USA vs. Panama: USMNT Fringe Players Who Must Make Most of Opportunity

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2013

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Mix Diskerud #14 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

There's not much left for the United States to accomplish in World Cup qualifying. The team clinched its spot in Brazil, clinched first place in the hexagonal and even took four points from its main rival, Mexico. 

It's been a great qualifying campaign.

With just one game remaining, the team doesn't have anything left to accomplish, and the roster will be devoid of several key players. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey aren't making the trip. Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones, Matt Besler and Tim Howard have been taken off the squad. This is a shell of the team that will travel to Brazil next summer.

Thus, it's also a chance for several fringe players to make cases for their selection at the 2014 World Cup. Let's break down a few players who have plenty to prove. 

 

Chris Wondolowski, Forward

HARTFORD, CT - JULY 16: Chris Wondolowski #19 of the United States looks on before being pulled from the game late in the second half against Costa Rica during the CONCACAF Gold Cup match at Rentschler Field on July 16, 2013 in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

While Jozy Altidore seems entrenched as this team's starting forward—and Eddie Johnson has played well as deputy and offers versatility since he can also play on the wing—it seems there is some uncertainty after those two at the forward position.

Chris Wondolowski is a true poacher and played well when called upon in the Gold Cup, scoring five goals. With just 10 goals for San Jose to this point in the season, however, Wondo's subpar productivity in the MLS means he'll need to seize any opportunities he is given for the national team.

 

Aron Johannsson, Forward

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 11:  Aron Johannsson #9 of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team tips the ball away from Adrain Mariappa #19 of Jamaica at midfield in the first half against the / at Sporting Park on October 11, 2013 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Phot
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

The youngster and AZ Alkmaar man has shown glimpses of brilliance for the USMNT, and he could be the team's forward of the future. Then again, with a strong showing Tuesday, he may also prove to be a forward of the present.

Though he didn't score in his first USMNT start Friday against Jamaica, his hold-up play was excellent and his positioning solid, and his general feel of the game is quite mature. There is a lot to be excited about here, and Johannsson could yet carve out a spot on the the World Cup roster next summer. 

 

Sacha Kljestan and Mix Diskerud, Midfielder

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 11:  Sacha Kljestan #16 and Mix Diskerud #8 of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team celebrate the second goal of the game scored by Jozy Altidore #17 against Jamaica at Sporting Park on October 11, 2013 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (P
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Michael Bradley is the most important player the United States has. His box-to-box role and ability to link up play from his position in the midfield makes him both the team's engine and its primary creative force. 

Where Dempsey provides moments of sheer brilliance and Donovan remains the team's most dangerous player on the attack, Bradley remains the team's point guard, to borrow from basketball. 

But what happens if he goes down to injury? Who will deputize him and fulfill that key role in the midfield?

Likely, either Sacha Kljestan or Mix Diskerud would be tasked with the job, thus making the performance of both men in this contest—if they both play—of the utmost importance. Each has until this summer to prove he should be Bradley's backup. 

This is a key moment in that battle. 

 

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