By TIM REYNOLDS
MIAMI — Alan Gordon celebrates his 31st birthday Tuesday. Maybe U.S. Soccer will give him a cap.
Gordon is the fifth-oldest player currently in camp with the U.S. national team, which is prepping for two matches that will essentially decide if the Americans will continue having a chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Of the 24 players originally picked by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for these games, Gordon is younger than only defenders Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra, along with goalkeepers Tim Howard and Nick Rimando.
Combined, those four players have 279 appearances — caps, in soccer vernacular — for the U.S.
Gordon has zero.
But he’s having a breakout season with the San Jose Earthquakes: His 13 goals in 23 games translate to a 0.9-goal-per-90-minute ratio, the best in Major League Soccer. So Gordon got the call to be part of the U.S. side for these qualifiers, first on Friday on the road against Antigua and Barbuda, then in Kansas City, Kan., on Oct. 16 against Guatemala, the match that coincides with his birthday.
“I’m happy to be here,” Gordon said. “It doesn’t matter what age I am. I’m playing good soccer right now. The coaches here feel that I can be of some help, and I hope I can prove them right.”
Klinsmann said Gordon earned his chance.
“I think it’s great to see,” Klinsmann said. “He’s a guy that went through ups and downs. He saw it all. He struggled physically. He had a lot of injuries. But he always had the right spirit toward his job. He never took things for granted. He worked always hard and he’s a giver.”
The U.S., Guatemala and Jamaica each has seven points after the first four matches in this qualifying round, while Antigua and Barbuda has one. For the U.S. to reach next year’s regional finals, four points — which the Americans would get with a win and a tie — would seem to be the most probable requirement.
Dogged by injuries in recent years — including hip surgery last year — Gordon acknowledges that he thought his window of having a chance with the national team had closed. But he was summoned to join the Americans for their friendly at Mexico over the summer (the U.S. pulled off a 1-0 victory, though Gordon did not play), and Klinsmann apparently kept watching him in the weeks that followed.
When the Americans opened training in Miami on Tuesday, Gordon seemed to fit right in, even though he’s the only player on the roster without a cap and is nearly nine years older than the team’s youngest member.
“Some guys are just late bloomers and I see that all over the place,” Howard said. “He’s been good. He’s come in and he’s really got his head down, and he’s been a good guy to be around off the field. He works hard on the field. He knows what his strengths are and what his abilities are and he plays to them.”
It’s not just luck, either. Or the fact that he’s putting the ball in the net for the Earthquakes.
There simply was a point when Gordon got tired of being hurt. So he changed his ways, working harder and trying to take advantage of whatever time is left in his career.
“I had to spend some extra time, be a better professional and take it a lot more serious and do a lot more work than other guys do,” Gordon said. “Come early, stay late — that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Gordon may still be a long shot to actually play — only Klinsmann knows where he sits on the depth chart for certain — though his odds figure to have improved by default in recent days. The U.S. ruled Landon Donovan and Brek Shea out of these two qualifiers earlier this week because of injuries, meaning what was a 24-man roster is down to 22.
So there might be need for a goal-scorer who’s playing well right now, like Gordon.
“I’m blessed to be here,” Gordon said. “And I’m just going to enjoy it and do the best I can and try to help the team, if I can.”
Klinsmann points to Gordon as an example that, as he said, “the door is always open” for players who keep working.
“It’s another opportunity again for Alan Gordon after he came with us to Mexico,” Klinsmann said. “It shows them that if they stay focused and work hard and give everything they have, there are chances for 2014 in Brazil.”