games for the USMNT.
Evans has one goal in 14 appearances in his career, with seven of those matches coming this year. His lone goal came against Jamaica in Kingston on June 7.
The duo will miss both of Seattle’s matches this week, at home on Wednesday against Vancouver and Sunday at JELD-WEN Field against the Portland Timbers.
“It’s tough to leave our team here. At the start of the season, you set goals as a team. We’re in a race for (the Supporters’ Shield) and it’s a tough time to leave,” Johnson said. “If we’re going to leave, we’ve got to go get the job done for the national team.”
Evans has four goals and five assists in 22 matches for the Sounders in his fifth season in Seattle. In 110 matches for Sounders FC, he has 17 goals and 19 assists. A midfielder with club, he has played primarily as a right back for country.
Johnson scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids, also adding two assists in 20 matches this year. This is his second season with Seattle after he had 14 goals and three assists last season in his first year back in MLS after four seasons in Europe. He has had particular success in Seattle’s rivalry matches against Vancouver and Portland, with six goals in nine games in Cascadia Cup matches.
“I’m going to miss the Portland game. Those are the games we look forward to every year,” Johnson said. “I know when I leave, it’s got to be for a good cause. If you’re going to take it for granted, you’re not going to get anything out of it, you might as well not even go. I’m very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity again and I want to make the most of it.”
Notable absences from the team include midfielder Michael Bradley (ankle injury) and Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey. The U.S. captain, Dempsey is nursing a hamstring strain that has had him out for the last three matches. He has 101 caps and scored his 36th international goal in his 100th appearance last month. This year, he has six goals in 10 appearances.
“For Clint, it is really important to pick up the rhythm, to get back into shape and play games. He needs to train very intensely and get as many sessions as possible,” Klinsmann said. “He had injury problems, the transfer was done late and he didn’t have a proper preseason, and he’s running behind. So he has to do some catching up and he will eventually get it done.”
Evans and Johnson are expected to return to Seattle following the game in Panama on October 15.