Sometime in the next 10 days, Jurgen Klinsmann will name the team he’s taking into next month's start of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. So now, in order to take my mind off the fact that I still haven’t seen The Avengers yet, let’s take a stab at predicting his roster.
One stipulation, though: I’m taking Klinsmann at his word when he said this at USsoccer.com:
“It’s about getting results, obviously more importantly in the World Cup qualifiers, but also the friendlies leading up to those two qualifiers. It’s about the momentum, it’s about performance. In such a stretch, you do not risk bringing in players who are injured. You do not risk bringing in players you think need more time to develop. It’s not an introduction camp for players. It’s not a time period where you try things out.”
That means the 4-4-1-1 that worked reasonably well against Italy. And it means guys like Daniel Williams are sitting this one out.
So without further ado...
BET YOUR LIFE ON IT
1: Clint Dempsey – The best US player, having the best club season of any Euro-based Yank ever.
2: Tim Howard – Still the undisputed No. 1 ‘keeper.
3: Michael Bradley – The best central midfielder in the pool playing the best ball of his career.
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4: Jozy Altidore – The US dodged a huge bullet when Jozy was shoved into a concrete barrier on Wednesday, but came away with just a bruised back. Wow.
5: Fabian Johnson – Finishing up a solid several months at left back for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.
6: Carlos Bocanegra – Another solid year with Rangers, and still a leader in the locker room.
7: Landon Donovan – Looking forward to seeing him in US colors again. When was the last time he was outside the top three on a list like this, by the way?
8: Steve Cherundolo – Still reliable, still a starter.
9: Timothy Chandler – Clearly the top backup at both fullback slots, and can be useful at right midfield.
10: Maurice Edu – Is “Bradley/Edu” a somewhat dour and uninspiring central midfield combo? Yes, but it’s also effective.
11: Jermaine Jones – He has 14 yellow cards in his last 16 games. I am absolutely terrified that any number of those would be red with CONCACAF officiating, and simply do not trust him. But Klinsmann does, so there’s no way Jones is left off the roster.
12: Oguchi Onyewu – He’s going 90 again for Sporting CP, and would be higher on this list if he wasn’t coming off a series of knee injuries. Even though he’s lost a step, there’s still no better option.
13: Clarence Goodson – I would keep him as far from my team as possible. But it’s not my team.
BET YOUR HOUSE ON IT
14: Brad Guzan – Has been on the bench for four months, but that has never stopped him from performing well internationally when called upon.
15: Tim Ream – Hasn’t impressed for the US, but has been generally pretty good for Bolton and is the logical choice to bring as a fourth central defender.
16: Eric Lichaj – Putting in a solid second half of the season for an awful Aston Villa side. Good depth at left or right fullback even though he hasn’t been part of Klinsmann’s squads yet due to injuries.
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17: DaMarcus Beasley – Quietly had a pretty good season in Mexico, scoring five goals and playing his usual terrier-like defense. A reminder that when he’s healthy, he’s really good.
18: Herculez Gomez – Loudly had a pretty great season in Mexico before a mid-April groin strain. He’s nearly recovered from that, and fits perfectly as a second striker should Klinsmann go 4-4-2, or as a right midfielder (Herc’s position with Santos, by the way) should it be a 4-4-1-1.
19: Kyle Beckerman – Having a Best XI-caliber season with RSL, and is a verified Klinsmann favorite.
BET SOMETHING YOU CAN POSSIBLY LIVE WITHOUT ON IT
20: C.J. Sapong – MLS' 2011 Rookie of the Year hasn’t had a shot on goal in three games, but I don’t care since he occupies two defenders every second he’s on the pitch. That’ll open up space for Dempsey, Donovan – whoever, really – should he need to step in for Altidore. He’s also tough as hell and a nightmare on set pieces.
21: José Torres – Oh hey, remember him? After shaking off last year’s injury he’s put in fulltime work this year for Pachuca, evolving into something of a leader for that side. He also brings a different look than the other central midfielders in the squad.
22: Bill Hamid – This is the only real risk I see Klinsmann taking. Getting guys like Hamid (or Sean Johnson, or even Ryan Meara) on the bench at Guatemala City is pretty much the reason the third ‘keeper slot exists, and it’s not like he’d have to miss time with D.C. to get there.
23: Chris Wondolowski – If Sapong uses his physicality to occupy defenders, Wondo has some sort of mental aikido that makes them forget he exists. If he’s on the field, he will find open chances. And with his confidence at an all-time high, this time he will finish them.
JUST MISSED THE CUT...
Brek Shea – Not the threat he was last year, and lacks versatility. Likely behind Donovan, Beasley, Johnson and perhaps Gomez at left midfield.
Nick Rimando – I can’t see Klinsmann gutting an MLS team for the third ‘keeper.
Edgar Castillo – A very nice season for Tijuana, but would be third choice at left back or left midfield.
Geoff Cameron – If he was anywhere close to his 2011 form, I think he’d be ahead of Ream. As it is, he’s struggling badly, and we’ll probably have to wait til summer to see him again.
Michael Parkhurst – Emergency depth at right back and central defense.
Sacha Kljestan – Great season, but limited versatility and not a Klinsmann favorite. I’d bring him, though.
Edson Buddle – In a poor run of form, and doesn't look particularly fit at the moment.
Kenny Cooper – Just doesn't do enough hold-up work, and isn't particularly effective against bunkered defenses.
What do I think of this team? Right now, they’re defined by their vulnerabilities in central defense. The Bocanegra-Onyewu pairing should be more than enough to get the US into the Hexagonal, but the elephant in the room is the fact that none of the younger central defenders – Ream and Cameron included – have shown they’re ready to claim a spot of their own.
When that happens, I’ll breathe a little easier. And Klinsmann probably will, too.
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com.