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Bound for Brazil: Projecting the U.S. World Cup Roster Less Than 100 Days Away

Austria v USA - International Friendly

The 2014 World Cup is rapidly approaching on the horizon. In about 75 days, U.S. National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann will select the 23 players he’ll bring to Brazil and try to navigate a tough group that features Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Following the team’s 2-0 loss to Ukraine in Cyprus on Wednesday it’s worth taking another look at that potential roster. This is our fourth installment. The first came after the Gold Cup in July, followed by another projection after the September qualifiers and finally on the eve of 2014.

Goalies

Cardillo: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

Only way this changes is injury. Moving on.

Duffy: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

Next.

Defenders

Cardillo: Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin.

The American defense in Wednesday’s friendly loss to Ukraine was nothing short of shambolic. That shouldn’t be too hard to believe since the back four of Cameron, Brooks, Oguchi Onyewu and Edgar Castillo had never played together previously. The tendency is to throw out the result completely, but two things struck me: 1) if the U.S. plays a high defensive line against Ghana and especially Portugal, the final group game vs. Germany will be meaningless. 2) if the U.S. midfield can’t possess the ball for periods of the game, to help out the defense, it’s putting a lot of pressure on the squad’s weakest point.

Besler and Gonzalez, although not world beaters, are the best the team has at this point and at least they’ve built up some chemistry and communication over the last 12 months. You still have to wonder where Cameron’s best position is for the team: right back, center back or holding midfielder. The same could be said for Fabian Johnson, whom Klinsmann prefers on the left wing despite playing right back for his German club team.

Ukraine 2nd goal against US in friendly

Duffy: Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Clarence Goodson, John Brooks, Brad Evans

The real issue is where to place Cameron, who is in the best form at the highest level of any American outfield player. He’s probably best suited for central defense or holding midfield. But the U.S. hole is at right back and that’s where he’s getting games for Stoke. Besler and Gonzalez have been the most solid of a number of really bad pairings. Beasley looks like less of a liability than those who have tried to steal that position from him.

Goodson provides an experienced starting option should Besler or Gonzalez go down. Talent over experience gets John Brooks the edge. Brad Evans makes it due to his ability to fill in at multiple positions. Fabian Johnson provides depth both at right and left back.

midfielders

Ukraine v USA - International FriendlyCardillo: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya. 

Here’s a semi-depressing stat, Dempsey has only one goal from his last 80 shots on target. Maybe he turns it around with Seattle and recaptures his form heading into Brazil, because a listless Dempsey, one who doesn’t produce goals or chances, isn’t bringing much to the field. Perhaps Dempsey picks up on this growing negativity and feeds off the haters, but if he doesn’t it’s a huge concern for the team. Klinsmann didn’t have problems dropping Donovan, albeit for a completely different set of circumstances, but if Dempsey is still in a funk come late-May is his spot in the starting XI guaranteed on previous merit? It’s a long way down the road but something which can’t be ignored entirely at this point.

Duffy: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, Brek Shea, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya

Only one of those five, Michael Bradley, is a lock to start if healthy. Donovan should be in there, presuming a strong start in MLS. But Dempsey has not been the same player since returning to Seattle. Jermaine Jones has been battling with injuries on loan with Turkey. You could see Johnson crack the starting XI in the midfield or at either full back position. You could also see Cameron starting in central midfield. Expect Klinsmann to try different alignments in the tune-up games. Beckerman is reliable. Inveterate wild-card Brek Shea is the panic button off the bench.

Forwards

Cardillo: Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson, Aron Johannsson, Terrance Boyd

Unless the exciting and unknown Julian Green (more on him below) makes a decision about his future, this is the pool of guys the U.S. has to lead the attacking line, for better or worse. If the U.S. midfield scoring drought continues, it could force Klinsmann into playing a 4-4-2 meaning someone other than Altidore is going to see considerable time on the field, most likely Johannsson.

Duffy: Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson

Julian Green makes it interesting, though I’m not sure, even if in the squad, he is a No. 9 who would take the place of one of these three. Johannsson has been in better form than Jozy. But he is also playing in Holland. Demolition Man is the option for late set pieces in the box.

Last Three In:

Cardillo: Yedlin, Brooks, Boyd

Duffy: Evans, Brooks, Shea

Last Three Out

Cardillo: Mix Diskerud, Chris Wondolowski, Sacha Kljestan

Duffy: Boyd, Kljestan, Castillo

Ukraine v USA - International Friendly

Is it time to push the panic button with Jozy Altidore?

Cardillo: Sure, why not, if you like to push buttons. Even if he wasn’t on the bench for the Carling Cup final with Sunderland (or potentially the foreseeable future), Altidore is the best option the U.S. has right now at striker, for better or worse. When he got some service vs. Ukraine Altidore looked solid enough, coming close to a goal on a header. If he doesn’t score in any of the pre-World Cup friendlies, then you panic but in this case panicking doesn’t exactly help much given the lack of choices.

Duffy: Are we seeing poor form? A lack of confidence? Or, after 52 EPL appearances and two league goals, are we just seeing limitations? Jozy is athletic and can finish. He has not developed the speed of thought and the refined technique required to be a force at the game’s top level. He capitalizes on chances provided for him. With poor service, he drifts away and becomes a non-entity. He’s not ideal, but he remains the best U.S. option.

Is there any chance Julian Green makes the 23-man roster?

Cardillo: Probably not, but if he’s willing to commit to playing for the U.S. instead of Germany why not use a roster spot on him? Stranger things have happened. Burning a roster spot on a teenager who’s never played international soccer at the senior level might sound dumb, but it does keep Green from changing his mind and playing for Germany. If the reports about how good he is are even partially true, it’s a gamble worth taking over, say, a guy like Wondolowski.

Duffy: There’s always a chance. Germany has a log jam of elite young talent at his position. He was willing to show up for U.S. training. This is not a question of whether Green deserves a place. Talent trumps mediocrity every time. If Klinsmann believes his future is bright, a towel-waving spot as the 23rd man in 2014 is a small price. It may also send a message to players who heeded his call to push themselves at the highest level by hunkering down with fat contracts in MLS.

Klinsmann Confidence Rating:

Cardillo: 7.5 … Klinsmann’s done a fantastic job over the previous 12 months, but I’m starting to worry — if only a little — that his lack of tactical sophistication might catch up with him at the World Cup. It’s one thing to be rah-rah and gung-ho during CONCACAF qualifiers, but building up an ‘Us Against the World’ mentality only gets you so far. To navigate through Ghana, Portugal and Germany Klinsmann is going to need to be smart. Let’s hope he is.

Duffy: 6.5 … Klinsmann has strengths. He’s excellent for squad cohesion and infrastructure development. That gets you through CONCACAF. Klinsmann has been scouring Germany and Mexico for a simple reason: this team does not have the talent to play the type of soccer he wants against the world’s best. I’m not sure he has the “tactical nous” to overcome that. Swashbuckling against a Germany or Portugal, when your biggest weaknesses are ball skill and defensive organization, is a recipe for pain.

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