World Cup: We know Donovan's out, so who starts? Here's a projected XI vs. Ghana
Pick your jaw up off the floor. There will be no swansong for Landon Donovan, and no amount of grousing or second-guessing will change the facts.
The fact is Jurgen Klinsmann’s opinion is the only one that matters. This is his team, and his team alone, and the United State’s ultimate success or failure this summer will rest on the shoulders of a man more than willing to shun public opinion.
With or without Donovan, there will still be three games under the Brazilian sun come mid-June. There will still be three mighty, and unsympathetic, opponents bent on heaping misery on Klinsmann’s inexperienced 23-man-roster. There will still be the weight of expectations emanating from the millions of Americans watching their countrymen on the sport’s biggest stage.
But who are the 11 players they’ll see belting out the national anthem with hands over their hearts when the USMNT and Ghana take the field in Natal on June 16? Without the wisdom gleaned from three yet-to-be-played friendlies, here’s my best guess at what I think will be a 4-2-3-1 formation.
GK: Tim Howard
Klinsmann called the Everton netminder one of the world’s five best. If anyone is written in Sharpie on the German’s lineup sheet, it’s Howard.
RB: Timmy Chandler
He may have been out in the cold for more than a year following that Honduras debacle, but Chandler will battle with Geoff Cameron for World Cup minutes. With three points the goal against Ghana, the attack-minded Bundesliga product gets the call before Cameron deputizes against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
RCB: Omar Gonzalez
He may have had a rough go against Mexico in Phoenix, but Gonzalez is the favorite to line up next to Besler if healthy. If not, Cameron’s versatility gives Klinsmann a fallback plan.
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LCB: Matt Besler
More than any other player on the US backline, Besler should feel secure about his place in the starting lineup. I expect him to start all three group matches in Brazil.
LB: Fabian Johnson
DaMarcus Beasley made left back his own once he broke into the group against Costa Rica in the infamous snow game, even captaining the US in the Gold Cup, but Johnson has to be on the field and hinted his role will be on the backline.
RM: Alejandro Bedoya
Bedoya benefits from Johnson’s move into defense, giving the US another creative player in midfield. He’ll push to the endline and whip the ball in if needed, a task more likely to fall to Chandler, but can just as easily combine with Dempsey and Bradley or thump a shot himself.
This is clearly Klinsmann’s preferred midfield pairing, one that won’t be separated unless yellow-card suspension or injury comes into play. The big question: Will Jones accept an unadventurous anchor role that gets the most out of Bradley, possibly the US’ most influential player?
LM: Graham Zusi
With Johnson bombing forward behind him, Zusi’s ability to cut in and hit an in-swinger or test the opposing ‘keeper gives both players strengths to play from. Plus, he’s fit enough and tactically astute enough to provide valuable defensive cover.
FWD: Clint Dempsey
The captain gets a roaming role to, as Bruce Arena famously quipped, "try s***." The US will need Dempsey in the kind of form that’s seen him tear MLS apart in 2014 (and a German B side last summer) to push on to the knockout rounds.
FWD: Jozy Altidore
He may not have been in goalscoring form at Sunderland – a vast understatement if there ever was one – but he’s Klinsmann’s first-choice striker for a reason. Five straight games with goals in 2013 is a testament to that, and the US better hope redemption comes in red, white and blue.
As for the bench, Klinsmann doesn't have to make any tough choices there over who to cut, just who to sub in.
Similar to previous World Cups, FIFA regulations state that all 12 non-starting players on the roster can be named to the substitutes bench, unlike most competitive matches around the world, which only allow seven. There will, of course, only be three substitutions allowed in a match, again typical of competitive soccer around the globe.