The United States Men’s National Team faces Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colorado in just 12 days in a crucial World Cup qualifier.
After starting the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with an away loss to Honduras and an away game against Mexico on the horizon, it is critical that the USMNT takes advantage of this home match against Costa Rica.
To make matters worse, the American squad is currently rife with injuries and players who are not consistently playing for their clubs.
Here’s who U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is likely to play against Costa Rica in this crucial matchup.
With news coming out of England on Friday that Tim Howard has broken bones in his back and will be out of action for several weeks, all eyes have fallen on long-time U.S. backup Brad Guzan.
Guzan has been in fine form this season for Aston Villa, keeping Villa in many games despite the team’s woeful English Premier League record.
On a side note, former USMNT goalkeeper Brad Friedel stated on Twitter that he would be available to help the team should Guzan go down before the March qualifiers.
Despite Timothy Chandler’s poor performance against Honduras, he will likely get the start against Costa Rica.
Veteran Steve Cherundolo has still not returned to Hannover’s lineup since he underwent knee surgery last month.
And, to make matters worse, Michael Parkhurst, who had seen some action with the USMNT at right- and left-back over the last 12 months, has only earned one start for Bundesliga side Augsburg since signing with the club in December.
Chandler, on the other hand, continues to see regular action for his club, Nuremberg (albeit as a right-midfielder this past weekend). Chandler will also likely benefit from conditions in Colorado that will be much more like conditions in Germany (In the Honduras match, Chandler looked like he was going to wilt in the 85-degree temperatures).
Against Costa Rica, Chandler will also likely have more help on the right side than he had in Honduras. In Honduras, due to Jurgen Klinsmann’s off-balance formation, Chandler was left on an island for most of the match. Klinsmann won’t be likely to make the same mistake again.
Although Geoff Cameron has seemingly been deployed at every position for club Stoke City except center-back, Cameron is, quite simply, one of the few players the U.S. can rely on at the position right now.
In recent weeks, Stoke manager Tony Pulis has used Cameron as an attacking midfielder and a right-midfielder, in addition to the left-back and right-back roles he played earlier in the year. Last week, Pulis left Cameron out of the lineup all together, a concerning decision for U.S. fans with the qualifiers approaching. But Cameron earned his way back into the starting XI this week for Stoke’s loss to Newcastle.
Who to partner with Geoff Cameron in the middle of the U.S. defense will be the hardest decision Jurgen Klinsmann will have to make for the match against Costa Rica.
While the U.S. defense looked disorganized without captain Carlos Bocanegra to keep things together against Honduras, Bocanegra has continued to struggle to find any time as of late with his club, Racing Santander. Despite the fact that Santander is in Spain’s second division and relegation-threatened, Bocanegra can’t find his way into the lineup.
Of course if Klinsmann does decide to go with Bocanegra’s experience despite his lack of recent games, he could also partner Bocanegra with Gonzalez in the middle and push Cameron out to the left side of the back line, where injuries have devastated the squad's depth.
Last summer, in the face of mounting injuries at left-back during the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, Jurgen Klinsmann made the bold pronouncement that “anybody can play left-back” and even used midfielder Jose Torres at the position to prove his point.
Now, the U.S. may be in a similar position with injuries to top choices Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo.
Johnson missed this week’s match with Hoffenheim due to a hip injury, and Edgar Castillo is recovering from three broken bones in his face.
There has been no timetable on Johnson’s return, but Castillo could be ready for the match against Costa Rica according to some reports.
If neither is ready, Klinsmann could push Cameron out wide or move Michael Parkhurst or Timothy Chandler to the left. All three players have experience on the left side.
Darkhorse candidates for the position include Michael Orozco Fiscal, Jonathan Spector or Eric Lichaj.
Update: Fabian Johnson is expected to be back in training with Hoffenheim by Wednesday according to Yanks Abroad. Expect him to make the start at left-back.
Putting Michael Bradley in the starting XI is the biggest no-brainer decision Jurgen Klinsmann has to make for the Costa Rica game. The big decision is where to play Bradley.
After a number of ho-hum performances from preferred holding midfielder Danny Williams and with Klinsmann hesitant to play Jermaine Jones as the No. 6 (despite the fact that Jones routinely plays that role for Schalke), Bradley is the likely candidate to take over the role as the U.S. destroyer and deep-lying playmaker.
Despite the fact that Jones continues to be a consistent performer for Schalke in Germany, Jones continues to be frustratingly inconsistent for the USMNT.
Still, he is a favorite of Klinsmann and unlikely to be left out of the starting XI.
Klinsmann has shown a willingness to push Jones to the wide midfield position, something he showed some proficiency at in the November Russia friendly. If this happens, Maurice Edu or Sacha Kljestan may be able to work their way into the starting XI for the U.S.
Here’s where things get interesting. Because of both the parity and quantity of Jurgen Klinsmann’s choices at the wide midfielder positions, predicting who gets the nod here is nearly impossible.
Eddie Johnson, who also started against Honduras, probably has the inside track. He offers the team speed on the counterattack and his ability to score in the air adds an extra dimension.
Graham Zusi is another possible choice and has been a favorite of Klinsmann over the past six months. His performance against Honduras was forgettable, but his opening weekend performance with Sporting KC showed what he is capable of.
Sacha Kljestan could also be pushed wide to fill in here, as could Danny Williams or Jermaine Jones.
Last, but not least, Klinsmann could opt to go with young speedster Josh Gatt, or perhaps even darkhorse candidate Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya has been in fine form in Sweden so far this year and has scored three goals in Helsingborg’s last three games.
Like on the right side of midfield, Klinsmann faces an abundance of choices at the left midfield position with no candidate standing out as the clear-cut favorite.
However, as things currently stand, it would be tough to argue that there is an option at left midfield in better form than Joe Corona.
Corona was a consistent starter and contributor for Liga MX Champions Tijuana in 2012 and has showed no signs of slowing down in 2013.
While Corona is certainly one of the most exciting choices, it also wouldn’t be shocking if Klinsmann gave the start to Brad Davis on the left. Davis did enough in this year’s January camp to earn a call-up for the Honduras game. Although he didn’t feature in the match, Davis has continued to play well for the Houston Dynamo, even scoring the 89th-minute game-winner in this week’s CONCACAF Champions League match against Herculez Gomez’s club, Santos Laguna.
Davis can also provide the service from the flanks that the U.S. forwards have been starved of in recent USMNT matches.
Brek Shea is another option and, although he has recently broken into the lineup at Stoke City, he was not involved in their loss this weekend to Newcastle.
Klinsmann could also push Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Sacha Kljestan or Jose Torres out to the wing if needed.
With Clint Dempsey continuing to struggle with a calf injury, he might not be back in time for the match against Costa Rica. If he is not, expect Herculez Gomez to reclaim his spot in the starting XI for the U.S.
Gomez has been a favorite of Klinsmann over the past 10 months and has also remained a fan favorite for his consistent work rate up top.
Gomez has also been in fine form recently, scoring three goals in his last two Liga MX matches.
Jozy Altidore is having one of the best seasons ever for an American in Europe, and just this week broke Clint Dempsey’s record for the most goals in one season by an American in Europe with his 24th goal of the season for AZ Alkmaar.
Altidore also has three goals in his last three games.
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