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Bound for Brazil: The State of the USMNT Squad on the Eve of 2014

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The U.S. National Team qualified for the World Cup. It now knows its opponents: Ghana, Portugal and Germany. As 2013 closes out and the World Cup comes into focus Big Lead soccer writers Mike Cardillo and Ty Duffy project who’s in the best shape and who needs a lot of work between now and June to get a ticket onto the plane to Brazil. You can read their initial 23-man projections earlier this year, here and here

Locks:

Cardillo: Tim Howard, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan, Matt Besler, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan.

Fairly straightforward here. Bar injuries the U.S. starting XI on June 16 in Natal is coming from this group. Where these players line up is open for debate but unless Jurgen Klinsmann has some star players hidden away in hermetically sealed vaults in the New Mexico desert, this is who the U.S. has to roll with.

Duffy: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore

Your probable Starting XI is coming from this group. Goalkeeper is set barring injuries, with Howard in fine fettle at Everton. Gonzalez and Besler look set as the center back pairing. Some combo of Beasley, Johnson, Cameron at fullback. Bradley/Jones in the middle. Dempsey/Donovan/Zusi. Altidore’s goal-scoring form at club-level resembles his last stint in the EPL thus far, but he keeps on putting them in the net for the national side.

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In Good Shape:

Cardillo: Nick Rimando, Eddie Johnson, Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Edgar Castillo, Aron Johannsson.

A total drop-off in form could doom any of these players, but they’ve all contributed in 2013 and Klinsmann knows their value. Something to keep an eye on for 2014 is Johnson’s move to DC United. He revived his career in Seattle and become a fairly important player for the U.S. during the summer thanks to his ability to play wide and as a striker. Hopefully he doesn’t disappear like he did after his previous strong spells for the U.S. Johannsson is rumored to be in talks with a move to Celtic in Scotland. It’s a “bigger” club than AZ but comes with all the usual concerns about playing time, adjustments, etc. Heading into Brazil following a full year in the high-scoring Dutch Eredivisie would probably be better as far as Johannsson’s contributions to the National Team.

Duffy: Nick Rimando, Edgar Castillo, Clarence Goodson, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Eddie Johnson, Aron Johannsson

These guys have all been secondary figures in the rotation and should remain such. If you’re looking forward to bench options, you want defensive cover, versatility and the ability to change the pace or present a different attack angle moving forward. These players provide that.

On the Bubble:

Cardillo: Sacha Kljestan, Terrance Boyd, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Evans, Jose Torres, Danny Williams, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Michael Parkhurst, Herculez Gomez, Mix Diskerud, Clarence Goodson, Steve Cherundolo.

Print out these names, put them on a dart board and throw three times. A couple of these guys will end up in Germany. They might be this World Cup’s version of Edson Buddle. Orozco is a Klinsmann favorite, which helps his case. Not too long ago Gomez felt like a lock, but he hasn’t been called in since July due to injuries along with changing clubs in Mexico. Cherundolo, a veteran of three World Cup squads, has missed most of the last year with injury. He’ll be 35 in June. If he’s fit and in form he gives Klinsmann a veteran alternative at right back, but his place in the squad is hardly guaranteed.

Duffy: Michael Orozco Fiscal, Brad Evans, Steve Cherundolo Michael Parkhurst, Sacha Kljestan, Kyle Beckerman, Danny Williams, Jose Francisco Torres, Terrance Boyd, Herculez Gomez

These guys don’t offer quite as much upside as those in front of them. Presuming injuries, you are probably looking at 2/3 of these guys making the 23-man squad. It may depend on who has been injured. It may depend on who is in form at the moment. Fitness is going to be vital. MLS players who should be in mid-season form may have an advantage. Klinsmann is big on mentality. Can he leave the force that is Kyle Beckerman’s hair stateside?

Lots of Work to Do:

Cardillo: John Brooks, Brek Shea, Chris Wondolowski, Timmy Chandler, Maurice Edu, Josh Gatt, Tim Ream.

Shea and Edu are technically on the roster at Stoke City, but at this stage Duffy or I have as much a chance getting playing time at the Brittannia than either U.S. international. Chandler, for whatever the reason, doesn’t seem to be part of the mix, while Wondolowski hasn’t been able to get over the hump internationally against quality opposition. There was a lot of buzz over Brooks in August, but his stock seems to have cooled off after being called out publicly by his coach at Hertha Berlin.

Duffy: Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Maurice Edu, Brek Shea, Josh Gatt, Chris Wondolowski

Whether not playing, struggling to establish themselves in the national side due to injuries or having suffered a dip in form, these players need a notable spring to get themselves in contention for a 2014 place.

Last three in

Cardillo: Terrance Boyd, Brad Evans, Danny Williams

Duffy: Brad Evans, Kyle Beckerman, Terrance Boyd

Last three out

Cardillo: Sacha Kljestan, Herculez Gomez, Jose Torres

Duffy: Michael Orozco Fiscal, Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams

Jozy Altidore scores goal against Chelsea-b

How much does Jozy Altidore’s lack of goals at Sunderland worry you?

Cardillo: Let’s call it mild concern. Altidore is on a team which is bad and usually playing from behind or penned in defensively. Often he’s been isolated alone as Sunderland’s only attacker, which we’ve seen isn’t the New Jersey native’s strong suit. With the U.S. he’s the primary focus of the attack. Perhaps going into the World Cup he isn’t as sharp as he was this summer after his record-setting season in the Netherlands with AZ. Altidore’s confidence still should be high for the tournament, even if Sunderland ends up relegated. Misses like the one he had Saturday vs. Cardiff City, although an isolated incident, are getting harder and harder to brush off.

Duffy: Not overly concerned. Altidore is what he is. He’s a good player at a second-tier level (Dutch league, CONCACAF). He’s not a consistent impact striker at top level, especially with little service on an underwhelming team. He may score. He’s not going to take over a World Cup game. From a USMNT perspective, he’s experienced, he has been scoring regularly and there’s no one pushing him to take his place.

Klinsmann Confidence Level

Cardillo: 8.5. We know for Sunil Gulati it’s a 10-out-10 since he handed the German a new contract last week. You’ve got to applaud Klinsmann’s confidence. He isn’t backing down or emitting a woe-is-me attitude following the brutal World Cup draw. Klinsmann continually says he wants to play the best and he’ll get just that in Brazil.

Duffy: 8. Four more years! Four more years! Klinsmann qualified. He has the team playing confidently and in good form. Still some questions about how much he can manipulate a game tactically against say Germany or Portugal. If he gets out of that Brazil group, he deserves a knighthood.

Related: U.S. World Cup Draw With Germany and Portugal Harkens Back To Quarterfinal Run in 2002
Related: United States World Cup Draw: Embrace the ‘Group of Death’

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