With the United States men’s national team having secured qualification to the 2014 World Cup, the next task at hand will be preparing for the tournament itself.
The U.S. will likely only have five matches between now and the opening of their World Cup training camp (not counting any potential games in January). There are the two final World Cup qualifiers later this month, November friendlies against Scotland and perhaps Austria, and a friendly in March 2014 against a yet-to-be-named opponent.
Here are five areas the U.S. needs to address between now and their trip to Brazil.
Over the past six months, Matt Besler has been the most consistent defender for the USMNT. However, who will partner him in the center of the U.S. defense remains an unresolved question.
Omar Gonzalez is a dominant player in the air, but has been prone to major gaffes this season with the LA Galaxy in an increasingly worrying trend (video here). Gonzalez was very good against Mexico in September, but also got away with a major error in the first half, allowing the ball to get in behind him, before Jermaine Jones saved the day with a perfect recovery run.
Clarence Goodson is also very strong clearing danger out of the box, but as he has shown on multiple occasions in the past with the USMNT, he can be exposed on the dribble. Geoff Cameron is another option, but rarely plays the position with his club and will likely be too rusty as a center-back to play there for the U.S. anytime soon.
Finally, there is John Anthony Brooks. Brooks is still not officially cap-tied to the U.S., but has enjoyed a near-meteoric rise in Germany over the past two years. He led Hertha Berlin to promotion from Bundesliga 2 last season and was off to a stellar start in the top flight this year prior to dislocating his elbow a little over a week ago.
Jermaine Jones suffers from a multiple personality disorder with the USMNT. Last month, against Costa Rica, Jones gave the ball away a team-leading 22 times and then immediately followed that game up four days later against Mexico with one of the gutsiest performances of his U.S. career.
He has a tendency for reckless fouls and bad giveaways and sometimes displays an attitude that makes it seem like he’d rather be anywhere else than with the USMNT. Other times, he covers loads of ground, covering for beaten teammates and gives the U.S. some much-needed grit in the middle.
However, if Jones can’t manage to put forth consistent performances, Jurgen Klinsmann should start looking elsewhere. Klinsmann has shown a preference towards Jones repeatedly in the past, but Jones’ poor performances, combined with his almost guaranteed spot in the starting lineup risk making Klinsmann’s words about form look meaningless to the rest of the team.
With players like Geoff Cameron, Mix Diskerud, or Kyle Beckerman ready to step into a starting role and potentially Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu and Jose Torres waiting in the wings, Jones needs to be a more dependable option for the U.S. or lose his spot.
From 2009-11, the U.S. struggled to find a reliable left-back as it rotated Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein and Eric Lichaj through the Confederations Cup, World Cup and Gold Cup. Bocanegra was no longer fast enough to be truly effective out wide, Bornstein always struggled in 1 v. 1 battles and Lichaj is naturally right-footed.
Now, with Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley giving the U.S. two solid options on the left, right-back has become the unresolved position. However, unlike the left-back issue from the U.S.’ past, the U.S. currently has plenty of options at right-back. The problem lies in that there is no clear depth at the position.
Brad Evans deputized well at the position over the summer with Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler both out due to knee injuries. Cherundolo is still recovering while Chandler has had up-and-downs at the club level and his commitment to the U.S. is still questioned by many fans.
Geoff Cameron plays right-back for Stoke regularly, but struggled against Belgium last summer at right-back and hasn’t seen time there since. Michael Parkhurst is a good enough option, but cannot be expected to be in top form when he rarely even makes the gameday squad for his club.
DeAndre Yedlin is young and inexperienced, Jonathan Spector plays regularly as a midfielder for Birmingham and Klinsmann seems to have forgotten that Eric Lichaj exists. Michael Orozco remains another option and did start against Costa Rica, but his performance against the Ticos was certainly less than confidence-inspiring.
With at least nine options to choose from, Klinsmann needs to start making some decisions now.
Where to play Fabian Johnson remains one of the great debates right now among USMNT fans. Yanks Abroad writer Brian Sciaretta wrote a piece in August detailing Johnson’s offensive prowess as a midfielder and why the U.S. should play him there, while American Soccer Now writer John Godfrey took the exact opposite position just a few days later, arguing that Johnson should be the U.S.’ left-back.
Johnson is an excellent option for the U.S. at either position, but when looking at the depth of the USMNT, the choice becomes clearer. While DaMarcus Beasley is the U.S.’ only other option at left-back (assuming Greg Garza doesn’t work his way into the team before then), the U.S. has plenty of options at the wide midfield positions in Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya and potentially Eddie Johnson, Brek Shea, Jose Torres, Herculez Gomez, Joe Corona, Clint Dempsey and Aron Johannsson.
Playing Johnson in the midfield pushes one of the U.S.’ better players to the bench while playing him in the back opens up a spot for one of the U.S.’ talented wingers. If Klinsmann truly wants to put his best XI on the field, Johnson needs to be played in the back.
Aron Johannsson already has a remarkable 10 goals in all competitions in the 2013-14 season for AZ Alkmaar. His pace, 0.77 goals per game, puts him slightly ahead of the pace set by Jozy Altidore last year (0.76 goals per game) in Altidore’s record-setting season.
Johannsson showed U.S. fans, in a small cameo in the Bosnia friendly, what he is capable of and also scored a sensational golazo this weekend.
The difficulty for Klinsmann will be in finding a way to get Johannsson on the field. While Altidore is in an early season slump for Sunderland, he is likely to keep his starting place. Eddie Johnson is also in red-hot form. Now with Johannsson in the mix (not to mention that Herculez Gomez netted a hat trick in his return from injury last week and talented youngster Terrence Boyd is still an option), the U.S. forward pool is getting crowded.
Klinsmann could revert to the 4-1-3-2 he used in 2012, or he could try to use Johannsson on the wing. Whatever the case may be, if Johannsson stays in his current form, Klinsmann has to try and get him on the field.
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