Roster Battle: Predicting USMNT forwards Jurgen Klinsmann will bring to Brazil | Armchair Analyst
We are now less than two weeks from learning Jurgen Klinsmann's 30-man pre-World Cup roster. And that means we're just about a month from learning who wins the US national team's 23 golden tickets to Brazil.
Over the next three days, I'll use this space to examine who's definitely in, who's probably in, and who's in the fight of their life just to make camp.
We'll start with the forwards:
Remember, like, a few weeks ago when the biggest little Brazil-related story for the US was "Oh my God, Clint Dempsey is terrible now!" He entered this MLS season having scored one goal in his previous 27 appearances for club – three different clubs for which he'd been equally ineffective – and country.
My Twitter feed was filled with snark of the "Do you think the Sounders would have signed Dempsey if they'd known Michael Bradley would be available a few months later?" And I expressed my own worries HERE, after a particularly listless performance in a friendly loss to Ukraine two months back.
How ya like Clint now?
He's running away from the pack in the MVP race, and has Seattle atop the league. He's scoring, he's helping in possession, he's making unselfish passes, and he basically looks exactly like you'd hope your captain will look heading into the World freaking Cup.
Best of all, he's doing it as a second forward. There was some debate, for club and country, over how Deuce should be used at this point in his career. The correct answer is "get him into the final third, and let him try sh*t."
Chance he'll make the 23-man roster: 100 percent
There has been justifiable concern over the form of Jozy Altidore in US quarters. He's in the prime of his career (he's 24 and has been a pro for eight years) and is having a nightmare of a season with Sunderland in the EPL.
The numbers are brutal: 19 starts, 28 appearances, but just one goal and one assist. There have been a few other nice moments – a couple of drawn penalties, a goal incorrectly ruled out vs. Arsenal – but this is the second time Jozy's been in the EPL, and it's the second time he's been a fish out of water. Despite his size, his build, his ability to shield the ball, he is not good in the air and thus not cut out to play as a target forward in England. Play to feet, and he's been better than good for both AZ Alkmaar over the course of two seasons, and for the US as well.
It's that simple.
Keep the ball on the ground and Jozy can be an asset, as he showed in dominating a pretty good Eredivisie last year and stomping holes in most of CONCACAF during the second half of the Hexagonal.
There's a reason Klinsmann says Jozy is in no danger of missing out on the roster. Yes, he's limited, but Klinsmann knows where those limitations are, and the US have done a good job of playing to the kid's strengths instead.
Chance he'll make the 23-man roster: 100 percent
There's been lots said about D.C. United's Eddie Johnson over the past two months, much of it unflattering. EJ will probably win the "Clint Mathis Memorial Most Frustrating US National Teamer" award for about the sixth time in the last 10 years, and it won't be undeserved. It's impossible to watch this guy and not think "what if" on some level.
But if for some reason Jozy is not an option – say he gets red carded or hurt or malaria – EJ's absolutely necessary for this team to function as a unit. As skillful as the US midfield has become, and as instinctive as many of our attackers are, we need a center forward who can hold the ball. We need that security.
That's 20 completed passes, and only three incomplete. You'll remember that this game came on the heels of the US humiliation in Costa Rica, with a lineup featuring no true No. 9.
So I'm guessing that EJ will be on the final roster. He may not make the plays that win games, but he makes the plays that allows our other guys to do so.
Chance he'll make the 23-man roster: 80 percent
The best battle at camp may be between Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson. Try as I might, I can't see a way for Klinsmann to bring both of them to Brazil even though both probably deserve a seat on the plane.
Wondolowski's case is simple: Over the last four years, he has been the most consistent goalscorer for the US in any league, and has translated that to the USMNT since midsummer. He has nine goals in his last 10 US appearances, and does the fundamentals extraordinarily well.
Johannsson, meanwhile, is third in the Golden Boot race in the Dutch Eredivisie with 17 goals in 30 starts and 32 overall appearances. The Eredivisie is a wide-open league by most modern standards, but those numbers should not be ignored.
Klinsmann, of course, hasn't ignored them. Johannsson has been given plenty of time to get his feet with the US, and probably enters camp as the slight favorite to claim this spot.
Neither of these guys can be used as a lone forward, by the way. And neither of them can do the hold-up work that Altidore and Johnson do, so they're really competing with each other for the "late-game attacking sub" spot.
Johannsson has a bit more versatility as well as youth on his side, while Wondo is a Klinsmann favorite and showed good understanding playing alongside Dempsey vs. Mexico early in April.
Chance Wondo will make the 23-man roster: 40 percent
Chance Johannsson will make the 23-man roster: 60 percent
There are only two guys in the mix to overtake Johnson as the backup target forward. One is probably familiar to MLS fans, while the other isn't often seen on North American TVs.
Juan Agudelo was one of the revelations of the 2013 MLS season, drawing some muted but understandable MVP buzz through summer before missing just enough time with injuries to fall back under the radar. But the one-time Red Bull wunderkind (hard to believe he's still just 21) stayed on Klinsmann's radar, and on the radars of several European teams as well before finally landing with Stoke City in the EPL.
A work permit issue has forced Agudelo to go on loan to FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie, and while he's not putting up Johannsson-like scoring totals, he's shown both the strength and nuance in his hold-up work and playmaking that made him so valuable to the Revs last year.
He's not the dominant athlete that Johnson is, but he's capable of making game-winning plays (just look at that goal above) that come out of a video game. If he makes the final roster, it'll because he did a lot of that sort of thing in training over the second half of May.
The other guy in the mix is Rapid Vienna's Terrence Boyd, who's now finishing up his second season in top-flight football, and consequently his second straight season scoring double-digit goals. He has a knack, especially on set pieces, for getting into the right spot at the right time.
Of course, it hasn't quite worked out just yet for either of these guys at the international level. Boyd has 13 caps but no goals, while Agudelo has scored twice in his 18 appearances.
Chance Agudelo will make the 23-man roster: 15 percent
Chance Boyd will make the 23-man roster: 5 percent
That's probably about it for the forward contingent, though it wouldn't cause more than a tiny ripple of surprise if Klinsmann brought in one or two other guys. Herculez Gomez, who's been such a loyal servant to the US program and has the kind of grit that Klinsmann values, could sneak in despite a rough year with injuries and loss of form. He also left the door open for Mike Magee, though the 2013 MLS MVP probably needed a stronger start to the 2014 season to really make his case.
It's also worth bearing in mind that Landon Donovan – who will get his mentions when I take a look at the midfield on Thursday – can and likely will play a few minutes up top, as he did in last summer's Gold Cup. Klinsmann could do the same with youngster Julian Green, should he make the 23.
If you want to know what I think about that particular ball of twine, check back on Thursday.