The U.S. National Team has reached the 2014 World Cup with two games to spare. This leaves us nearly a year to speculate on which players Jurgen Klinsmann will select for the tournament. Below, Big Lead soccer writers Mike Cardillo and Ty Duffy project who will be the 23 men joining Klinsmann on the plane in 2014. You can read their initial 23-man projections after the Gold Cup here.
Cardillo: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
I’m sticking with Howard as the No. 1 until proven otherwise. Yes, Guzan at the moment might be a little better than Howard but I doubt Klinsmann drops Howard unless he’s hurt or his form suffers a major dip at Everton this season. He looked sharp Saturday in the Tofs 1-0 win over Chelsea. Don’t be surprised if Guzan starts one or both of the remaining qualifiers in October, but that shouldn’t signal the end of Howard’s first-choice status.
Duffy: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando
Leadership is great. Having a goalkeeper who can be deliberate coming off his line is essential. Howard is the clear No. 1 now. We’ll see how his fitness and form hold up over another EPL season. Klinsmann dropped Oliver Kahn for Jens Lehmann before the 2006 World Cup based on form. Kahn was the tournament Golden Ball winner in 2002.
Cardillo: Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Edgar Castillo, Michael Parkhurst
This is a major guess on my behalf, but if Cherundolo is healthy he’s back in the team and starting. This is a big leap since Cherundolo hasn’t featured for his club team, Hannover 96, in the new Bundesliga campaign. Cherundolo’s veteran experience, but more importantly steady play at right back would be a welcome tonic for Klinsmann. If he’s not fit — which he wasn’t for most of 2013 — that right back spot remains a major weakness, perhaps slotting Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Michael Parkhurst or Brad Evans there. Of those four names, only Parkhurst is a natural right back. Timmy Chandler seemed to have the inside track on the spot a year ago, but has fallen out of favor with Klinsmann as well as being dropped by his club team, Nuremberg.
Duffy: Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Clarence Goodson, Michael Parkhurst, John Brooks
Gonzalez and Besler are the pairing in the middle. This, at the absolute least, gives the U.S. a presence in the air. Both fullback spots remain a mess. Cameron has played some right back for Stoke this year. I think he proves the best of some underwhelming options. Johnson’s best position may be in midfield. But the U.S. has much more depth on the left wing. I believe he’s the eventual option to cover the U.S. black hole. I’m not confident about DaMarcus Beasley’s out of position resurgence over the long haul.
Cardillo: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud
Not much of a change here, although Johnson and Cameron are both versatile and can fill roles in the defense . Perhaps no U.S. player’s stock in 2013 has improved as much as Diskerud’s this summer. 2014 should be even better for him, as I anticipate his strong play at both club and international level will earn him a move away from Norwegian power Rosenberg to a bigger squad somewhere in Europe. We all miss Stuart Holden, but Diskerud is a more than capable alternative.
Duffy: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Kyle Beckerman
Bradley and Donovan need no justification. I would prefer a more sober partner for Bradley in the middle. I’m not sure that player exists within the U.S. setup. Jones brings an impetus and physical presence the U.S. otherwise lacks. The good, potentially, outweighs the gratuitous yellow cards. Mix Diskerud is the Brek Shea of the moment. His hair game isn’t as strong. His awesome name makes up for it.
Cardillo: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson
My one change from the summer is Eddie Johnson getting the nod over Herculez Gomez. Johnson’s versatility to play as a lone striker should something happen to Altidore or to play wide make him valuable. The only scenario that could hurt Johnson’s stock is if his campaign for a new MLS contract forces a move to another team early in 2014, causing a dip in form.
One other thing. Johnson is not the “Demolition Man,” especially after shaving his blonde haircut. Not to get super nerdy, but in the actual movie (it’s been on AMC a lot lately) Sly Stallone’s John Spartan character had the Demolition Man moniker. It’s also one of Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock’s greatest performances.
Duffy: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson
The “Demolition Man,” apropos nickname or not, makes the plane. His first touch leaves much to be desired at top level. But, your bench players don’t need to be complete. They need to bring a missing element. If Alexi Lalas is correct and ‘Merican passion and set pieces are the way forward, having someone who can soar over defenders and head the ball on the bench is a must.
Last three in
Cardillo: Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Steve Cherundolo
Duffy: Joe Corona, John Brooks, Kyle Beckerman
Last three out
Cardillo: John Brooks, Kyle Beckerman, Herculez Gomez
Duffy: Edgar Castillo, Herculez Gomez, Brek Shea
Klinsmann Confidence Level
Cardillo: 8.5. My Klini-crush is still high enough to form a Larry David-approved pants tent. The only worry is his blind spot for Michael Orozco Fiscal, who was abused by Costa Rica playing out of position at right back. So long as Klinsmann keeps his pragmatic, game-by-game approach with the depth he’s built up this summer we can keep dancing to his favorite song until the World Cup draw is released.
Duffy: 7. Klinsmann is not the week-in, week-out tactician I’d want at club level. But, he has this team playing with confidence and belief. That can take you a long way in an international tournament. I have enough faith to consider a party shirt purchase before 2014, though I’m not so convinced about him carrying this team past an organized, motivated opponent with equal or superior talent.
Related: Jurgen Klinsmann Fell Through a Trapdoor After Eddie Johnson Missed An Open Net [GIF]
Related: Panama’s Gabriel Torres Took a Ball to a Very Sensitive Area vs. the U.S. in the Gold Cup Final [GIF]
Related: Brek Shea’s Tap-In From Inches Away Puts the U.S. Ahead 1-0 in Gold Cup Final [Video]