Last week, the United States Men’s National Team put its World Cup 2014 qualification hopes back on track with a 1-0 home win against Jamaica.
The win leaves the U.S. tied for points in CONCACAF’s Group A with Guatemala and Jamaica, with the top two teams advancing.
The U.S. has two do-or-die qualifiers remaining in October that it must take points from if it hopes to advance to the final round qualifying.
Here are six USMNT players who must improve for the U.S. to be part of the show in Brazil.
Jones has perhaps the most impressive club pedigree of any player on the USMNT roster with over 90 appearances for Schalke in the German Bundesliga over the past four seasons and 14 appearances in the Champions League.
However, with the USMNT, Jones performances have varied wildly.
At times, Jones plays like the world-class player he is supposed to be, breaking up plays defensively, moving the ball quickly around the pitch, showing off fantastic vision to find open teammates on the opposite side of the field and even scoring the odd goal.
At other times, Jones looks like he is disinterested, lazy or even crazy. There are games when he appears to believe that his teammates are not worthy of his full effort and games where he loses his mind and begins fouling everyone in sight.
Since he is obviously a big favorite of USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann and likely won’t be dropped to the bench, his performances must, at the least, become more consistent.
At this point, it’s safe to say that many, if not most, USMNT fans would prefer to see Altidore not on the pitch for the U.S.
However, that’s not likely to happen, and with his strong club form, he is likely to continue to get called in.
Herculez Gomez always gives a 100 percent effort and has the ability to pop up here and again with a goal, but doesn’t exactly dominate up top. Klinsmann also seems to prefer Altidore to Terrence Boyd, Chris Wondolowski, Juan Agudelo and C.J. Sapong.
Altidore had a hat trick with his club AZ Alkmaar this weekend, and if he can manage to replicate his club form with the national team, the USMNT will have a much easier time qualifying for the World Cup.
Surprisingly, Donovan has only had appearances in eight of Klinsmann’s 18 games in charge. And other than in the U.S.’ 5-1 thrashing of Scotland, Donovan has been largely anonymous in most of those games.
Donovan has been the U.S.’ talisman for the last decade, but over the past 18 months, he has looked increasingly bored and unmotivated, even admitting that he has lost some of his competitive fire and has contemplated retirement.
When Donovan is at his best, the U.S. can do the impossible: beat world champions, overcome terrible officiating and come back late to win games. Without him, the U.S. often looks pedestrian.
Admittedly, it seems hypercritical to include Dempsey on this list. But nonetheless, his transfer saga has left him lacking in fitness and match form. And to be completely fair, it seems ridiculous that Klinsmann asked Dempsey to put in back-to-back 90-minute performances against Jamaica after having gone three months without a competitive fixture.
However, there is no question that the time off has affected Dempsey’s play. While he was still good, many U.S. fans realized that Dempsey’s performances against Jamaica were nowhere near his best.
Hopefully, he can settle in quickly at Tottenham because the U.S. desperately needs Dempsey at 100 percent for the October qualifiers.
Jose Torres has had an up-and-down year with the USMNT under Klinsmann. At first, it looked as if Torres was finally going to get his shot to run the midfield after spending the Bob Bradley years as a cameo performer on the wings. In those performances in the middle, Torres thrived, going box-to-box and moving possession around the field for the U.S.
However, recently, Klinsmann has gone back to playing Torres out wide, or underneath the forwards, and his performances have suffered.
After a disappointing loss to Jamaica in Kingston two weeks ago, it became painfully obvious that the U.S. needed more creativity in midfield. Several days later, they looked much better in the middle, but still struggled to score.
If Torres can pick up his game, whether he is deployed wide or in the middle, it will pay big dividends for the USMNT.
Ok, this really could be a host of characters from Brek Shea to Graham Zusi to Joe Corona to Josh Gatt. But the fact of the matter is, the U.S. is short of depth on the wing right now and needs someone to step up and lay claim to one of the starting spots.
Assuming everyone is healthy and Dempsey is playing up top, the U.S. only has one sure-fire starter on the wing in Landon Donovan. With Jurgen Klinsmann not convinced Alejandro Bedoya, Benny Feilhaber or Freddy Adu are USMNT-worthy, one of his usual callups is going to need to get the job done.
Most USMNT fans were excited to see Josh Gatt finally get his chance, but a last-minute injury prevented his inclusion in the last national team camp.
Brek Shea has showed glimpses of what he can do, but in 15 caps, he has not accumulated a single goal and only has one assist. (This assist, against Mexico in a friendly in August 2011, in somehow not credited to Brek Shea officially on ussoccer.com)
Joe Corona is a consistent call-up of Klinsmann, but has obviously not done enough in those training camps to convince Klinsmann that he is worthy of playing time.
Graham Zusi is the most promising prospect at the moment due to his impressive performance against Jamaica, but will have to build on that performance to prove he is worthy of a consistent spot in the starting XI.
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