With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on the horizon, United States men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have some difficult decisions to make in the months ahead.
While a fair number of roster spots on the USMNT are essentially “locked up,” there are also a number of positions in flux.
With only four months to go, here’s a look at the 23 USMNT players Klinsmann should be taking to represent the Red, White and Blue.
There’s really not much discussion to be had when it comes to USMNT goalkeepers. Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando should be the choices—in that order.
If one of them were to get hurt, Sean Johnson pretty clearly has the No. 4 spot wrapped up right now.
Final picks: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando
Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley and Geoff Cameron have essentially already punched their ticket to Brazil.
Things get tricky, however, when discussing the remaining three spots for defenders (assuming Klinsmann brings eight).
Clarence Goodson isn’t really anybody’s dream choice at center-back, but considering no one has unseated him as the U.S.’s No. 3 over the past year says a lot.
Michael Orozco showed well in the Gold Cup and can play both center-back and on the outside, if needed. His performance on the right against Costa Rica in September certainly wasn’t ideal, but the entire U.S. squad looked poor that day. Orozco is also a threat on dead balls and last week earned Liga MX Team of the Week honors. He’s simply a better option than anyone else in the U.S. pool right now.
John Anthony Brooks looked to be a compelling choice just a few months ago, but his first season in the Bundesliga has been mired in injuries, poor play and public criticism from his own coach at Hertha Berlin.
At right-back, all hopes for a Steve Cherundolo recovery now seemed to be dashed with his latest injury setback and Brad Evans proved definitively in the South Korea game that he is not the man for the job. Klinsmann might not like it, but the time has come for him and USMNT fans to swallow their pride and welcome Timmy Chandler back into the fold.
His Bundesliga experience and form simply trump any argument for Michael Parkhurst or Eric Lichaj to be included in the squad.
Final choices: Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco and Timmy Chandler.
In Klinsmann’s five-man midfield, the choices get very interesting. Barring injury, or a total wipeout in form, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi are going to Brazil. That likely leaves four places left—assuming Klinsmann brings three strikers.
Although Mix Diskerud has not always enjoyed the easiest relationship with Klinsmann, he has done enough over the past year to prove he is worthy of a roster spot. He can also play as a No. 8, or a No. 10.
Kyle Beckerman is another player who has done enough. Beckerman’s speed is certainly not ideal—even more so considering the U.S.’s group-stage opponents—but there is simply no one else among the “bubble group” of U.S. central midfielders who has played better when given a chance over the past year.
Beckerman also gives the U.S. someone who will definitively sit back and allow Bradley to go forward. Cameron can also provide that sort of stable defensive presence in the midfield, but will likely be starting at right or center-back.
Sacha Kljestan’s performances with the USMNT have always left much to be desired and over the past month he has found himself on the bench at Anderlecht. Danny Williams has shown a nice resurgence of form at Reading, but that ship has sailed.
The last midfield spots, at the wide position, are a toss-up. That being said, Klinsmann should bring Brek Shea. Shea is often maddening to watch and has no business of ever being included in the starting lineup. However, he will fearlessly run at defenders when needed and it’s likely the U.S. is going to be chasing a goal (or two, or three) at some point in Brazil.
The final choice should be a battle between Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona. Bedoya has been a Klinsmann favorite since this summer, but Corona is the better option—despite his recent lack of playing time at the club level. Corona is good with both feet, has superior passing vision to Bedoya and can score goals when needed.
Final choices: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, Kyle Beckerman, Brek Shea and Joe Corona.
Like goalkeepers, there’s really not a lot to discuss at the forward position, although there certainly is tighter competition.
Jozy Altidore, despite his lack of goals at Sunderland, is a prototypical striker for a single-forward set. He provides a physical presence and can both earn fouls and hold the ball up for the U.S. to get out of its defensive third.
Aron Johannsson is scoring goals like crazy in the Eredivisie and should be there to bring on in the second half, if and when the U.S. needs a goal. The same is true of Eddie Johnson, who is superb in the air and provides the U.S. with a dangerous presence on set pieces.
Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, Herculez Gomez and Chris Wondolowski are all in the mix, but right now, don’t make the squad.
Final choices: Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson and Eddie Johnson
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