A week from now, Juergen Klinsmann will gather the U.S. national team in Miami for workouts ahead of two World Cup qualifiers that could secure passage to Brazil next summer.
He has notified clubs of their player, or players, included on the preliminary list, and he plans to unveil the roster by Monday.
Getting to this point, however, has perhaps never been so complex since Klinsmann’s appointment two years ago. The plan is to select 23 players — the standard total — but that could change this week or between the two matches.
The big issue: yellow cards. Ten players, including eight or nine possible starters, are carrying cautions into the Sept. 6 match at Costa Rica. A booking in San Jose would result in suspension for the Mexico showdown four days later in Columbus, Ohio. The Americans have had the darnedest time getting results in the land of Pura Vida — 0-7-2 with six consecutive losses — and frustration typically runs hand in hand with matches there.
Escaping without suspension is as remote as beating the Ticos, who, aside from their home dominance against the Americans, are still seething about the snow bowl in Denver in March. Costa Rica (two points behind the U.S.) is also stoked about the prospect of moving atop the CONCACAF group.
The U.S. yellow-card list: Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.
Twisted logic perhaps, but Klinsmann should consider holding players out of the Costa Rica match. The Mexico game is more important because it’s at home. Klinsmann needs a full-strength squad to face El Tri. The template for World Cup qualifying: It’s okay to drop points away, it’s not okay to drop points at home.
With the odds already stacked against the Americans in San Jose, he could afford to sit out some card-holders and still vie for at least a point on the road. On a side note, for the purpose of acclimation, Klinsmann has decided to arrive in Costa Rica more than 72 hours before kickoff. (He took the same approach ahead of the Jamaica away match in June.)
Bracing for possible suspensions, Klinsmann could end up selecting more than 23 players for the brief Miami camp and Costa Rica trip. But then he runs into possible conflicts with MLS, which continues to schedule league matches during World Cup qualifying windows (12 games between Sept. 4 and 11).
This is MLS’s problem, not Klinsmann’s. In an official FIFA fixture window, he has every right to select whomever he wants, regardless of the impact on the domestic league, which should have cleared the slate for what it knew would be a critical stretch of qualifying.
The issue grows more complicated if Klinsmann requests additional MLS players between the two qualifiers.
Say he does not name Brad Davis to the initial roster. Davis, instead, prepares for Houston’s game Sept. 8 against New York. In the Costa Rica match, Johnson receives a yellow card. The next morning, Klinsmann calls up Davis, who must report to Columbus immediately. Because Davis was on the preliminary list (which is unlimited in length, submitted 15 days ahead of the first qualifier and not typically made public), the Dynamo must release him right away.
Requesting European-based players between qualifiers poses logistical challenges (namely, travel time and jet lag).
The good news for Klinsmann is that the player pool is deeper than ever: The Gold Cup performance, featuring many secondary players, expanded his options; only a few players are nursing injuries; and John Brooks and Aron Johannsson committed to the program this month.
With those factors in mind, my roster projection goes something like this:
Locks: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando.
Thoughts: This is the easiest position to address. The only possible wrinkle is requesting Rimando for the No. 3 slot while MLS plays on. Real Salt Lake, though, is off during the qualifying window. Even if RSL were playing, Klinsmann would need him as the back-up against Mexico should Howard get carded in Costa Rica. We’re assuming, of course, Howard will start against the Ticos. Guzan has been in terrific form with Aston Villa since last season.
Locks: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst, DaMarcus Beasley.
Probable: John Brooks, if he is healthy after departing midway through the first half of Hertha Berlin’s match this past weekend.
Possible: Edgar Castillo.
Injured: Steve Cherundolo.
Thoughts: Besler, Gonzalez, Goodson, Cameron and Brooks can play in the middle. Johnson and Beasley are the options on the left. Evans, Parkhurst and Cameron are the options on the right. Right back Timothy Chandler has not played in a U.S. match since the Honduras away qualifier in February. Klinsmann has never rated outside back Eric Lichaj, neither at Aston Villa last season nor Nottingham Forest this season. If necessary, center backs Michael Orozco Fiscal and Tim Ream could join the mix.
Locks: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan.
Probables: Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan.
Possibles: Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Jose Torres, Mikkel Diskerud, Danny Williams.
Injured: Brek Shea, Stuart Holden.
Thoughts: Donovan’s triumphant return at the Gold Cup changed the dynamic of the midfield heading into the qualifiers. In a 4-2-3-1, he could end up wide left, with Clint Dempsey in the middle and Zusi on the right. Despite being listed as defenders here, Beasley and Johnson are more comfortable attacking than defending, and offer options on the left as well. Corona and Bedoya provide cover on the right flank, Torres on the left, Kljestan and Diskerud in the middle. If Jones or Bradley is suspended, Beckerman or Williams might have to step in. Maurice Edu, who underwent offseason surgery, has not featured for Stoke City yet this season.
Locks: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Aron Johannsson.
Injured: Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez.
Thoughts: Another easy category. Altidore is your pure striker. Dempsey plays underneath. Johnson provides menace up top or outside. Johannsson is a lethal threat off the bench. In case of injury, Chris Wondolowski enters the conversation.
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