The names of the 30 men tabbed by Jurgen Klinsmann to join the U.S. Soccer pre-World Cup camp are not all of the household variety.
Surely the core of the squad remains well established, as a number of regular stars will vie to become one of the 23 selected players to join Klinsmann in Brazil when camp convenes this week.
We know most of the big names already. Tim Howard. Michael Bradley. Landon Donovan. Clint Dempsey.
At some point between the last World Cup and the 2014 tournament that begins in exactly one month, each of those top veterans has been tabbed the best American soccer player on the planet. And at some point, that moniker rang true for each, and thankfully, all four have had bounce-back seasons in terms of form. Heading into Brazil, it's Bradley—of the U.S. big four—who currently sits atop the mantle of America's best.
The United States men's soccer team will only go as far as its stars can take it, which is an easy overjustification that the 30-man roster named by Klinsmann matters far less in the World Cup scheme of things than the 23 who will actually make the trip to Brazil.
Still, Klinsmann's group of 30 has some odd choices, and perhaps some necessary ones, given the culmination of this transitional phase in American soccer history.
Anyone with half an eye on the development years of the U.S. Soccer program over the last two years knows there are at least 18 to 20 seats on the plane to Brazil already taken. The decision for Klinsmann to hold off on announcing his final 23—like many other nations have done before the FIFA deadline for club announcements—comes from the belief that form, fitness and fear can be motivating factors in who fills the final three to five spots.
Looking at the 30 names, it isn't too hard to determine which players will work during camp to try to get a spot in the starting XI and which are still fighting for a ticket on the plane.
The goalkeepers are set in stone. Howard is America's No. 1 keeper and is coming off a stellar season at Everton where he had 15 clean sheets, the second most in the Premier League. He is in excellent form heading into the World Cup, and he will be backed up by Brad Guzan, who had a far more difficult time at Aston Villa this season, but proved himself a capable keeper at the world-class level. There are many nations who wish they had a keeper at the World Cup as good as Guzan.
Nick Rimando has been firmly planted as the third keeper for the U.S. side for some time, and while he has proven to be a solid contributor in B-level matches for Klinsmann and is a standout in MLS, he is in his mid-30s and will be nearly 40 by the time the position would open up for him.
Rimando deserves the nod for Brazil, but there are some young names Klinsmann might have considered that would have been better selections if he was worrying about the future of the program. At least at keeper, it seems he is not.
Of the 30 players invited to camp, 11 are listed as defenders. None of them, sadly, is a reliable World Cup veteran.
There are some locks for Brazil, surely. Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez should be tabbed as the starting center backs, though I personally would select Clarence Goodson over Gonzalez due to his level head and experience participating in 2010. All three will make the trip.
DaMarcus Beasley has adeptly converted to fullback in his resurgence under Klinsmann, and Geoff Cameron's versatility in playing multiple positions has him down as a lock to make the team, and possibly the starting XI at right back.
So what does that make of the rest? Fabian Johnson is a lock, as he can play left back over Beasley or run the left flank as a midfielder. Timmy Chandler seemed to be a lock two years ago, but injury and an oddly cool relationship with Klinsmann—and the U.S. team in general—have led to some doubt about his inclusion. Still, if he is fit, he makes it.
Klinsmann talked about Chandler's inclusion on Monday, via Jonanthan Tannenwald of Philly.com:
I encouraged him always to keep going, and he's fully fit again. I think he's a player that can make a difference if he's on his highest level. He has the experience to play against very good and strong players throughout Europe, and that's why he earned his way back into the group.
The rest of the defenders in camp will be understandably nervous, as their inclusion will depend on how many defenders Klinsmann really wants to bring to Brazil.
With seven players pegged as potential locks, the group of John Brooks, Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst and DeAndre Yedlin could be fighting for one or two available spots, if any. Evans has been a solid install during qualifying, but there are better options to put up against the dynamic offenses of Portugal, Ghana and Germany. Brooks may be the future at center back, and it makes sense to invite him to camp, but he looked horribly overmatched in his dress rehearsal with the national team. He is not ready for Brazil.
Yedlin isn't either. The 20-year-old will be a future star for the U.S., but that will likely come in Copa America in two years, not this summer. Which leaves Parkhurst, who is extremely reliable and versatile, but probably ranks behind Evans and the other seven already making the cut.
Chandler's reemergence did neither Evans nor Parkhurst any favors. Thankfully, it might do the rest of America a bigger one.
There are 10 midfielders listed on the roster, but that doesn't include Landon Donovan, who Klinsmann insists on listing as a forward. It also doesn't include Fabian Johnson, who could take a spot at midfield in the starting XI, or Geoff Cameron, who could also fill in a central holding midfield role if his right back spot is taken.
Needless to say, there are a lot of midfielders, and the one who will be getting the most attention this week is 18-year-old Julian Green.
Green looked just that—green—in his first match with the U.S. squad a few weeks ago. He looked beyond green, frankly. He looked overwhelmed, which does not bode well for his inclusion to Brazil. He shouldn't be included, and unless he has an amazing camp, I don't think anyone has to worry about a teenager making the trip over a more deserving player as a thank you for picking the United States over Germany.
There is time for that. Brazil is not the time.
So, who does make it? Bradley for sure. Jermaine Jones, as frustrating as he has been to watch, is a lock. So, too, is Graham Zusi, who has become the poster boy for working hard in MLS to get noticed at the national-team level.
And that's it. You have to assume those three will start along with Donovan in some combination of a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formation. Alejandro Bedoya was on the roster in 2010 and could make it again as a field-stretching winger. Kyle Beckerman has come along as a defensive midfielder and could compete with Maurice Edu to back up Jones and Bradley in the middle of the park. One of those two will make it for sure, but probably not both.
Joe Corona seems to be a favorite of Klinsmann, if for no other reason than the continued selection of players competing in Mexico as a reminder to those with dual citizenship options who can make a choice in the future. He probably won't make the 23-man roster, unless he gets there over Bedoya.
That leaves Brad Davis and Mix Diskerud, and I'm honestly not sure either will make it. If I had to choose between the two, I'd pick Diskerud, who is young and dynamic and can be one of those surprise catalyst types of players that enters a World Cup match and changes the course of American soccer history. Davis, on the other hand, is not. He's a solid stateside player with a wicked free kick. If the rules change in the next month and we could suddenly sub in a player to whip a ball into the box and sub him right out, Davis is the guy.
That's not happening, and I have to think he won't be either.
Forwards are the most important group Klinsmann has to select, which makes it pretty obvious why the options are not surprising at all.
Jozy Altidore has had a putrid season in the Premier League, but his form for the national team has been much better lately. Dempsey is back to his disruptive self and Donovan, if on form and fit, is still a world-class player and an important veteran presence.
The other names—Terrence Boyd, Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski—all deserve to be in Brazil, but there's a slim chance Klinsmann will have space for all six players listed as forwards.
In 2010, Bob Bradley took four forwards to South Africa, and that did not include Dempsey or Donovan, who were both listed as midfielders at the time. In 2006, the team brought five forwards, including a young Eddie Johnson, the player most notably absent from Klinsmann's roster this go-round.
Even if we assume the U.S. takes five of the six listed forwards, Johannsson is on the trip as the fourth name for sure—his form makes one think that he should start with, or instead of, Altidore—which leaves Wondolowski or Boyd as the last.
Wondo has been much better in recent call-ups to the national team, while Boyd has barely played for Klinsmann over the last 18 months. Still, Boyd has had an incredible season in Austria, scoring 20 goals in all competitions for Rapid Vienna.
In his last four matches in the Bundesliga season, Boyd scored six goals. Wondolowski has five goals in nine matches for San Jose so far this season. If Klinsmann truly cared about form, it would be Altidore on the outside looking in.
That will not happen, so something will have to give. While Wondolowski is a great domestic player and a standout in CONCACAF competitions, he is not a poacher at the world-class level. Boyd offers more to the roster and should get the nod.
Come to think of it, maybe all the forwards will make the trip. Running back through the list, the locks make up 20 spots (assuming Beckerman over Edu and Boyd or Wondo makes the cut), which leaves three additional spots.
Which four of Brooks, Evans, Parkhurst, Yedlin, Corona, Davis, Diskerud, Edu, Green, Wondolowski and Boyd would you take?
More importantly, which of those players will Klinsmann take? Those decisions could not just shape the final World Cup roster for the Americans, but also the future of the program for years to come.