Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men's national team have their work cut out for them as they prepare for the World Cup in 2014.
Apart from navigating the very difficult and diversified table that is the CONCACAF Hexagonal, the Yanks have some tactical and personnel issues to sort out. Most worrisome for the Americans is surely the consistently inconsistent back four.
The midfield and forward crops are well-stocked with quality options throughout.
Be it at the striker position, where Jozy Altidore is scoring goals in bunches at the club level in Holland and where Clint Dempsey is finding himself quite comfortable. Then there are young guns, like Terrence Boyd and Juan Agudelo, who appear primed to make a regular impact at the international level.
In the midfield, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are developing an appetizing chemistry in the center of the park. They have help, too, on the flank in particular with Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson and Landon Donovan all finding dangerous form.
The goalkeeper position is covered, no doubt, as Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are both seasoned game-changers.
It is in the back where the situation definitely gets murky for Jurgen Klinsmann and the rest of the coaching staff. All four positions are arguably wide open just about one year away from the first match of the World Cup.
The openings start at right full-back, where long-time veteran Steve Cherundolo has been absent for sometime now. The post has been a bit of a revolving door with Timmy Chandler, Geoff Cameron and most recently Brad Evans all manning the position. Evans is the likely candidate to fill the void as the team currently stands, but he is not a natural full-back and his game can be questioned in terms of physicality.
Things are a bit more clear at the right center-back position, where Omar Gonzalez has been the first choice as of late. The L.A. Galaxy defender is a physical presence and capable of dominating aerial challenges. He has been prone to some costly mental mistakes, though, and sometimes has a heavy first touch. Clarence Goodson and Geoff Cameron have also seen time at right center-back, but it is Gonzalez who is the likely choice as qualification continues.
The left center-back position, formerly exclusively owned by Carlos Bocanegra, is in flux too. Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler performed more than admirably against Mexico in the U.S.' 0-0 draw earlier in the qualification process, but he is still new to the international game and could struggle physically with some of the world's more athletic strikers.
Left-back, like right-back, has been a revolving door in the Jurgen Klinsmann era. It is currently being manned by long-time U.S. veteran DaMarcus Beasley, who has impressed with his ability to adjust to a new position.
Beasley brings pace and savvy to the spot, but whether or not he is the solution for Brazil 2014 can rightly be called into question. German-American Fabian Johnson is a nice option, too, but Klinsmann appears to prefer him in the midfield so as to get forward and contribute in the attack. Edgar Castillo has seen time at left-back as well but lacks the strength to competently contend at the highest level of the international game.
With a handful of more critical qualifiers in the coming weeks and months, Klinsmann has some time to tinker with his defense. That said, Brazil 2014 is just around the corner and having a back line that is synched will be a massive key for the U.S. at the World Cup. The talent is in place; it is now a matter of figuring out which pieces fit where.
A task Klinsmann will certainly take on as a priority for the Yanks at Brazil 2014.