The United States men’s national team has a busy summer ahead of them with upcoming friendlies against Belgium and Germany next week to be followed by World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras. In July, the USMNT will also compete in the Gold Cup.
The game against Belgium will be complicated by the late arrival to camp of several key U.S. stars, so who will get the nod in this warm-up match?
Picking a goalkeeper for both the Belgium friendly and the U.S.’ upcoming World Cup qualifiers will be, in a sense, both the easiest and most difficult decision Jurgen Klinsmann faces.
It will be the easiest decision in the sense that whomever Klinsmann decides to put in the net, it will be well minded. While Tim Howard did not exactly have the most impressive season this year with Everton, even being warned by David Moyes once about losing his spot, Howard almost always plays big for the USMNT when needed.
Klinsmann’s decision in the net will be the most difficult in the sense that Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan is currently in outstanding form. Guzan won both of Villa’s Player of the Year awards this season and, despite Villa giving up the third-most goals in the English Premier League this season, was outstanding for the club from start to finish. Guzan also deputized well for an injured Howard in the March qualifiers.
Whichever decision Klinsmann goes with, the U.S. net is in good hands.
Right-back is one of the spots on the USMNT roster most up for grabs at the moment. Klinsmann ostensibly left U.S. stalwart Steve Cherundolo off the roster due to “injury”, but Klinsmann made the claim five days after and two days before Cherundolo made back-to-back 90-minute efforts for his club, Hannover.
Timmy Chandler also missed the roster due to a knee injury that kept him out of club duty.
The two call-ups at right-back were Geoff Cameron—who is actually a natural center-back—and Michael Parkhurst. Neither Cameron nor Parkhurst are in particularly good form at the moment, with Cameron being dropped from Stoke City’s starting XI down the stretch when they were in a relegation battle and Parkhurst only playing once for his club, Augsburg, since March.
That being said, Cameron did still start 29 games for Stoke this season and is clearly more game-ready than Parkhurst.
Barring a series of unmitigated disasters or injury, Omar Gonzalez will be starting at center-back for the U.S. for the foreseeable future. After two outstanding club seasons with the L.A. Galaxy and some dominant performances in the March qualifiers, Gonzalez is primed to become the base of the U.S. back line for the 2014 World Cup.
The other center-back spot, however, is still very much up for grabs. Carlos Bocanegra was once again left off the roster. When he was left off for the March qualifiers, Jurgen Klinsmann claimed it was due to the fact that Bocanegra was not getting consistent playing time for his club.
That excuse didn’t hold water this time around, as Bocanegra has won back his starting place in Racing Santander’s lineup, but Bocanegra’s club season is not over until June 8th.
Clarence Goodson was given another call-up after his strong performance against Costa Rica, but anyone who has watched Goodson over the past few years realizes that he is, at his best, a capable deputy. If the U.S. is truly building for a team ready to compete in Brazil, they need to look elsewhere.
Matt Besler, hopefully, is the answer to the U.S.’ center-back question.
Although DaMarcus Beasley is truly a left-winger, he did play left-back in the March qualifiers. While he played well against Costa Rica in the blizzard, against Mexico, Beasley was turned inside and out, reminding fans of why Bob Bradley abandoned the “Beasley as a left-back” experiment years ago.
However, with Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson both due to arrive in camp late due to club commitments (Castillo with the Copa Libertadores, Johnson with relegation playoffs in the Bundesliga), Beasley will get another shot.
Sans Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi is the best the U.S. can hope for on the wing. He has had another hot start in Major League Soccer, picking up three goals and four assists in 12 games.
After a series of underwhelming performances against Canada, Honduras and Costa Rica, Zusi played well against Mexico in March. He was smart in possession and his defensive work-rate was outstanding, helping the U.S. defense fend off wave after wave of Mexican attacks.
Although Michael Bradley will play in the Coppa Italia on May 26th with Roma, he is the type of player who can make the quick turnaround to fly to the U.S and play three days later. The U.S. will need a strong holding midfielder against a talented Belgian squad, and the U.S. is at its best when Bradley is sitting in front of the center-backs.
If Bradley can’t make the turnaround, Klinsmann has a plethora of options with Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Danny Williams all holding midfielders themselves. Although Klinsmann has preferred to use Jones as a No. 8, rather than a No. 6, using Jones as the holding midfielder in Bradley’s absence would give the U.S. a chance to see what the team looks like with Sacha Kljestan in the No. 8 role.
As stated in the previous slide, assuming Michael Bradley can go, Jermaine Jones is the most likely candidate to get the start in the center of the U.S.’ midfield. If Bradley can’t go, Jones will likely retain his starting spot. Klinsmann can either use Maurice Edu or Danny Williams in the holding role, or may push Jones himself into the holding midfield spot and use Sacha Kljestan as the No. 8.
This is the trickiest spot in the U.S. lineup right now. With Landon Donovan not selected, the U.S. depth at the outside midfield position is thin. Klinsmann has, in the past, used Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey and Sacha Kljestan as wide midfielders, but those are not preferred options.
Klinsmann could give another shot to Brad Davis, but that is not likely. Klinsmann could also give a first start to Joe Corona, which would be an exciting choice. Brek Shea is not likely to get the nod since he has not played a competitive game since March (that fact in and of itself raises questions as to why Shea was even called up).
Klinsmann used Eddie Johnson as a wide midfielder in the October qualifiers to much success, but since then, Klinsmann has primarily used Johnson, ineffectively, as a forward. Gomez, meanwhile, was used in the wide position against Costa Rica and Mexico and always gives a 100 percent effort every time he is on the field.
Look for Gomez to get the start again.
The U.S.’ inept offense has managed three shots on goal in its last three World Cup qualifiers. Thankfully, Clint Dempsey put two of those shots in the back of the net. Otherwise, the U.S.’ qualifying campaign would be an unmitigated disaster right now.
The only reason Klinsmann wouldn’t use Dempsey against Belgium would be to give a run-out to Terrence Boyd or perhaps take a look at Joe Corona in the No. 10 role.
Jozy Altidore had a magical season for AZ Alkmaar, scoring 31 goals and winning the Dutch Cup. Although Altidore hasn’t scored for the U.S. since 2011, he has proved with his club that when he gets service, he will finish his chances. It’s up to the U.S. midfield to create those chances.
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