The USMNT begins the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tomorrow against Honduras. Here’s a brief look ahead.
The Gap: The gap between the USMNT and Mexico has widened. Statistically, the gap between the U.S. and the rest of CONCACAF has closed. The U.S. has fallen to 38th in Nate Silver’s Soccer Power Index. That is six places behind Costa Rica (32) and within range of Honduras (39) and Panama (44). The lowest rated hex team is Jamaica (61). The Reggae Boyz beat the U.S. in the home leg during the last round of qualifying.
The Difficulty: Given the resource disparity, there’s no excuse for a U.S. team not qualifying for the World Cup. That said, the Hex presents unique difficulties that make it look tougher than it appears. Three of the first four U.S. matches are on the road. That includes Azteca, one of world soccer’s most intimidating environments, and a plum trip to Honduras, the nation with the world’s highest murder rate. It’s an easier route to the World Cup, but not an easy one.
Back Four: There’s nothing firm, but if we presume Geoff Cameron will start at center back and Fabian Johnson will be the choice ahead of the gaping chasm on the left, that leaves two starting places in contest. The U.S. has been relying on old hands Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, but both will be 35 in Brazil. An ideal scenario might be Omar Gonazalez and Timmy Chandler emerging to replace them. Gonzalez is not the quickest, but has been a standout defender in MLS. The speedy Chandler fits Klinsmann’s mold by providing some dynamism at left back. Both should see action, if only to cap-tie them to this country.
The Player: Still embroiled in his ongoing battle with ennui, Landon Donovan was not called up for the Honduras match. He may have been the unstated target for this Klinsmann rant about complacency within the U.S. setup. We could prattle on about loyalty and national team pride, but, looking at the midfielders and forwards in the squad, this team could really use his talent and creativity.
The Manager: We long stressed for caution with Klinsmann. Now is the time to get antsy if things turn sour. Klinsmann came in with fanfare (and a hefty salary) pledging revolution. The winds of change have been imperceptible. The style has been, for the most part, insipid (three defensive midfielders not FTW). Competitive performances have been the same or worse. Klinsmann led Germany to the World Cup semifinals in 2006. That was preceded by a rocky buildup and followed by a flame out at Bayern Munich. His managerial career has yet to be defined. How the U.S. fares in this qualifying run will go a long way toward doing it.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]