USMNT: The Munificent Seven
Seven players who reported to Stanford's Farm will not make the trip to Brazil in a USMNT kit. These players will be giving it their all for the next two-three weeks but will be cut from the team in the end.
The competition for those seven spots, we hope, will give the final 23 players an edge as they head into the penultimate group of death (Group C has higher average Soccer Power Index ratings).
Because the effort made by these seven players will improve the 23-man team that actually travels to Brazil, the effort these seven will put into preparing their mates can be viewed as a giving and generous sacrifice.
In short, they are munificent, the Munificent Seven.
Before we speculate on who the Munificent Seven will be, let's take a moment to recognize Mr. Munificent, Eddie Johnson. The MLS forward tied DeMarcus Beasley for most USMNT appearances in 2013 with 17 while scoring several key goals for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Nevertheless, Klinsmann left Johnson off his roster citing Johnson's poor form in 2014. EJ will not be going to the World Cup Finals so the least we can do is recognize his prior sacrifice getting the Nats to the finals.
Now, which players will comprise the Munificent Seven?
As there are many ways to cut this particular pie, we'll take a look at various scenarios, any of which, or many of which, carry a kernel of truth.
The players in these scenarios could, could, find themselves the odd man out. Some of these players are a bad training session, a temper tantrum or a bad attitude away from staying home. Others will need to pick up a knock or show some really poor form to find themselves dropped.
One or two are extreme outsiders for the Munificent Seven, but if Klinsmann can leave GAM at home, there seems little doubt that he is capable of pulling another shocker. The Untouchables, however, will be conspicuous by their absence in the following scenarios.
As reports leak out of Klinsmann's Farm camp and the U.S. plays a couple of friendlies, we'll update these lists. For now, consider these lists nothing more than fantastic speculation and water-cooler fodder.
7 Positions for 7 Players
Why did Jurgen Klinsmann bring 30 players to camp in the first place? Because he can.
The U.S. is in good company as Italy, England, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and defending champs Spain all picked 30-man preliminary squads.
Klinsmann's decision to use the full 30-man preliminary roster is sound strategy. If a player is injured, another is readily available, fully fit and in sync with his teammates. It also gives the coach a chance to try different player combinations and formations.
Klinsmann can use the seven to motivate the rest of the squad, particularly the off-form veterans. If you think Eddie Johnson's exclusion wasn't a message to the rest of the 30, then you haven’t been following the Klinsmann school of coaching.
And don't be surprised if he drops another bombshell and sacrifices one of the so-called "locks" if he feels it necessary to light a fire under the rest of the squad.
They will all be playing together, they will see each other's fitness and technical levels, and if someone isn't pulling their weight, Klinsmann can cull the slacker before the bad apple ruins the barrel.
It will be an ol' fashioned varsity tryout complete with entrenched seniors who will either have to foul up royally or come up lame to be cut.
If seven players will be cut, it follows that seven players will make the team. In the scenarios that follow, we'll look at different rationales for keeping certain players and identify the seven players who would not make the team under that scenario.
For our purposes, we'll stick with the player positions released by US Soccer in Klinsmann's name. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we could argue over whether or not Landon Donovan is a "forward" or "midfielder" (or a wing forward) or Fabian Johnson is a fullback or winger, but for accounting purposes, let's keep it simple.
Obviously, none of the three goalkeepers will be one of the seven. That leaves seven cuts to divide between the 11 listed defenders, 10 listed midfielders and six listed forwards.
In the interest of parsimony, let's assume that Klinsmann will cut three listed defenders, three listed midfielder and one listed forward.
Other distributions are possible, but we'll use this for our initial speculative baseline.
The German Conspiracy
The German conspiracy first reared its ugly head when Sporting News published anonymous accusations that dissension in the American locker room was a direct result of Jurgen Klinsmann favoring his Teutonic knights.
The six German-born players among the final 30, an even 20 percent, no doubt adds validity to the claim among the conspiracy-minded.
Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones were always considered good bets to make the final roster, and Terrence Boyd's current form made it nearly impossible for Klinsmann to leave the Tank at home. Even so, but their inclusion still means another player's exclusion.
Julian Green's one-time switch to the Nats was followed by speculation that the talented youngster was promised a place on the United States' World Cup roster in exchange for his commitment to American soccer. Tim Chandler's inclusion after a full year's exile raises similar questions.
As this scenario is based on the idea that Klinsmann made promises to dual-nationality players to get them to commit to the USMNT, and because we only have six Germans, let's add the only dual-nationality Mexican-American to the list and include Joe Corona.
|John Brooks||Clarence Goodson|
|Tim Chandler||DeAndre Yedlin|
|Julian Green||Brad Davis|
|Fabian Johnson||Brad Evans|
|Jermaine Jones||Maurice Edu|
|Terence Boyd||Chris Wondolowski|
|Joe Corona||Mix Diskerud|
It could very well be that Klinsmann's recruiting promises were limited to "you'll get a real chance to beat out another player" and that Corona, Chandler, Brooks and Green are only in camp to fulfill that promise.
It could also be the case that these players really are at or near the top of the depth chart at their positions.
But conspiracies are so much more fun!
No Country for Young Men
Should a national team coach include youth on his team, if for no other reason than to give them World Cup experience?
Should a national team coach take only his most experienced players?
If Jurgen Klinsmann is playing the long game and figuring that the Nats' best chances to compete for a championship are still to come, then it makes sense to include as many young players as possible to prepare them for future World Cup finals.
If Klinsmann is sincere in his pledge that the U.S. is going to Brazil to give it their best shot, then it makes more sense to take veteran players who can handle the pressure of the World Cup stage.
In this scenario, the seven of the most experienced players (by age) and seven of the least experienced players are matched by position.
|TOO OLD||TOO YOUNG|
These pairings are not necessarily players who play the exact same position or role with the team. DaMarcus Beasley, for example, is a left-sided player while DeAndre Yedlin plays on the right.
Jermaine Jones is usually considered a holding midfielder while Joe Corona is more of an outside playmaker, but USMNT observers are well aware that Jones loves to barge upfield and act like a No. 10.
Kyle Beckerman and Mikel Diskerud perform two different central midfield roles.
Brad Davis and Julian Green are both wingers, and their style of play could not be more different. Davis is a delivery master while Green's attributes include his ball skills and pace.
Still, such trade-offs are common when constructing a final roster.
Form Follows Function
The USMNT player pool contains several players who can play multiple positions and several players who are specialists in only one position.
In a tournament format where the coach must build his game lineups from a limited 23-man roster, multi-tool players are invaluable.
A case can also be made for the specialist who can dominate his position or bring a particularly valuable skill to the team.
In this scenario, we match seven of the most versatile players with seven of the least versatile players.
|Geoff Cameron||Tim Chandler|
|Fabian Johnson||DeAndre Yedlin|
|Michael Parkhurst||John Brooks|
|Joe Corona||Brad Davis|
|Maurice Edu||Mikel Diskerud|
|Aron Johannsson||Julian Green|
|Landon Donovan||Terrence Boyd|
Geoff Cameron is so versatile that he doesn't have a starting position despite the considerable skill he demonstrated in qualifying and in consecutive EPL seasons.
This is the Geoff Cameron paradox—too talented to leave off the roster, too versatile to own a position.
Tim Chandler is a talented right back, one of the three positions Cameron can play and the position he plays for Stoke City against some of the world's best players.
Fabian Johnson is another like Cameron who can play three positions on the defensive and midfield lines. DeAndre Yedlin is like Chandler, a talented one-trick pony.
Michael Parkhurst can play center or outside back while John Brooks only plays in the central defense.
Joe Corona usually plays on the wing, but Klinsmann did use him in the central midfield during the Gold Cup. Brad Davis may be the best deliveryman on the roster... and that's about it.
Maurice Edu is usually considered a holding midfielder though he put in a great performance at center back against Mexico. Mix Diskerud is an attacking midfielder with a reputation, perhaps unjust, for avoiding the physical spots in the midfield.
Aron Johannsson can play a strong-side or inverted wing, in the withdrawn forward spot or even up top in a two-forward formation. Julian Green can run down the wing, albeit at very high speeds.
Landon Donovan is listed as a forward, but in Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 system, the two outside wings are effectively forwards so no one should be surprised when this "forward" starts on the outside; and let's not forget Donovan's playmaking skills in the middle of the field.
Terrence Boyd is a developing target forward, but Klinsmann's already got one.
Function Follows Form
It makes sense for a coach to take his most in-form players to the biggest tournament in the known universe.
In this scenario we match up seven of the most in-form players with seven of the least in-form players. Form, of course, is judged by us couch-bound managers, but let's assume for the sake of argument that we can know a player's form by watching them play on a flat screen.
|Terrence Boyd||Jozy Altidore|
|Chris Wondolowski||Landon Donovan|
|Kyle Beckerman||Jermaine Jones|
|Alejandro Bedoya||Brad Davis|
|Joe Corona||Julian Green|
|Michael Parkhurst||Omar Gonzalez|
|Tim Chandler||Brad Evans|
The Brads, Davis and Evans, make the out-form list because they have missed several games apiece in the young MLS season and thus simply haven't played many games in this calendar year.
Julian Green makes the out-form list because he's been nursing some injuries and frankly hasn't played any real competition.
Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and Jermaine Jones are the draw-droppers on the list. Altidore and Jones are often referred to as the "spine" of the team by Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan is only the greatest American soccer player of all time, and Gonzalez was a regular starter in qualifying.
Nevertheless, all four of these players have shown dubious form in club games over the last six months.
If form matters to Klinsmann, and these four players' form in training resembles what we see on the tube, don't be surprised if one of these four has their boarding pass taken away.
Jurgen Klinsmann is highly Americanized, and one trait Americans and Germans seem to share is a heavy dose of pragmatic realism.
Each of the preceding scenarios pushes a particular argument about Klinsmann's roster selection. However, the most likely scenario is that Klinsmann uses all of these criteria when selecting his 23.
So, this list represents an unscientific amalgamation of these various scenarios. Consider this the first draft of the Munificent Seven.
|MAGNIFICENT SEVEN||MUNIFICENT SEVEN|
|Michael Parkhurst||DeAndre Yedlin|
|Tim Chandler||Brad Evans|
|Maurice Edu||John Brooks|
|Geoff Cameron||Omar Gonzalez|
|Graham Zusi||Brad Davis|
|Mikel Diskerud||Joe Corona|
|Alejandro Bedoya||Julian Green|
Omar Gonzalez was brought into last summer's Gold Cup team but didn't play a single minute. His performances for club and country have been inconsistent of late.
So, despite his considerable talent, Clarence Goodson will beat him out for the starting center spot next to Matt Besler while Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron and Michael Parkhurst provide depth.
John Brooks will be back, but he simply cannot match the skills and experience of the aforementioned multi-tools.
The Brads, Evans and Davis, are the MLS feel-good stories of this World Cup cycle. Unfortunately, they lack that higher gear which will be needed if the Nats are going to get results against the ultra-athletic lineups they will face in Group G.
The battle between Mix Diserud and Joe Corona will be the closest of the Farm camp. Klinsmann will likely take one attacking midfield specialist, a dynamic and creative player who can change a game with a single play. Right now the nod goes to Mix, but don't be surprised if it's Corona.
Alejandro Bedoya is well-seasoned after his first year in Ligue 1 and can match Julian Green's speed, if not his technical ability.
Green, like Brooks, will be a key figure in the 2018 cycle but not this time around.
You will notice that all seven of the listed forwards are in the final-23, but this is only because three of those players are versatile enough to play outside or inside.
Klinsmann's 4-2-3-1 system requires a target forward, and if Jozy Altidore gets hurt, Klinsmann will need the Tank, Terrence Boyd, to hold down that spot (and don't be surprised if Boyd doesn't push Altidore hard for the starting role).
That leaves Chris Wondolowski, and if you're Klinsmann, how do you leave a guy like that at home when you're facing teams against whom you may very likely need a late, sneaky goal?