Last week news broke that much maligned FC Nurnberg defender Timothy Chandler had accepted a call up from United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann for the United States’ friendly against Russia in Krasnodar. What does this mean for Chandler’s place in the team moving forward? The news has brought mixed reviews from fans, some excited to have the highly talented defender back in the fold, others seem iffy, stating he only accepted the call to pimp himself to the German federation or that he only accepted because it’s a non-cap-tying match in Europe. With Veterans’ Day just past, one’s heart may, with a dose of nationalistic hope, pray the uber-talented Germerican is truly ready to swear allegiance– after all, the American backline looks mighty formidable with Chandler in the fold. Still, questions like those prefaced above linger, and they make wholesale belief that Chandler has truly made his choice difficult to answer or, for even the most optimistic, believe. And should Chandler even be criticized for making the play that will benefit himself over either country? Hard to swim through all of those questions, let alone answer them concretely.
As for me, count me among the crowd who are excited to have Chandler back in the mix. It’s been a winding roller coaster as far as Chandler’s relationship with the USMNT goes, from US fans singing him happy birthday at the Paraguay match last year in Nashville, to those same fans feeling abandoned when Chandler refused call-ups for World Cup Qualifying matches. But the fact of the matter is that incumbent USMNT rightback Steve Cherundolo is set to turn 34 in February and while he’s still a sturdy option and a vital piece of the current puzzle moving forward, he isn’t getting any younger. Klinsmann’s hesitancy to call up Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj also means that the US needs a younger option at right back. Recently that man has been jack-of-all-trades Michael Parkhurst, who capably played in a few World Cup Qualifiers to end the last stage of matches. But when you line up Parkhurst against the names the Americans will face over the next two years, he’s hardly a player who commands more than the requisite “you work so hard” admiration. He’s average in all areas, but internationally imposing in none. Chandler, on his best day, is leagues better.
In eleven matches this year with Nurnberg, Chandler has recorded a goal and an assist from his right back position. Chandler is a capable defender, who shut down quality attackers in his few games with the United States, to include Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia of Ecuador and Chelsea attacker Eden Hazard of Belgium. He also showed capability to bomb forward with pace and pressure the opposing back line with various runs through midfield. His distribution often depends on the day, as an OptaJoe analysis of his passes completed and accuracy suggests (a nearly 30 percent range in eleven matches)– but on his best day, he’s more than a capable Cherundolo deputy, which, to be honest, Parkhurst isn’t on even an average day. Still, there are questions about commitment.
Despite his obvious talent, some fans seem to have a zero tolerance policy for Chandler, citing the many times Chandler turned down call-ups for matches which would cap-tie Chandler to the United States. Rumors had Nurnberg and his agent in Chandler’s ear about holding out for a German team call-up. That call-up never came, and even had German manager Joachim Löw state that Chandler wasn’t in the German team’s plans. I’m willing to give Chandler the benefit of the doubt, because Chandler can be a difference maker on the national level. The United States is in no position to turn away a player of Chandler’s quality just because a 22 year old takes a few months to make up his mind regarding his life and his soccer career. And, as noted above, there should be a bit of forgiveness towards a guy who simply wants to play for the best team possible, and, because of dual-citizenship, has the cards to make that play.
Klinsmann is no fool. I would find it hard to believe that Klinsmann has called in Chandler without stipulating that Chandler dedicate his future career to the USMNT. It was important that Klinsmann do this now for the friendly against Russia to get him reintegrated in to the squad in preparation for the final round of World Cup Qualifying set to being in February at Honduras.
Regardless of your personal feelings on Chandler, his quality is undeniable and his presence makes the United States a better team. Give the kid a chance to reestablish himself with the players and staff and hopefully he will endear himself to the doubtful fans in the coming friendly. Timmy, we’re glad you’re back.