After starting off the hexagonal round of qualifying with a 2-1 away loss to Honduras, the USMNT must take full advantage of its next match—a home qualifier against Costa Rica on March 22.
One of the biggest questions for the U.S. since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the squad 18 months ago is who to deploy on the wings, especially since Landon Donovan has played only eight of Klinsmann’s 22 matches in charge.
Donovan is expected to miss the match against Costa Rica as well as it was announced last week that he is not expected to be game-fit until late April.
In Donovan's continued absence, here are 14 options the U.S. can go to on the wings for its all-important qualifier on March 22.
The True Wingers
In terms of natural wingers, Klinsmann's options are thinner than one might expect.
Brek Shea, who made his English Premier League debut this past weekend with Stoke City, is certainly one option, but Saturday’s match with Stoke was his first competitive match since last September. With three weeks to go until the match against Costa Rica, Shea would have to shake off the rust in a hurry.
Graham Zusi looked very strong on the wing for the USMNT against Jamaica in September and against Antigua and Guatemala in October, but Zusi’s performances against Canada and Honduras in January and February left a lot to be desired.
Josh Gatt finally made his much anticipated USMNT debut against Russia in the November friendly and also played the second half against Canada in January. His pace out wide is a monster weapon, but he still has work to do with his decision making on the field.
The real knock against Gatt is that after looking at him for three weeks in the January camp, Klinsmann did not select him to start the friendly against Canada and left him off the Honduras roster all together. It’s unlikely that Gatt will work his way back into the lineup for the match against Costa Rica.
Brad Davis has been a fringe USMNT player for years and recently did enough in the January camp to earn his way onto the Honduras roster, although he didn’t play in that match. Davis’ experience would certainly be a plus, but his quality as an international is still a relative unknown.
The dark-horse candidate on the wing has to be Alejandro Bedoya. A favorite of former manager Bob Bradley, Bedoya earned his first call-up in the Jurgen Klinsmann era last month for the January camp.
Bedoya got into the match, playing the final 26 minutes, but looked shaky. Although he was left off the Honduras roster completely, Bedoya already looks to be back to form for his club where he scored this weekend in a preseason friendly.
Jurgen Klinsmann does have a number of players at his disposal who can play on the wing, even though they are not natural midfielders.
Eddie Johnson was very impressive in the October qualifiers when deployed out wide, scoring two goals against Antigua and racking up an assist against Guatemala.
However, since then, EJ has struggled with the USMNT. His performance as a striker against Canada was only so-so and against Honduras—where he was rotated between the wing and forward positions—he put in a muted performance. Some of that may have been due to the fact that the length of the Honduran pitch neutralized EJ’s biggest weapon—his speed—but he will certainly need to do better if given another chance against Costa Rica.
Herculez Gomez could be an interesting choice on the wing, especially if Klinsmann elects to play Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top again. Gomez’s exclusion from the game against Honduras was a bit of a mystery, but he likely fell victim to Klinsmann’s (cough) unique tactical deployment in that match.
Gomez’s work rate for the USMNT is absolutely unquestioned and he is strong enough both technically and tactically to adapt to the wing if necessary. The one big question is whether Gomez could go a full 90 minutes as he is usually one of the first players pulled from the lineup when playing for his club, Santos Laguna.
The most exciting possibility on the wing for the USMNT is Fabian Johnson. Although Johnson has the left-back spot for the U.S. nailed down, there is no doubt the U.S. could use his creativity in the midfield. Against Slovenia in late 2011, Johnson was spectacular in the midfield helping the U.S. to a three-goal effort.
If pushed into the midfield, the question becomes who replaces him on the back line with potential options including Timmy Chandler, Michael Parkhurst, Edgar Castillo (the only natural leftie in this group) or Geoff Cameron.
Pushing a Center Midfielder Wide
Throughout his tenure, Jurgen Klinsmann has frequently adopted the policy of putting his best XI players on the field regardless of position. Because of the U.S.’ depth at the center midfield position, this has frequently meant a natural central player is pushed out to the wing.
Early in his tenure as U.S. manager, Klinsmann frequently used Danny Williams as a wide midfielder with generally poor results.
Jermaine Jones was used as a wide midfielder against Russia and looked surprisingly good in the role.
Sacha Kljestan, who plays as more of a No. 8 for his club Anderlecht, would give the U.S. some much needed possession in the midfield, but no one will end up mistaking him for an attacking dynamo as he lacks speed and creativity.
Joe Corona frequently plays in the No. 10 role for Club Tijuana, but is capable of playing out wide. However, one has to wonder how much Klinsmann truly trusts Corona as he is frequently called into the team, but rarely plays (against Honduras he wasn’t even called up).
Jose Torres is another option and has the ability to play the type of one-touch, two-touch soccer that the U.S. desperately needs. However, Torres has had mixed performances for the USMNT when deployed wide—he normally plays as a central midfielder with his club, Tigres.
Mix Diskerud could certainly be used wide, but Klinsmann was so unimpressed with Diskerud in the January camp that he left him off the gameday roster entirely and now Diskerud is flirting with playing for Norway.
With a vital three points on the line—and the next two qualifiers being away matches to Mexico and Jamaica—the U.S. needs to put in a better performance against Costa Rica. With forwards like Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore—who thrive on good service—who Jurgen Klinsmann selects for the wide midfielder positions against Costa Rica will make a big impact on the game.
So, who are your choices?
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