With four points in hand from last week’s home win over Costa Rica and away draw to Mexico, the United States men’s national team has put its World Cup qualification campaign back on track after its 2-1 away loss to Honduras in February.
With seven games left in the round-robin CONCACAF hexagonal, here is what the U.S. has done right, what they’ve done wrong and what lies ahead.
Most of the positives that have come out of the U.S. World Cup qualifying campaign in the hexagonal, came in its last two matches.
Brad Guzan established himself as the clear No. 2 option for the U.S. in net behind Tim Howard and, in the minds of some fans, perhaps even challenging for the No. 1 spot.
Stateside Soccer @StatesideSoccer
#MLS: Does Brad Guzan's play threaten Tim Howard's No. 1 spot on USMNT? http://t.co/CRUwY7DhwZ3/27/2013, 2:56:44 PM
Omar Gonzalez had a monster game against Mexico and looks to have laid claim to one of the two center-back spots that have essentially been up for grabs since the 2010 World Cup.
Graham Zusi, after some so-so performances against Canada, Honduras and Costa Rica, performed well against Mexico on both sides of the ball.
Clint Dempsey proved, once again, that if all else fails, he can provide the all-important goal for the squad when needed as he did against Costa Rica.
Michael Bradley also proved again that he is the engine of the U.S. midfield. Against Mexico, he completed an astonishing 57 out of his 58 pass attempts.
And finally, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann did well braving a host of criticism from fans, even his own players, to lead the team to four points over the past two games.
While the U.S.’ four points from its games against Costa Rica and Mexico is certainly something to be proud of, there are still plenty of things for Jurgen Klinsmann and U.S. fans to be worried about.
Through three World Cup qualifiers in the hexagonal, the United States has only managed a pathetic three shots on goal (two against Honduras, one against Costa Rica and zero against Mexico). The U.S. is still clearly in desperate need of an attacking playmaker.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s tactical decision to play an off-balance 4-3-3 against Honduras in the opening game of the hexagonal still defies explanation. It left Timmy Chandler on an island in an environment and conditions he was woefully unprepared to play in.
Doug McIntyre @DougMacESPN
Here's how the #usmnt will line up formation-wise, according to a U.S. staffer: http://t.co/PeyFh6VR2/6/2013, 8:37:27 PM
The U.S. will also continue to face leadership issues in the back. Even with the emergence of Omar Gonzalez, the U.S. backline is still full of relatively inexperienced youngsters. If Carlos Bocanegra’s place with the U.S. is gone (it has certainly been diminished), who will step into the leadership void?
Finally, the poor performance of Maurice Edu against Mexico still stands out. With Jermaine Jones' value to the USMNT still not embraced by a large segment of U.S. fans, the U.S. still doesn’t have a clear partner for Michael Bradley in the center of the U.S. midfield.
Kyle Beckerman, Danny Williams and Sacha Kljestan will all want to claim the spot, but all three players have their flaws.
So, what remains for the U.S. as they go forward into the remainder of U.S. qualification?
Four of the U.S.’ seven remaining games are home fixtures. Road tests are still waiting in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama. Panama, in particular, has a strong squad and leads the hexagonal with five points. Jamaica also has an excess of speed up top—long the Achilles' heel of the American defense.
Jurgen Klinsmann also faces some tricky decisions as manager.
For one, how does Klinsmann re-integrate the German-American contingent of Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler and Danny Williams? All three were ostensibly off the U.S. roster due to illness or injury, but all three were healthy enough to play for their clubs in the games immediately before and after the international break.
Some have even speculated that they were intentionally left off the roster after it became known that their loyalty to the squad was going to be publicly (although anonymously) questioned by their teammates on the U.S. squad.
Another big question Klinsmann faces is what to do with some of his more veteran players including Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra, who were so important in the semifinal round of qualification, but have yet to feature in the hexagonal.
Cherundolo is still returning to form after knee surgery and Bocanegra has only made scant club appearances for Racing Santander over the past few months.
Finally, what does Klinsmann do about the U.S.’ inability to generate a consistent offensive threat? Is the solution trying another combination up top, the return of Landon Donovan, or the insertion of a playmaker (a la Joe Corona) into the lineup?
For U.S. fans, the answers to these questions lay a long way off—the U.S.’ next World Cup qualifier isn’t until June 7.
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