The United States is going to the World Cup. We know this after Dos a Cero, Part IV. The United States is going to send 23 players to the World Cup. We know this because Sepp says so.
Who will board the jet to Brazil next summer? Juergen Klinsmann has eight months to finalize plans. Realistically, he has six months to work it out.
Most slots are set. But as the summer approaches, status on the depth chart will rise and fall based on injuries, playing time on the club level, form on the club level, performances in international friendlies and group stage opponents (some players are better equipped than others for certain matchups). An individual high on the list now could find himself tumbling in the spring. Or vice versa. Any late bloomers out there?
Klinsmann speaks with glowing pride about the roster depth he has built over two-plus years: 38 players have appeared in 14 qualifiers over 15 months and several others contributed to the Gold Cup championship this summer. It has fostered competition for playing time at every position and allowed him to plug unanticipated voids on short notice with players who know what is expected of them — even if they just hopped off a plane (i.e. Clarence Goodson on Tuesday).
Before we get to the nitty-gritty of roster locks and positional options, I will begin with my five wild cards in the player pool:
Stuart Holden. Poor Stu. Another long-term injury, suffered in the Gold Cup final, has derailed another comeback and shelved him until early next year. He’ll be hard-pressed to regain form and crack Bolton’s lineup after midseason. Everyone is rooting for him, but let’s get real: He is a long shot.
Steve Cherundolo. He is exactly what Klinsmann needs: an experienced, reliable player at right back. Except Cherundolo has been battling recurring injuries and has yet to play for his country this year.
Timothy Chandler. Disappeared after starting against Honduras in the first match of the CONCACAF hexagonal. Another possible answer at right back, but does he have the desire and mind-set to play for the United States?
Juan Agudelo. With one brief appearance in a friendly this year, he is not in the mix. But the 20-year-old forward is heading to the Premier League from MLS this winter, and if he is playing and scoring for Stoke City, Klinsmann would have to take a second look.
Eric Lichaj. Klinsmann has never rated him — not at Aston Villa last season or, a step down at Nottingham Forest this season. To even say he is in the player pool is a stretch. At this point, it would be hard to imagine Klinsmann introducing him into the group. However, he is an outside back — the foggiest position on the U.S. roster.
16 Current Locks
GK Tim Howard (Everton): Recovered from subpar performance at Costa Rica with a strong showing against Mexico to reaffirm his starting role.
GK Brad Guzan (Aston Villa): Klinsmann has full faith in him in case Howard slips.
GK Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake): Capable, content No. 3 netminder.
F Jozy Altidore (Sunderland): Life is good after a sensational summer and major transfer, but needs to keep pace after leaping from the Eredivisie to the Premier League.
F Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders): Back on form after lulls for clubs and country. Can’t let contract issues distract him. True target man with serious elevation. (Right, El Tri?)
F Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders): Klinsmann can start him up top, as a withdrawn forward or as an attacking midfielder. Can’t grow complacent after stepping from the Premier League to MLS.
F Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar): Just two caps, but young, hungry and technically gifted. Early signs point to a big season in the Netherlands.
D Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City): Top-choice center back who will need to grow ahead of stiffer competition in Brazil. CONCACAF and the World Cup are two very different animals.
D Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy): See Besler.
D Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim): He would rather attack than defend, and offers a slick option on the left wing, but he’s probably needed most at left back, or in a pinch, as seen in the first half against Mexico, at right back.
D DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla): His instincts are to go forward as well, and he too is a candidate for spot duty on the left flank, but Klinsmann has relied on him to man the left corner.
D Geoff Cameron (Stoke City): Versatility, size and skill — enough said. He could end up starting at right back in the World Cup. Or provide cover in central defense. Or deepen defensive midfield.
MF Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy): He’s back and … better than ever? As Michael Bradley said, if the Americans want to play more than three games at the World Cup, they need their career scoring leader and most improvisational attacker on the field.
MF Michael Bradley (Roma): The most important piece in the puzzle. Two-way central player and unofficial captain.
MF Jermaine Jones (Schalke): Bull in a china shop but a Klinsmann regular who starts for a Champions League club.
MF Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake): Klinsmann loves, loves, loves his work rate, commitment and willingness to handle the dirty work.
Decisions, Decisions …
Center back: Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes) or John Brooks (Hertha Berlin)? Goodson is far more experienced, but Brooks is a rising star in Klinsmann’s mind and plays at a higher club level. At the moment, however, Brooks has played just once and is not cap-tied.
Right back: Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders) or Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg) — or Michael Orozco (Puebla) or Timothy Chandler (Nurnberg) or Steve Cherundolo (Hannover) or Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest)? Evans has proven himself in CONCACAF and can cover in midfield, but does it translate to the global game? Parkhurst needs to find a club where he will play regularly. Orozco’s selling point is flexibility. Chandler is a mystery. Cherundolo and Lichaj were discussed earlier.
Left back: Does Klinsmann need Edgar Castillo (Tijuana) as a third option? Probably not.
Defensive midfield: Danny Williams, now a back-up at second-tier Reading, and Maurice Edu, not playing for Stoke, have faded from the scene.
Central midfield: Klinsmann favors Mikkel Diskerud (Rosenborg) over Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht).
Flanks: Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes) and Joe Corona (Tijuana) specialize on the right. Zusi started against Costa Rica, Bedoya against Mexico. Would all three go to World Cup? Jose Torres (Tigres), Brek Shea (Stoke City) and Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo) will try to make a case on the left.
Forward: Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna) will need a big campaign in Austria to crack the striker corps. Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) seized an opportunity at the Gold Cup. Herculez Gomez (Tijuana) is an experienced, feisty sniper who needs to respond from a knee setback in order to re-enter the picture.
So here is my current — but subject to change every single day for the next eight months — 23-man U.S. World Cup roster:
Goalkeepers: Howard, Guzan, Rimando.
Defenders: Besler, Gonzalez, Cameron, F. Johnson, Beasley, Evans, Parkhurst, Goodson.
Midfielders: Donovan, Bradley, Jones, Beckerman, Diskerud, Zusi, Bedoya.
Forwards: Altidore, Dempsey, E. Johnson, Johannsson, Gomez.
Alternates: Brooks, Cherundolo, Corona, Torres, Kljestan, Shea, Wondolowski.
Again, this list will change regularly based on a variety of factors.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.