Predicting the United States World Cup Squad of 23
Over the last eight months, the United States men's national team has been in stellar form, winning 16 of its last 19 games, securing qualification to the 2014 World Cup, capturing the CONCACAF Gold Cup and winning high-profile friendlies against Germany and Bosnia.
However, with that much success, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has given himself a few headaches. Notably, with so many players in the U.S. player pool playing so well, who will Klinsmann select to make his 23-man roster in Brazil?
Let's take a look.
As the No. 1 goalkeeper for the USMNT over the past eight years, Tim Howard, barring a major injury, is going to Brazil.
Since taking over the starting job at Aston Villa last fall, Brad Guzan has cemented himself into the U.S. squad as the team's No. 2 in the net.
Tim Howard still has the inside track on the starting job, but should he suffer from a drop in form, the U.S. net will be in good hands with Guzan.
Jurgen Klinsmann's easiest picks while selecting his 23-man roster will be at goalkeeper and Nick Rimando has kept it that way. With a solid performance in this summer's Gold Cup and fantastic performances week after week for his club, Real Salt Lake, Rimando is the U.S.' clear-cut No. 3 in goal.
Over the past year, Matt Besler has emerged as the U.S.' most consistent option in the back and at center back, a position that has been a weak spot for the Americans.
Since earning his way into the starting XI against Mexico in March, Besler has become a go-to defender for the U.S.
Over the past two seasons, Geoff Cameron has been a consistent starter in the English Premier League. His versatility in his ability to play right-back, left-back, center back and holding midfielder make him an absolute lock for the roster.
While Omar Gonzalez still has a troubling habit of making key mistakes, his game against Mexico in September was one of his best yet for the U.S.
Since working his way into the starting XI in February against Honduras, Gonzalez has become a key player for the USMNT. Barring an absolute disaster, he's in.
John Anthony Brooks
John Anthony Brooks has only played one game for the U.S. and as a dual-international, he is still eligible to represent Germany at the international level.
However, Brooks helped Hertha Berlin to promotion from Bundesliga 2 last season and so far this season in the Bundesliga, has been named to teams of the week on two separate occasions.
If Klinsmann can convince Brooks that his international future lies with the U.S., he's in. If not, Klinsmann would likely call in Michael Orozco for cover.
Many U.S. fans still don't trust Brad Evans to be the team's right-back at the World Cup, and his recent outing against Panama didn't help. However, Klinsmann has shown repeatedly that he trusts Evans, and with the United States' depth at right-back murky, Evans is in.
Steve Cherundolo (If Healthy)
Steve Cherundolo hasn't appeared for the USMNT in over a year, but if he's healthy, he's still the U.S.' best option. During the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, Cherundolo was one of the U.S.' best players.
Since he went down with knee problems, a succession of players have been unable to stamp their name on the job including Timmy Chandler, Michael Parkhurst and Michael Orozco.
If Dolo's out, Klinsmann is likely to rely on Geoff Cameron as the backup to Evans, but many fans are still holding out hope for Eric Lichaj, Timmy Chandler or even DeAndre Yedlin to be given a chance.
Since his performances in the March World Cup qualifiers at left-back, DaMarcus Beasley has been a staple of the team, even captaining the squad at this summer's Gold Cup.
He's a lock.
Fabian Johnson is one of the most talented and versatile players on the U.S. roster. For the USMNT, he has played as a left-back, right-back and left midfielder.
The biggest question for Klinsmann is how he counts Johnson. If he puts him on the roster as a midfielder, Edgar Castillo may be called in for cover at left-back. If he counts him as a left-back, or a midfielder who can also drop in for Beasley when needed, Castillo's out.
Once Klinsmann adds up the numbers and sees how tight roster spaces are in the midfield, he'll decide to drop Castillo and count on Johnson's versatility for him to be ready to play either position.
Long gone are the cries of nepotism that once accompanied Michael Bradley when he played for the U.S. under his father. Over the past few years, Bradley has emerged as the U.S.' most consistent and most technical midfielder.
A guaranteed pick for the roster assuming he's fit.
Jermaine Jones remains one of the U.S.' most divisive players when it comes to the opinions of the fans. However, the only man who's opinion counts is Klinsmann's and the coach has repeatedly put his faith in Jones, even when Jones has played poorly.
On a good night, Jones can cover loads of ground, paper over cracks in the U.S. defense and even provide an offensive spark. On a bad night, Jones can appear disinterested, lackadaisical and commit stupid and dangerous fouls.
But regardless of his inconsistency, if Jones is healthy, he's in.
Less than a year ago, Mix Diskerud was not included on the gameday roster against Canada during the team's annual January camp and, according to ProSoccerTalk's Steve Davis, Klinsmann made comments during the camp that implied he thought Diskerud was "soft."
Since then, Diskerud has parlayed an impressive performance for the U.S. during the Gold Cup into a substitute appearance against Mexico, in which Diskerud provided the game-sealing assist, and starts in the October World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica and Panama.
Diskerud's ability to play any of the three central midfield positions in Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 also add to his value.
Barring a major drop in form or an injury, Diskerud is in.
Over the past year, there have been many apparent ups and downs in the Jurgen Klinsmann-Landon Donovan relationship, from Donovan's self-imposed sabbatical over the winter months to Donovan's not being called up by Klinsmann for the June qualifiers.
Their relationship seemed to heal with Donovan's excellent performance in this summer's Gold Cup and Donovan's game-sealing goal against Mexico in September. However, Donovan was withdrawn at the half during October's game against Jamaica and was openly unhappy with the decision of his manager.
Donovan has been a stalwart of the U.S. team for over a decade, but Klinsmann has made it clear he won't kowtow to any player, no matter their status within the squad. That being said, Donovan's value in experience, leadership and quality, not to mention his ability to play as a winger, attacking midfielder or forward, make him too valuable to leave home.
Over the summer, Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona appeared to be in direct competition with each other for a spot on the wing for the U.S.
That is likely still the case, but while Corona had the edge this summer, starting five games in the U.S.' Gold Cup run to Bedoya's three, Bedoya has been the clear favorite of late.
Bedoya has started the U.S.' last three World Cup qualifiers, albeit with some mixed performances. Corona, on the other hand, hasn't even been in the U.S. camp for the past few games.
Given Corona's club form, which has dipped since last season, contrasted with Bedoya's rise to a regular with Nantes in Ligue 1, things are unlikely to change in the near future.
It could be a battle to the wire between these two, but right now, Bedoya's in the lead.
Graham Zusi's rise with the USMNT can be traced back primarily to this spring, when Zusi started for the U.S. in their crucial March qualifiers. He continued to play well this summer, providing key assists, but many still doubted whether or not he could get it done against top-notch competition.
In October, however, Zusi re-stated his case, with a game-winning goal against Jamaica and a game-tying goal against Panama. By next summer, Zusi could even be starting on the U.S. wing over Landon Donovan.
While his move to MLS has not been covered in glory thus far, Clint Dempsey has proved himself time and again to be indispensable to the USMNT. He has been the team's most consistent goalscorer over the past few years, especially in those games when Landon Donovan was unavailable.
Dempsey is the new captain of the team, and his play will dictate the success of the U.S. next summer in Brazil to a great extent.
Jozy Altidore's move to Sunderland this fall has not been a rousing success, but it's still early days in the English Premier League season.
Altidore scored 31 goals last year in Europe and contributed a number of key goals for the U.S. this summer in World Cup qualifying.
If he gets hot, the U.S. could exceed expectations.
Few players in the USMNT player pool have improved their stock over the past few months as much as Eddie Johnson. His play in the Gold Cup in July and against Mexico in September was inspiring and likely saw him lock down a spot on the roster.
Johnson is the U.S.' No. 2 up top should anything happen to Jozy Altidore, and he can also fill in on the wings if needed.
The last three spots on the roster is where things get very tricky. Klinsmann is likely to bring one more attacker and there is fierce competition with players like Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez and Brek Shea all in the mix.
However, recent USMNT acquisition Aron Johannsson has the most upside and is currently on fire in Europe with his club side, AZ Alkmaar. So far this fall, Johannsson has 12 goals in 16 games. With spots on the roster at a premium, Klinsmann will want to take the hot hand. If Johannsson is still firing them in come this spring, the spot is his.
The last spot at center midfielder is likely a toss-up between Sacha Kljestan and Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman would be a great "locker-room guy" and give the U.S. a solid, if unspectacular, holding midfielder.
With Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley on the roster, however, Klinsmann will likely go with a more attacking option to round out his midfield choices. In that respect, Kljestan has the edge.
One wild card could be Stuart Holden, who has targeted December for his latest return. Holden's well-publicized injuries make him a long shot, but as anyone who follows Holden on Twitter has seen, his desire and enthusiasm for a return to the field is unmatched.
The decision for picking the final defender on the roster has a number of variables. The first question is, will John Anthony Brooks commit to the United States? If he doesn't, Clarence Goodson is a shoe-in and the final defensive position will likely go toward adding some depth at left-back.
If Brooks is in, the second variable revolves around Fabian Johnson. If Klinsmann is comfortable counting on Johnson as either his starting left-back, or providing enough cover for DaMarcus Beasley should Klinsmann want to start Johnson in the midfield, more cover at center-back would be beneficial. With the possibility that Geoff Cameron could be needed elsewhere, Goodson would be a good addition.
Finally, if Klinsmann decides that Johnson is a midfielder only, he would use the final defensive spot for another left-back, likely Edgar Castillo.
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