With the 2014 World Cup draw done, the U.S. now knows its group-stage opponents and will open the tournament with perennial foe Ghana.
Seeing as the United States men's national team was eliminated from both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup by the African nation, it seems almost fitting they will open the 2014 tournament against this difficult opponent. What's more is that considering the U.S.'s other group-stage opponents in Germany and Portugal, the game against Ghana is a virtual must-win.
It's still six months away, but let's take a look at who might be in the starting XI for the USMNT on June 16 in Brazil.
With Everton in fine form and Tim Howard playing well, he is almost a given in the net for the U.S. next summer. His leadership will be needed with a relatively inexperienced back line and he has essentially taken on the role of vice-captain for the U.S. in the past few months.
Additionally, Howard will want to show better against Ghana than he did in 2010, when he could have done better on both of the Black Stars' goals in the U.S.'s Round of 16 loss.
Right-back on the USMNT has essentially become what left-back was to the USMNT under Bob Bradley—its biggest weak spot.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann might opt to play Cameron at center-back or even holding midfielder, but if everyone's healthy, it's doubtful.
Midfield convert Brad Evans has performed admirably at right-back while Steve Cherundolo has been injured and Cameron has been starting in the English Premier League at the position for two years now. With plenty of depth at center-back and Jermaine Jones still Klinsmann's preferred center-midfield partner for Michael Bradley, Cameron will slot in on the right for the U.S.
Like right-back, picking a center-back partnership is a little tricky because of how many variables are involved. John Anthony Brooks could push his way into the lineup and so could Geoff Cameron, but the most likely possibility is Omar Gonzalez.
Klinsmann has shown consistently over the past year that he favors Gonzalez. Gonzalez's performances over the past year with the USMNT have been steadily improving.
Matt Besler burst onto the USMNT scene last January and, since then, has become a regular fixture in the U.S. lineup. He earned only his second cap against Mexico during the World Cup qualifier when he helped the U.S. to an important 0-0 draw at the Azteca.
Since then, Klinsmann has trusted him to get the job done and Besler has done so with his excellent positioning and ability to build play out of the back.
Fabian Johnson starting at left-back for the USMNT in the World Cup is probably equal parts wishful thinking and logic. Klinsmann has shown a preference towards using Johnson on the wing and DaMarcus Beasley at left-back, but with the U.S.'s depth at outside midfielder, it would be wasteful to use Johnson in the midfield.
Here's to hoping Johnson gets the call at left-back.
Michael Bradley is the absolute best-bet of a guaranteed starter for the U.S. at the World Cup. Despite the fact that his playing time this season for Roma has been irregular, Bradley is the U.S.'s best midfielder—bar none.
If you're one of the many, and growing, USMNT fans hoping Klinsmann finally decides to bench Jermaine Jones, don't hold your breath. Regardless of the extremity of Jones' performances—ranging in quality from excellent to downright abysmal—he gets the start time and again from Klinsmann.
The one positive is that Jones does tend to play better in the more important games.
Clint Dempsey is the U.S. captain and a favorite of both Klinsmann and USMNT fans. His form with Seattle this fall was certainly not encouraging, but Dempsey has proven time and time again that he is the best goalscorer for the U.S.
While not a prototypical No. 10 in terms of passing or playmaking, he does best when he can find the pockets in front of an opponent's back four, turn and go to goal.
It's unlikely that Landon Donovan still has enough in his legs to put the U.S. on his back and carry them the way he did in 2010, but he is still easily one of the U.S.'s best players.
He might not play every minute of every game—facing some stiff competition from Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya and perhaps even Fabian Johnson—but assuming he's fit, he should be in the starting XI against Ghana.
Alejandro has had a strong season for his club, Nantes, so far this fall and played well in the Gold Cup. However, he has been less than impressive starting the last five games for the USMNT. Fans have also been clamoring to see Aron Jóhannsson play out wide, but so far Klinsmann has not done it.
Graham Zusi, on the other hand, has had another great club season and continues to prove his worth to the USMNT each time he is given a chance. Zusi was one of the most underrated players for the U.S. in 2013, contributing key assists and goals in multiple games. His service from the flank, set piece delivery and defensive work rate, all make him a must have in the starting XI.
Jozy Altidore has not had the smoothest sailing at his new club, Sunderland, but proved with his seven goals this summer that he should be starting up top for the USMNT. Additionally, one thing that has been missed by most fans is Altidore's much-improved hold-up play—something that will be vital to the U.S. when they get pinned back against superior teams next summer.
Off the bench, Klinsmann has the option of using upstart Aron Jóhannsson or Eddie Johnson.
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