USMNT on World Cup Qualification Roll, but Questions Still Remain
After picking up an amazing nine points from three games this month in World Cup qualifying, the United States men’s national team is on track to not only qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but to top the CONCACAF hexagonal once again.
But, with everything that is going right, there are still questions that remain for the USMNT.
Is Omar Gonzalez Going to Pick up His Level of Play?
As talented as Omar Gonzalez is and as well as he has played over the past year in Major League Soccer, he still continues to make an inordinate number of mistakes as an international center-back.
After mistake-filled games against Belgium and Germany, his game improved against Jamaica and Panama, but much of this was due to the relative lack of quality in CONCACAF.
On Tuesday night against Honduras, Gonzalez struggled once again. His poor giveaway in the 10th minute forced Jermaine Jones to foul just outside the box on the ensuing counter. Gonzalez was also beaten badly by Andy Najar on the dribble in the 29th minute, but luckily, Najar managed to dribble the ball out of bounds. On Matt Besler’s poor giveaway just before the halftime whistle, Gonzalez was very slow to close down Najar, allowing him to blast a shot that Tim Howard, thankfully, parried away.
Gonzalez improved in the second half, but his play against Honduras once again showed he has a long way to go at the international level.
Who Should Be Michael Bradley’s Midfield Partner?
Despite seeing some of the most consistent lineup selections in U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure, the U.S. still used three different combinations in central midfield over this recent five-game stretch.
In the match against Belgium, Sacha Kljestan was paired with Jermaine Jones. And while Klinsmann’s recently preferred 4-2-3-1 technically has two central defensive midfielders, in the match against Belgium, Jones stayed home while Kljestan went forward.
Kljestan, who has played well for two years in Belgium winning titles and earning Champions League experience, did OK but was unspectacular.
Against Germany, Jamaica and Honduras, Jones was partnered with Michael Bradley. As often happens with this combination, Bradley did most of the holding duties while Jones roamed forward. Jones contributed well to the attack against Germany and Jamaica but was largely ineffective against Honduras.
Against Panama, Bradley was partnered with Geoff Cameron. With Cameron staying back, Bradley was given the freedom to roam forward and played one of his best attacking matches with the USMNT.
This left many U.S. fans wondering if Cameron should have started against Honduras. Or, if Jones continues to be the preferred partner, could he be asked to hold while Bradley roams forward? Jones is obviously a very skilled passer, but Bradley is just as good and also adds in a much needed goalscoring dimension to the U.S. attack.
Who Makes a 23-Man Roster for Brazil?
Currently, it can be reasonably assumed that 16 players have locked down their places on the roster going forward.
In the back, Brad Evans, DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler are basically shoe-ins to make any future roster. In the midfield, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Eddie Johnson, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron and Jermaine Jones are givens. Up top, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore have their named etched not only onto the roster, but practically engraved onto the team sheet on game day. In the net, there is no reason to think that the top three are any different from Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando. And finally, although he was injured for the duration of this camp, Herculez Gomez has done enough to prove his worth and versatility to Klinsmann.
That leaves seven spots open for the World Cup roster, assuming none of the 16 above suffer from an injury or a catastrophic run of form.
Picking a second right-back is tricky. Geoff Cameron can play the role as he did often for Stoke, but he looked out of sorts there against a talented Belgium squad.
Steve Cherundolo was playing well for the U.S. as late as last October and provides much-needed experience and leadership. Timmy Chandler, whose international commitment has been questionable at best, may be forgotten. And even though he is currently on the roster, Michael Parkhurst is probably a long shot to make the final roster at this point.
Assuming Cherundolo makes the squad, but Chandler and Parkhurst don’t, that takes the number to 17.
The U.S. still needs a quality backup at center-back as well. Geoff Cameron, again, can play the position, but Clarence Goodson has repeatedly proved over the past year that he is not an international-quality center-back. Carlos Bocanegra seems the most obvious choice and may play for the U.S. in this summer’s Gold Cup, but he was inexplicably left off the roster for these latest qualifiers. If Bocanegra works his way back onto the roster, that makes 18.
At left-back, the U.S. has Beasley and Fabian Johnson, but with Fabian Johnson recently preferred in the midfield, Klinsmann may want another left-back. This would likely put Edgar Castillo on the roster to make 19 players.
The U.S. would still need another forward and, assuming he has another good run of form for Rapid Vienna, Terrence Boyd is the most obvious choice. Gomez also provides some depth here.
The wild card up top could be Jack McInerney. If the Philadelphia Union forward continues to score goals in bunches and proves at the Gold Cup that he can do it at the international level, he might force his way into the squad. Juan Agudelo is also on a mini-run of good form and has that rare combination of speed, strength and skill, but for some reason, Klinsmann doesn’t seem to rate him that highly.
For now, assuming Agudelo and McInerney are out, Boyd makes 20.
With only three spots remaining, plenty of Klinsmann favorites are in the mix, but some are sure to be left out. Brek Shea, Brad Davis, Danny Williams and Kyle Beckerman are all frequent Klinsmann call-ups fighting for limited roster space. And that’s to say nothing of Joe Corona, Sacha Kljestan, Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu, Jose Torres, Josh Gatt, Mix Diskerud, Conor O’Brien, Joe Gyau or Alejandro Bedoya.
And what if German-American John Anthony Brooks decides to represent the U.S. internationally?
Trying to cut the final list down to 23 is going to be brutal.
What about Landon Donovan?
Back in May, when the roster was initially released for this five-game stretch, the big story was Landon Donovan’s exclusion. Despite the many calls for Donovan to be included, it could, at some level, be understood why he was left off.
After taking a long offseason sabbatical, Donovan had only recently returned to playing for the L.A. Galaxy when the roster was announced and was certainly not in top form.
However, now, with the U.S. clearly able to navigate the hexagonal without him, will Klinsmann make the call if and when Donovan does return to top club form?
Excluding Donovan would bring another wave of criticism and second-guessing, but Klinsmann has shown no sign in his nearly two years in charge to bending to the fans’ will. Including Donovan could potentially, although unlikely, unravel the growing team chemistry Klinsmann has fostered with his core group.
And if Klinsmann does bring Donovan in, but doesn’t play him, that will certainly bring another round of distracting criticism and questions from the media.
The choice cannot be an easy one and will be widely questioned either way. Either he goes with his current team hell or high water and leaves off the U.S.’s all-time goalscoring leader, or he brings him in and awaits the unknown consequences.
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