The United States finished atop the Hex—the final round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF—to clinch its seventh straight appearance in the marquee international event. Now, the focus shifts to improving upon the team's round of 16 run in 2010.
Head coach Juergen Klinsmann should be happy with the progress his squad has made since the beginning of 2013. After some lackluster results early, the Americans have won 15 of their last 16 matches heading into a pair of friendlies in November.
Every match between the end of qualifying and next summer will be viewed as a proving ground, a chance for players on the roster bubble for World Cup to show they deserve an opportunity to represent the United States in Brazil.
Let's take a look at some of the latest roster talk as the World Cup squad starts to sort itself out. It's followed by a projection for the starting lineup and potential reserves. Keep checking back as updates will be made in the coming months.
Juergen Klinsmann has shown throughout his tenure as the U.S. national team's head coach that he likes competition within the squad. The theory being that by forcing everybody, including longtime stars, to fight for their spot, it will raise the entire squad's level of play.
His approach isn't likely to change now that the qualifying process is over. Roger Bennett of ESPN passed along comments from the head coach ahead of the final Hex match, and he didn't hand automatic spots to anybody. Not even Clint Dempsey:
There is no guarantee for anyone. Clint threw himself into a shark tank coming back (to MLS) and the expectations are above the clouds; his own expectations are the highest, and therefore it is a huge process he is going through right now.
If the remarks came from any number of other managers, they would probably be seen as simply lip service to the fringe players still fighting for spots. With Klinsmann, however, he seems genuinely set on forcing every single player to work their way onto the squad regardless of their reputation.
He forced Landon Donovan to showcase strong form with the Los Angeles Galaxy before bringing him back into the fold after a layoff. It send a message to every player hoping to make the final roster that their work is far from done.
It makes for an interesting dynamic leading up to next summer. That said, it's hard to argue with the results Klinsmann has produced, and it should provide every American player with a boost of motivation as they attempt to prove their worth to the squad.
The battle for starting spots remains very active. Multiple positions along the back line are up for grabs, Tim Howard is trying to fend off Brad Guzan to maintain the No. 1 goalkeeper role, and key cogs like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are being watching closely.
With that in mind, here's a look at a projected starting lineup for the World Cup opener, followed by a glance at some of the other options available to Klinsmann.
Projected Starting Lineup
GK: Tim Howard
LB: DaMarcus Beasley
CB: Matt Besler
CB: Omar Gonzalez
RB: Brad Evans
DM: Jermaine Jones
DM: Michael Bradley
LM: Landon Donovan
CM: Clint Dempsey
RM: Graham Zusi
ST: Jozy Altidore
Other Likely Squad Members
GK: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
DF: Clarence Goodson, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron
MF: Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona
FW: Aron Johannsson
More Possible Squad Members
GK: Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid
DF: Michael Parkhurst, Steve Cherundolo, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco, John Brooks, Tim Ream, Timmy Chandler, Carlos Bocanegra
MF: Sacha Kljestan, Kyle Beckerman, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres, Brek Shea, Brad Davis, Danny Williams
FW: Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski, Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez, Juan Agudelo