The United States men’s national team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann only have five months left before this summer’s World Cup. While American internationals abroad are hard at work with their club sides, the Major League Soccer contingent of the USMNT is in the team’s annual January camp preparing for Saturday’s friendly with South Korea.
With few opportunities left before the World Cup begins, what does Klinsmann still have to do to get the team ready?
Finalize the Roster
Klinsmann recently stated that he has settled on 14-16 players for the World Cup roster with the remaining spots up for grabs. One can reasonably assume based on recent call-ups and caps that Klinsmann’s group of 14-16 players includes Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Aron Johannsson and Jozy Altidore.
Based on Klinsmann’s recent choices, the seven or so remaining spots are likely a battle between a few players at each position. At goalkeeper, Nick Rimando probably has a spot locked up, but with Tim Howard and Brad Guzan more than capable of handling the duties, Klinsmann may look to the future and select Sean Johnson.
In the back, Edgar Castillo, Clarence Goodson, John Anthony Brooks and Michael Orozco are still in the mix. In the midfield, Mix Diskerud, Kyle Beckerman, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea and Alejandro Bedoya appear to be the front-runners for the last few spots. At forward, Terrence Boyd is still in the hunt.
There are also a number of dark-horse candidates in the mix, including Timmy Chandler, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Parkhurst, Brad Davis, Joe Corona, Jose Torres, Chris Wondolowski and Herculez Gomez.
Finalizing those last seven or so spots from a field of 20 or more players will give Klinsmann an unenviable task before the team sets off for Brazil.
Find a Way to Get Aron Johannsson in the Starting XI
Aron Johannsson is the hottest American player in the world right now with 20 goals in all competitions in 2013-14. He only has six caps for the USMNT, but Johannsson’s quality is undeniable.
He could play up top for the U.S., either as the lone striker in Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1, or the team could revert to the 4-1-3-2 it used in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying and start Johannsson up top alongside another striker.
The other way Johannsson could get into the starting XI, if Jozy Altidore proves he can handle the job at striker, is by putting him out wide—an idea that U.S. fans have been clamoring for Klinsmann to try. Alejandro Bedoya didn’t do much in his recent games with the U.S. to prove he is the answer out wide and most fans would prefer Fabian Johnson be used at left-back.
Johannsson could be a viable option on the wing for the U.S. to rotate in with Landon Donovan and Graham Zusi and Klinsmann needs to find a game to give the idea a chance.
Find Geoff Cameron a Position
Versatility for any player is good, but Geoff Cameron has been so versatile for the USMNT that he hasn’t locked down a position anywhere on the field—something Cameron has admitted frustrates him.
Cameron regularly plays right-back for Stoke City, but Brad Evans appears to be the No. 1 on the right for the U.S. and Cameron has only been given limited opportunities there. Klinsmann believes that Cameron’s best position is at center-back, but Cameron rarely plays centrally for Stoke and the U.S. already has Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez at the position.
Finally, Cameron can play as a defensive midfielder, but Klinsmann clearly prefers Jermaine Jones to partner Michael Bradley in the center of the U.S.’s midfield, not Cameron.
The fact is that Cameron is simply too good of a player not to be on the field for the U.S. Out of all of the U.S. field players in top four leagues in Europe, Cameron is the most regular starter. Klinsmann needs to find him a spot in the lineup.
Figure Out the Jermaine Jones Back-up Plan
Among U.S. fans, Jones is one of the most divisive players on the squad. His performances tend to be wildly inconsistent and his temperament puts him at constant risk for ill-advised tackles. He is also a poor partner for Michael Bradley, often drifting forward, forcing Bradley to pick up more of the defensive duties.
If Klinsmann finally sees what most U.S. fans see, or Jones gets hurt, or even worse, suspended, the U.S. needs a back-up plan. Cameron can handle playing defensive midfield, but he may be needed in the back line. Diskerud could do it, but Diskerud and Bradley have never started side-by-side, so it is unproven. Kljestan is a possibility, but few U.S. fans believe this would improve the team in any noticeable way.
Finally, there is Kyle Beckerman. Few fans get excited talking about Beckerman, but the one benefit of a Bradley-Beckerman combination is that, with Beckerman holding, Bradley would be free to go forward more often. As one of the U.S.’s most skilled creators, the more Bradley can get into the attacking third, the better.
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