Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen his 24-man USMNT squad for the last two semifinal World Cup qualifiers. Jozy Altidore did not make the squad. Altidore is healthy and has scored nine goals in nine total appearances for his club side AZ Alkmaar this season. He was dumped in favor of veteran MLS strikers Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson.
Altidore’s national team form has been poor under Klinsmann. The problem is systemic. Though a decent finisher, he lacks discipline off the ball. His movement is below average. He does not anticipate runs well. If not seeing sufficient time on the ball, he loses focus. Those deficiencies become acute liabilities in a system designed to build play through midfield and have someone play off Dempsey. Gomez is older and not quite as skilled, but is far better in those areas and, thus, stole Altidore’s place.
We know why Altidore is not starting. What’s unclear is why he was not selected at all. The U.S. does not have the depth to turn down the top-scorer in a second-tier European league, however misshapen a jigsaw piece he may be. Both the players chosen in Altidore’s stead are having solid club seasons, though neither is a proven commodity at international level.
Gordon has 13 goals and five assists in 23 appearances for San Jose this MLS season. The 30-year-old is receiving his second call-up to the USMNT but has never been capped. Johnson, 28, is back in form after returning to MLS (and failing to catch on in Europe) with 15 goals in 27 matches.
Altidore is the lede. Though, for the games themselves, we’re more interested what happens in midfield. The U.S. was a revelation on the ball in the second Jamaica match, with Danny Williams playing centrally and MLS assist leader Graham Zusi in the game. This time, they will have Michael Bradley, a match-fit Clint Dempsey and possibly Landon Donovan. We could see possession, creativity and, for the first time under Klinsmann, goals.
The U.S. is tied with Guatemala at the top of the group. Jamaica is equal on points but has a worse goal difference. Four points from the next two matches, Antigua and Barbuda away and Guatemala at home, will advance them to the final round.
Goalkeepers: Howard (Everton), Guzan (Aston Villa), Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defense: Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Cameron (Stoke City), Castillo (Club Tijuana), Cherundolo (Hannover), Edu (Stoke City), Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
Midfield: Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Bradley (Roma), Corona (Tijuana), Jones (Schalke), Kljestan (Anderlecht), Shea (Dallas), Williams (Hoffenheim), Zusi (Sporting KC)
Forward: Dempsey (Tottenham), Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), Gomez (Santos), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)
[Photo via Getty]