The United States men's national team has made progress toward becoming more competitive with the world's elite squads under Jurgen Klinsmann. All of that progression will be tested in a very difficult Group G at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Although there are several tricky groups in the marquee international event, the United States' can rightfully be called the "Group of Death." The Americans are joined by Germany, Portugal and a Ghana side that has eliminated the U.S. each of the past two tournaments.
The Americans have reached a point where advancing from that type of loaded group is now within reason. So let's take a look at the full squad heading to Brazil, provided by U.S. Soccer's Twitter, and offer a projected starting lineup that will need to display very good form to make a run.
Here are the 23 players on the roster, per U.S. Soccer's official website.
Full 30-Man Official Roster
|GK||Brad Guzan||Aston Villa|
|GK||Nick Rimando||Real Salt Lake|
|DF||Matt Besler||Sporting Kansas City|
|DF||John Brooks||Hertha Berlin|
|DF||Geoff Cameron||Stoke City|
|DF||Omar Gonzalez||LA Galaxy|
|DF||DeAndre Yedlin||Seattle Sounders|
|MF||Kyle Beckerman||Real Salt Lake|
|MF||Michael Bradley||Toronto FC|
|MF||Brad Davis||Houston Dynamo|
|MF||Julian Green||Bayern Munich|
|MF||Graham Zusi||Sporting Kansas City|
|FW||Clint Dempsey||Seattle Sounders|
|FW||Aron Johannsson||AZ Alkmaar|
|FW||Chris Wondolowski||San Jose Earthquakes|
Starting 11 Projection
After a period of time when it appeared Brad Guzan was presenting a serious challenge to Tim Howard for the starting role, the Everton goalkeeper has once again established himself as the No. 1. He was outstanding for the Toffees this season.
The center-back duo of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler might not be a lock yet, but it's getting close. Central defense has been a concern for the United States over the past four years. Those two have provided the steadiest combination when playing together.
Things are a little more unsettled on the outside.
At right-back, there's an ongoing battle between Geoff Cameron and Brad Evans. Steve Cherundolo, who previously held down the spot, had to step away due to persistent injury issues. Ultimately, Cameron should end up getting the nod after consistent playing time in the Barclays Premier League.
The starting left-back will probably be either DaMarcus Beasley or Fabian Johnson. Even though Johnson has played in the midfield with the national team previously, he's a natural defender and it's a position of greater need. Beasley's experience could give him the starting edge, though.
In the defensive midfield, fans will likely see the continued pairing of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Jeff Carlisle of ESPN reports Klinsmann believes the pairing is the heart of the midfield heading toward the World Cup:
Klinsmann says he's happy w/way Jermaine Jones move to Besiktas worked out. Calls Jones & Michael Bradley "the heart of our MF." #usmnt— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) January 31, 2014
The remaining four spots are crucial because for the United States to sport its most potent attacking lineup, it must find a way to utilize Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
Will the U.S. advance from the Group of Death?
Altidore should assume his usual striker spot atop the formation. Donovan and Dempsey may be forced to play different roles than they are used to in order to get them both in the starting lineup, especially if the formation remains a 4-2-3-1.
Putting them in attacking midfield spots alongside Graham Zusi seems like the most favorable outcome. It would give the Americans plenty of creativity moving forward along with making sure the World Cup experience of Donovan and Dempsey is maximized.
U.S. Soccer's official site passed along comments from Donovan during the team's training camp in Brazil, and he talked about what another World Cup would mean to him:
I hope to go to my fourth World Cup. For all of us, we have a lot of respect for football in Brazil, and I think for the whole world, the opportunity to play in a World Cup in Brazil, it only happens once in your life.
The arrival of Bayern Munich rising star Julian Green also has the potential to shake things up. He probably won't start out of the gate, but could see time off the bench as an attacking substitute to give fans a glimpse toward the future.
Looking ahead, the United States won't be able to match the top-end firepower of opponents like Germany and Portugal. Yet, the roster as a whole has a lot of depth and should give Klinsmann options based on each respective matchup.
Cristian Nyari of Goal.com gave his thoughts on the roster as a whole:
Think US team is very balanced. Multiple options for each position and players that fit Klinsmann's profile.— Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) May 12, 2014
As for striker Eddie Johnson, who did not make the roster, he gave his thoughts on missing the trip to Brazil on his Twitter account:
The two biggest keys will be the center-backs and attacking chemistry. If the combination of Gonzalez and Besler can avoid a string of mistakes and Klinsmann can get the trio of Donovan, Dempsey and Altidore to click, advancing to the knockout rounds will be within reach.
If those two things don't come together as hoped, the U.S. is likely destined for a quick exit in Brazil.