The road to Brazil starts in Honduras on Wednesday for Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men's national soccer team.
At the inception of any qualifying campaign fresh faces and fresh philosophies are often coupled with a new sense of optimism. This is no different for the USMNT, as players from across the MLS have been staking their claim for a starting berth in the first XI.
Whilst the recent 0-0 draw with Canada will have done little to make Klinsmann sit up and take notice, the players' domestic form in the season just gone will have certainly given him food for thought.
For those players that want to be on the plane to Brazil in 2014, the time to impress begins on Wednesday night.
So which players have been pushing to get on the team alongside messieurs Donovan, Dempsey and Howard? With Klinsmann's squad naming a plethora of experienced attacking options, there could well be opportunities for young defenders and midfielders to come in and make an impression.
One player Klinsmann has made no secret of his admiration for is LA Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez. After the recent January camp, Gonzalez seemed to be the player that really impressed the USMNT manager most.
You have to admire the mental fortitude the 6'5" Galaxy man has demonstrated over the past year. A horrific injury last January halted his development just when he was beginning to blossom into an excellent defender.
But now, having been named the MVP of the MLS Cup in December, the reputation of Gonzalez is back on the rise. Calls for him to nail down a starting place ahead of these qualifiers are ever-growing. We should see Gonzalez get his opportunity.
Another player that is relatively new to the side is Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi. He has been in and out of the first XI since he made his maiden appearance in January 2012, but will be looking to cement a place in the side for the World Cup run-in.
You would think that a player like Zusi has all the attributes to impress Klinsmann. He has an assured passing style that has been a steadying influence on the Kansas City midfield. He is also a hard worker that can operate across the midfield—traits that Klinsmann has valued in his time as a manager. Zusi's versatility, in particular, could prove to be key throughout a qualifying campaign as well as the finals.
With Landon Donovan more effective in central areas, it would make sense for him to operate behind a striker, which could leave Zusi to provide the team's width. With Zusi and Clint Dempsey operating as inverted wingers, Donovan would see more of the ball in dangerous positions, which can only be a good thing for USA.
The Kansas City man put in a good showing in the recent 0-0 draw with Canada, but will certainly feel he has much more to offer going forward. As is the case with Gonzalez, Zusi has certainly impressed the USMNT chief ahead of the upcoming qualifiers.
Who do you think deserves a chance in the side? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter: @MattJFootball
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