With the United States men’s national team already qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, they can now begin to look ahead to next summer.
Before the U.S. convenes their World Cup camp next May, the team only has five games left when the full-squad will be available (they will likely play two matches in January with a squad of Major League Soccer, Liga MX and Tippeligaen-based players).
Two of those five games will be played over the next eight days, rounding out World Cup qualifying.
Two will be played in November in Europe against Scotland and reportedly Austria and the final FIFA date is March 5 with a game to be played against a yet-to-be named opponent.
With five games to go until the World Cup camp opens, here are six goals for the U.S. to accomplish.
Six months ago when Matt Besler was earning his first World Cup qualifying cap for the USMNT at the Azteca against Mexico, many U.S. fans were wondering “Who’s Matt Besler?”
That night, Besler and centre-back partner Omar Gonzalez earned a big point in the U.S.’ 0-0 draw with Mexico and since then, Besler has established himself as the go-to defender on the American back line.
Gonzalez has been good as well, but is still prone to costly errors and faces competition for the spot from Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson and, perhaps, John Anthony Brooks.
Gonzalez has started all eight of the U.S.’ World Cup qualifiers in the hexagonal and is an absolute monster in the air. However, in the U.S.’ Gold Cup run, Klinsmann favored Clarence Goodson to partner Besler even after Gonzalez was called in following the U.S' progression out of the quarterfinal round.
Cameron has had little experience at centre-back for club or country over the past year. But he was a Klinsmann favorite at the position during the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying and for some high-profile friendlies in 2012 and 2013.
Oddly enough, Cameron’s versatility may end up hurting his chances to regularly play centre-back as he can also play right-back and as a holding midfielder, positions where he is often needed.
Finally, the U.S. may have Bundesliga defender John Anthony Brooks at their disposal in Brazil.
Brooks still is not cap-tied and is eligible to represent Germany internationally. Because Brooks is currently injured and will miss the October qualifiers, the next chance the U.S. will have to officially cap-tie him will be the first group-stage game in Brazil.
While there are plenty of options, the sooner Klinsmann can make his decision, the better.
Besler and Gonzalez have never played a club game outside of MLS. The highest Goodson has climbed at the club level is the Danish league, currently ranked 19th by the UEFA coefficient and Brooks is still largely an unknown.
The more experience the U.S. centre-backs can get with each other between now and Brazil will only help.
The most controversial player in the USMNT player pool right now is Jermaine Jones and nothing has exemplified his hot-and-cold style better than his performances in the U.S.’ September qualifiers.
Against Costa Rica, Jones was a turnover machine and lazy in his defensive responsibilities.
Against Mexico, he was a one-man wrecking crew in the middle of the park, providing the team with a ceaseless work ethic and great defensive help.
These type of performances, however, have come to epitomize Jones’ national team and club career.
He has fallen out with several club managers and was even suspended last week by his club for poor play. He didn’t take kindly to the suspension and quickly announced he would use the time off to have knee surgery before quickly backpedaling and declaring the importance of his club duties.
On my way to training soon!! Surgery ?? No... Schalke 04 is more important atm!! Reading BILD is always the funniest moment of my day!— Jermaine Jones (@Jermainejunior) September 30, 2013
This wasn’t Jones’ first suspension under controversial circumstances as he was also suspended for eight weeks in 2012 for a foot stomp on Marco Reus.
With a short period of time for the U.S. to make final lineup decisions before the World Cup, a judgement needs to be made on Jones.
He is clearly a favorite of manager Jurgen Klinsmann, but if he can’t put together consistent performances, then the U.S. needs to move on and use Geoff Cameron or Mix Diskerud to partner Michael Bradley in the U.S. midfield.
It’s not like the U.S. doesn’t have options at right-back, it’s that they don’t have any clear-cut options at right-back. Steve Cherundolo was still the U.S.’ best choice before a series of injuries hit over the past year. Whether or not he can recover and rediscover his pre-injury form before next summer is a major question mark.
Brad Evans has deputized well at the position, but many question his ability to get it done against top wingers in a World Cup scenario.
Michael Parkhurst looked to have the inside track on the position a year ago, before his move to Augsburg eliminated all of his club playing time. Timmy Chandler hasn’t sniffed the national team since his terrible performance against Honduras in February and has been mired in up-and-down performances for his club.
Meanwhile, Eric Lichaj and Jonathan Spector have been getting regular playing time in the English Championship.
Lichaj can also play left-back which gives him some important versatility, but Klinsmann has never called him up and when Lichaj played in the English Premier League last season with Aston Villa, he often struggled.
Geoff Cameron plays right-back regularly for Stoke. The knock on Cameron as a right-back is that with Stoke, he hasn’t traditionally attacked out of the back the way Klinsmann wants his outside backs to, but that has changed a bit under new Stoke manager Mark Hughes.
Cameron’s performance against Belgium this summer at right-back also did not inspire a great deal of confidence.
Michael Orozco could be used there, but was poor against Costa Rica last month when he got his chance. Finally, there are a few other long shots like DeAndre Yedlin, but he is young and inexperienced.
Getting a clearer picture of who will be manning the right side of the U.S. defense in Brazil has to be a priority.
Aron Johannsson is one of the hottest young strikers in Europe right now with 10 goals already in the 2013-14 campaign.
The beauty of Johannsson is that he can play in a number of roles, including up top and out wide.
If Klinsmann sticks with his recently preferred 4-2-3-1, Johannsson could slot into one of the wide midfielder spots, especially during the next two games with Clint Dempsey out injured and Landon Donovan likely to slide into the No. 10 role.
Fabian Johnson, who Klinsmann prefers to play at left midfield is also out for this set of qualifiers, leaving Graham Zusi as the only regular wide starter on the roster.
These next two games will be the perfect opportunity to fully integrate Johannsson into the squad and give him a chance to show what he can do with his first start.
No serious USMNT fan doubts the quality of Tim Howard.
Since 2006, he has been the rock of the U.S. defense and the team has won many, many games solely because of Howard’s excellent effort.
However, in the last year or two, there have been some apparent chinks in his armor at the same time Brad Guzan has become a tour de force with Aston Villa. Guzan also proved his international worth in the March qualifiers with excellent performances in the win over Costa Rica and the tie away to Mexico.
It won’t be an easy decision for Klinsmann, but it is time to start giving Guzan some first-team games and let the two battle it out for the No. 1 spot in the net.
There’s a bit of minor panic running through the U.S. fanbase regarding the current form of Clint Dempsey.
It is likely premature, as Dempsey had a similar bout with poor form last fall when a late summer club transfer caused him to start the 2012-13 season slowly.
Dempsey’s form was obvious this summer with two stunning goals against Germany and he has been the U.S.’ most consistent goal scorer over the past two years.
However, Dempsey will soon have a long MLS offseason to contend with and must stay in top form if the U.S. is to have any serious chance of contending with the world powerhouses in Brazil.
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