Commentary: US national team's lack of experience, backline a cause for concern
If the US national team is going to deliver positive results in two of the most challenging games on their CONCACAF Hexagonal qualifying schedule, they'll do so with one of the greenest squads called for a competitive match in recent memory.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann belatedly released his roster for the upcoming duels with Costa Rica and Mexico on Monday afternoon, and thanks to illness, injuries and coach's prerogative, the group has been shorn of many experienced players as well as nearly all of its usual German-based contingent.
“We know we have a big task ahead of us, and we are confident our group will get the job done,” Klinsmann said in a press release. “Obviously there are many players out with injuries, and that means the next person in line has a chance to step up. Getting points at home in World Cup qualifying is huge, and we are looking forward to having an awesome crowd supporting us in Denver on Friday night.”
The carnage is particularly acute along the backline, where Fabian Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Timothy Chandler, Michael Parkhurst and Steve Cherundolo are absent, and MLS standouts Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow – with just two caps and no qualifying appearances between them – are the only out-and-out fullbacks making the trip to Denver.
And it looks likely that at least one of the duo, probably Morrow, could step right into the starting XI. At first blush, it would seem that Geoff Cameron is the leading candidate to take over right back duties, given the time he's spent there for his club team Stoke City, but that would also prompt yet another new center back pairing, with Cameron and LA Galaxy star Omar Gonzalez having started last month's 2-1 loss to Honduras in the Hexagonal curtain-raiser.
Clarence Goodson could partner Gonzalez (above) or – in what would be a real shocker – Klinsmann may even decide that he prefers Sporting KC man Matt Besler as Gonzalez's foil, a look he tried out – and praised – during the January camp.
The midfield is somewhat less decimated, though Klinsmann's penchant for holding-type players endures as Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu all return to the fold, while Michael Bradley will probably remain the team's passing fulcrum and beating heart.
There has been a welcome injection of attacking width added to the side, in the form of left-siders Brek Shea and DaMarcus Beasley (right), the latter of which is one of the few true USMNT veterans on this roster whose hot streak in Liga MX has been rewarded.
“Run DMB” can also play left back in a pinch, a move which would be a pronounced gamble from the starting whistle but may provide an ace in the hole should the US find themselves chasing the game in either of these crucial contests.
Sporting's Graham Zusi must be considered the incumbent on the right side of midfield as he continues his meteoric rise from MLS standout to US regular in barely a year's time. Somewhat further out in the picture stand Sacha Kljestan and Joe Corona, two players in good form in high-level club competitions whose movement and creativity would be welcomed into the starting lineup by many US fans.
Kljestan came off the bench to decent effect against Honduras and will be eager to prove he's ready for a bigger role this time.
Up front, Klinsmann has his greatest wealth of options, and possibly his knottiest conundrums. Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore have been quite prolific of late, and the same can be said of Seattle Sounders hitman Eddie Johnson, fresh off clutch strikes in MLS and CONCACAF Champions League action.
Yet there will surely be a spot on the field somewhere for Clint Dempsey, whose team-leading 27 qualifying caps make him the old hand of this bunch. With a calf injury in his recent past, there may be questions about his readiness for a full 90 minutes in the thin Colorado air, a topic the US technical staff will be monitoring keenly this week.
Most of the US squad has already gathered in Denver and will train on Monday afternoon. Further sessions and activities – including a Thursday night “pep rally” in downtown Denver – are planned over the next five days in the leadup to Friday's crucial match against Costa Rica at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.