As the U.S. men's national team moves on to the quarterfinals to play El Salvador, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to make several roster changes that seem to create a few new position battles and important decisions for him to make before Sunday's game.
The four players that were dropped from the roster are as follows: Herculez Gomez, Oguchi Onyewu, Jack McInerney and Corey Ashe. The four players added are: Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson.
The additions are the main source of intrigue in this transaction due to the fact that three of the four players (Gonzalez, Besler and Johnson) are regarded as "A" team players. Gonzalez and Besler are considered to be the future of the center back position for the U.S. national team, which causes some pondering to be done about the center backs already on the roster for this tournament.
Michael Orozco Fiscal and Clarence Goodson were very efficient and consistent in group play, especially in a difficult match against Costa Rica on Tuesday. The question becomes whether Klinsmann will simply drop them in favor of his preferred pair of center backs, Besler and Gonzalez. These two additions have the potential to rock a boat that has seen nothing but smooth sailing so far in this tournament.
The chemistry developed between Orozco Fiscal and Goodson has been a pleasant sight so far, not to mention their aerial ability, which only Gonzalez can really match, as Besler has not been as proficient as these three players in the air.
Besler's ability shines technically, position-wise, and through his passing, in particular, his long range passing. His rapport with Gonzalez has also been significantly improved over the World Cup qualifying games to support the idea that these two are the future of the position for this team. Besler's performances have been consistently steady to the point where he should be viewed as the first center back penciled in to the U.S. lineup for any important competition from here on out.
Gonzalez still has some work to do on the mental side of the game. His physical tools and potential are unparalleled in the pool of U.S. defenders, but he does have the occasional hiccup in games that can either lead to a goal for the opposing team or at the very least, a dangerous chance on net. If he can shore up this aspect of his game, he has all the characteristics of a very good center back, especially with his aerial prowess on set pieces and clearing balls out of the air in the defensive end.
Klinsmann may use his center back pairing from the previous game in this next contest against a relatively weaker opponent in El Salvador, or he may use it to give his two new defenders a chance to get their feet wet and ready for a potential semifinal match. As well as Orozco Fiscal and Goodson have played, I would probably lean towards Gonzalez and Besler getting the start.
The other two new additions, Gordon and Johnson, could make an impact for this team as well, with Johnson having a much more extensive resume than Gordon. Johnson has featured frequently with the first team for the United States recently, mainly in qualifying games for the World Cup. He has the ability to play as a winger on either side, as well as up top as a forward. His versatility and recent form might open the door for him to take the left-sided midfield spot over Jose Francisco Torres, Brek Shea or Alejandro Bedoya.
Bedoya played admirably in the last game as the starting right midfielder, and Shea came on as a substitute as a left midfielder to score a very composed, game-winning goal on a beautiful pass from Landon Donovan. Shea may be used in the same role going forward as a change-of-pace player versus tiring defenders.
Bedoya's role is a bit more uncertain, but he also brings the versatility to play on either side, so while he may ultimately lose out to Johnson or Torres on the left, he could be used in the same role as Shea was last game on the other side to spell Joe Corona. However, there is a chance he has earned himself another start on the right, and Corona may be the one to spell him late in the game, as he did against Costa Rica.
With Johnson's recent good form for this team, I would think he gets some minutes during this next game, possibly a start on the left side. Torres has also played very well in recent games, but as we saw in choosing the lineup for the Costa Rica game, Klinsmann is not afraid to make instinctual decisions and wholesale changes to his attack. A sleeper idea is to run Johnson up top as a forward, but that is more of a long shot at this point.
Gordon's inclusion to the team is intriguing due to the fact that he has only made one appearance with the U.S. national team so far. However, his appearance was a crucial one as he came on as a late substitute against Antigua and Barbuda. He provided the assist on the game-winning goal to, ironically, Eddie Johnson.
In this season's MLS campaign with the San Jose Earthquakes, Gordon has been a slight disappointment compared to last season. He only has three goals and two assists in 13 games compared to 13 goals and seven assists in 23 games last year. He was also suspended for three games this season for a rather ugly incident that occurred on the pitch.
Gordon will not likely have much of an impact on the remaining games for the United States except for a possible late-game substitution if they are behind and desire more attacking firepower.
The one disappointing subtraction from the team is young Jack McInerney from the Philadelphia Union. The 20-year-old has had an excellent season for the Union so far by scoring 10 goals in 14 games. His production and youthful talent made him an easy selection to the squad, but in the eyes of Klinsmann he is not ready to play major minutes for his national team. It would have been nice to get some sort of observation and evaluation of his readiness with some guest appearances, but it was not to be.
With more work in the future, McInerney will again make a case to join this team, and hopefully then, Klinsmann will be ready to give him a chance. His experience and results with the younger U.S. teams seem to be an indicator that he will make the jump to the next level sooner rather than later. Perhaps in less than a year, he may have some kind of a role on this U.S. team.
Taking all of this into account, Klinsmann does have some tough decision to make following these changes. Chemistry, confidence and a historic winning streak are all at stake right now, and no one knows that more than Klinsmann.