U.S. Men's National Team 2014 World Cup Qualifying: 10 Names to Watch
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Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has been very vocal about the transitional process facing the United States Men's National Team. Mass amounts of experimentation and tinkering have been undertaken, equaling mixed results.
The gaffer has unturned many stones in search of finding personnel combinations that will allow for the USMNT to take "the next step" as a soccer nation.
With 2014 World Cup qualifying matches less than six months away, Klinsmann will have to begin to narrow down his pool of prospective players for the impending and upcoming matches.
This slideshow will encompass 10 names that have a chance to make their proverbial mark on the national team.
It will not include the core stalwarts that we're accustomed to seeing (Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, etc), nor will it include secondary established players with obvious futures on the team (Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Chandler, Fabian Johnson).
Here's a look at 10 names that hope to make some noise and earn a possible spot on the 2014 World Cup Qualifying roster.
Honorable Mentions: Mix Diskerud, Teal Bunbury, Zach Loyd, Brad Guzan, Terrence Boyd, Eugene Starikov
DaMarcus Beasley: Winger for Puebla
USMNT Winger DaMarcus Beasley
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The fountain of youth has to be in Mexico; DaMarcus Beasley seems to have found it.
Ever since making the move south of the border to the Mexican club Puebla, Beasley has been completely revitalized.
He's effectively channeled his former self as an explosive and dynamic winger, while completely reinvigorating a career that was floundering (to put it mildly) in the process.
More than anything, Beasley is receiving consistent play time. It also helps that his slight physique is much more suited to play in a technically-based league as opposed to the more physically-driven leagues in Europe.
With his stellar form, the left-footed midfielder is squarely in the conversation for a possible spot on the qualifying roster. Even at 29 years old, his pace is still undeniable and the skill set he possesses would be welcomed.
Geoff Cameron: Centre-Back for Houston Dynamo
Cameron (right) going up for a header in a recent friendly
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Cameron is a player that many USMNT fans have been pining for. The big defender that applies his trade for Houston Dynamo has been considered one of the better defenders in the MLS for years.
His strong play apparently went unnoticed by former manager Bob Bradley, but this January he was called into camp and participated in two friendlies.
The 26-year-old is a very solid defender. Cameron is athletic and competes with a physical nature to go along with his 6'3" frame. He also displays good instincts and positions himself well.
Another impressive aspect that Cameron depicts is his willingness to foray into the final third and attack the goal.
Considering his age, Cameron will have to think about making the move abroad sooner rather than later (if he so desires).
Another call-up is definitely in order and he has the overall talent to provide ample depth to the center of the defense.
Josh Gatt: Winger/Outside-Back for Molde FK
Molde Winger Josh Gatt
Gatt represents the future out on the flanks for the USMNT.
At only 20 years old, he's already established himself as a starter at Molde FK under Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Michigan native is equipped with sublime pace and agility, and what makes him an extremely interesting prospect is that he's adept at playing both on the flank and at outside-back.
That type of versatility is sure to excite Klinsmann.
Currently, Gatt is a part of the U-23 setup and he participated at the recent U-23 camp. Although he has no caps with the senior side, he's a consistent performer in Europe.
His versatility and tantalizing skill set makes him a possible inclusion to the 2014 qualifying roster. Although he's a bit raw, he has an extremely high ceiling.
Sacha Kljestan: Midfielder for Anderlecht
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan
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Not many people outside of the diehards might realize this, but Kljestan is currently one of the most successful Americans applying their trade abroad.
He's become a staple for his Belgian club Anderlecht in the centre of the park with his dogged determination and solid distribution skills.
Strangely enough, however, he has not been called into the National Team setup since Klinsmann has taken over.
It's understandable in the sense that there is a glut of good central-midfield options that the gaffer has to his disposal, but Kljestan is playing at a high rate for a good club in Europe.
He's developed extremely well since making the leap to Europe and has enhanced his defensive skills to accompany his strong passing ability.
I still believe that a call-up is warranted, and that could possibly come with the upcoming friendly against Italy in Genoa on February 29th.
A bit off topic, but Kljestan might be facing a fellow Yank in the Belgian First Division in Mikkel "Mix" Diskerud.
Michael Parkhurst: Centre-Back/Outside-Back for F.C. Nordsjælland
Defender Michael Parkhurst
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Parkhurst, a once forgotten man on the International scene, has slowly begun to forge his way back into the national team discussion.
The former New England Revolution defender has been toiling away in Denmark for the last three seasons for his club F.C. Nordsjælland.
After a rocky beginning to his stint in Denmark, he's been an impressive performer and, as a result, has locked down a spot on the back line of the defense.
Another aspect that helps Parkhurst is his ability to play outside-back. With Steve Cherundolo aging and Eric Lichaj still recovering from injury, Parkhurst has a chance to parlay his strong club play into a backup role on the squad.
At 5'10", he doesn't have the ideal size in the center, but he compensates for a lack of size with intelligence and good distribution skills out of the back.
Tim Ream: Centre-Back for Bolton Wanderers
Defender Tim Ream
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A myriad of highs and lows have characterized Ream's career this past year.
Due to his potential, he has established himself as an option on the national team and has gotten multiple caps. However, his play in those matches were extremely shaky.
In terms of his play in the MLS regular season with the New York Red Bulls, he wasn't able to live up to the massive hype he created after a stellar rookie campaign.
As a result, his confidence was very low and it was quite apparent by his play on the pitch that his mental health was poor.
Despite the drop in form, Ream was able to secure a transfer to EPL side Bolton earlier in the week. This development alone should be a huge confidence booster for Ream.
In terms of talent, Ream has quite a good deal of it. He's very good technically and possesses great distribution skills on the back. His silky style of play fits very well next to someone with more of a brutish disposition, such as Carlos Bocanegra or Oguchi Onyewu.
It will be fascinating to see how Ream adapts to a step-up in competition across the pond.
His former manager Hans Backe also gave Ream some incredibly high praise.
Robbie Rogers: Winger for Leeds United
Winger Robbie Rogers
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The pacy winger started off the Klinsmann era with a bang: He was the first player to score a goal in Klinsmann's tenure in a 1-1- draw v. Mexico last August.
Rogers has the ability to stretch the flanks with his very good speed and athleticism. His game has become more skilled and he has the propensity to use his technical ability in an attacking fashion as opposed to just "chasing" the ball with his pace.
Klinsmann obviously sees something in him. With the lack of true wingers on the team, the 24-year-old has carved a nice niche for himself.
The move to England should prove fruitful in regards to his development and if he gets consistent playing time, he should be in line to snag a backup spot out on the flanks.
C.J. Sapong: Striker for Sporting KC
Striker C.J. Sapong
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The 23-year-old came off of a strong first season in the MLS, in which he was awarded with the Rookie of the Year award.
Due to his positive form, Sapong was called into the recent January Training Camp and received his first two caps in matches against Panama and Venezuela.
Sapong's performance in those matches would be considered a success. He used his athleticism to contest many balls in the air and displayed a refreshing hustle as he scurried all around the pitch.
He also used his bigger frame to hold the ball up so his teammates could scoot further up the pitch. This was paramount as he helped to control possession against the lesser sides so that the squad could build attacking chances and effectively kill the game off.
He's the quintessential antithesis of Teal Bunbury, one of his top competitors at his position. Bunbury did not exhibit himself well and Sapong took advantage with his energy and effort.
Let's hope Sapong sees more of an extended run in the future to adequately analyze his possible future with the national team even more.
Brek Shea: Winger for FC Dallas
Winger Brek Shea
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Some of you may question why I have Shea on this list. There's no denying that he's quickly turned into one of Klinsmann's favorites, but there are some concerns about the starlet's game as of late.
In recent matches with the national team, Shea hasn't displayed the same type of excellence that he had earlier in the season.
He's been lacking a certain crispness out on the flank and just seems to have "tunnel vision" when possessing the ball.
Shea has an impressive set of physical tools, but he is still a bit raw (even if he is pegged as the "next future star" of the USMNT).
For the upcoming fixtures, I will be extremely interested to see how he responds. With the heavy minutes that he's logged this season, I would bet that he's a bit worn down, which certainly adds to his lack of form lately.
An intriguing element is the fact that he's never played in qualifying matches with heightened expectations.
The loud, cramped stadiums in Central America, the fantastic yet hostile setting at Estadio Azteca and the pothole-infected fields in the Caribbean each present challenges that Shea should relish.
With these new experiences, USMNT fans hope that Shea's game play on the international stage will continue to grow in a positive manner.
Zak Whitbread: Centre Defender at Norwich City
Defender Zak Whitbread
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The 27-year-old Norwich City defender might be the most intriguing player on this list. He not only starts in the EPL, but he plays at a position of need for the USMNT: Centre-Back.
The bugaboo plaguing Whitbread throughout his career has been injuries. He just hasn't been able to sustain health and, as a result, he's been far from a reliable fixture on any squad he's been a part of.
Born in Houston but raised in England practically his whole life, the 6'2" defender has not represented England on the International level.
However, he has played in a few youth matches for the USA and was called into camp in 2011, only to sustain an injury which precluded him from participating in any friendlies for the senior side.
Soccer is a "what-have-you-done-for-me-now" business and right now, Whitbread is healthy and playing very well for Norwich. He displays a physical nature with hard-working tendencies out on the pitch.
Based on the thin and aging defense employed by Klinsmann, it would shock me if Whitbread isn't called in sooner rather than later.