As the calendar turns from 2013 to 2014, let’s take a look back at the year from a U.S. MNT perspective, while also taking a peek into the year ahead.
First, a quick catalogue of the team’s successes in 2013. Starting with winning the Concacaf World Cup qualifying group and re-claiming the Gold Cup, things went well for Jurgen Klinsmann and his charges in 2013.
16 wins on the year established a new men’s national team record, so did 12 wins on the trot. And Jozy Altidore scored in five consecutive games, yet another record.
Altidore’s scoring binge is as good a place as any to see where the nats stand now in comparison to one year ago. When Altidore hit the target in a June 2nd friendly victory over Germany, it was the strikers first appearance in the goal scorers column since November 15, 2011, when Altidore tallied in a 3-2 win over Slovenia.
Altidore’s goal rush sparked that U.S. win streak, showing just how important his goals are to the U.S. MNT. Distressingly, Altidore’s lack of goals since his move to Sunderland calls his effectiveness into doubt, just as the team heads into a World Cup year.
When we wrote a holiday wish list for Jurgen Klinsmann last year, we discussed the center back position, the logjam of similar types in central midfield, the need for young players to step up, and the premature notion that Landon Donovan was now surplus to requirements.
Somehow we left off the perennial question of the fullback positions. In our defense, a lot happened in that sector in 2013. When the U.S. beat Guatemala to top their semifinal group in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying play on October 16, 2012, the fullbacks were Steve Cherundolo and Michael Parkhurst.
Cherundolo was old reliable, and Parkhurst was a steady vet that no one expected to start come World Cup time, but if he did, the feeling was that Parkhurst could be counted on to hold down the fort. Fabian Johnson was still looked at as the answer at left full, with Cherundolo expected to hold off Tim Chandler on the right side.
Then Cherundolo injured his knee, and re-injured his knee, and the Hannover captain has only recently returned to his Bundesliga club’s lineup. Parkhurst has been in limbo at his Bundesliga team, Augsburg, seeing no virtually zero playing time since his move. Meanwhile Klinsmann has moved Fabian Johnson to midfield and lost patience with Chandler’s, will he or won’t he shenanigans.
If Cherundolo stays healthy and plays, he will get a chance to earn a trip to Brazil, and Chandler still could also. In the meantime, Klinsmann turned to a couple of repurposed midfielders, DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans, and has declared both as favorites to start in Brazil.
I wrote last December that with Carlos Bocanegra playing second division soccer in Spain and Oguchi Onyewu not playing at all for his first division Spanish club, changes could be on the way. Geoff Cameron, a Klinsmann favorite for the position, was playing fullback for Stoke, a position Cameron has grown into a year later.
Maurice Edu, Tim Ream and Clarence Goodson were in the frame then, only Goodson seems a good bet to make the Brazil 23 now. Injuries have given Cameron a couple of games at center back recently for Stoke, but prior to that Cameron was excelling at right fullback for the Potters.
Last year I called for Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler or George John to stake a claim for a center back job. Only John has failed to do so, although he never received much of a look from Klinsmann. In fact, if the U.S. kicked off their World Cup against Ghana today, Besler and Gonzalez would be the likely starters.
The reliable Goodson may have cemented the third center back spot, with the fourth still up for grabs. Young German-American prospect John Brooks had a bead on the that spot, or higher, but has slipped of late. Bocanegra, the team captain this time last year, has since moved to Chivas USA, but a year later Boca is on the outside looking in, and his view is unlikely to change.
Onyewu keeps signing with new teams, QPR most recently, but never sees the field and Edu is buried deep on the Stoke depth chart. Ream remains a longshot, but his play for English Championship side Bolton has earned some positive notices, so the former Red Bull may have a late run in him.
As for young breakthrough players, Mikkel Diskerud looks to be the most likely to make an impact. If he does make the team, Mix, fits two criteria from last year’s wish list. The young midfielder could provide that skillful change of pace midfielder the U.S. MNT is still lacking.
Mix is probably fighting for subs minutes, he could play the role Benny Feilhaber filled in 2010 in South Africa, as the creative midfielder off the bench. Feilhaber looked something like that player himself in Sporting Kansas City’s MLS Cup winning campaign, and if the SKC man receives a call up to January camp, it would suggest that Feilhaber is still on Klinsmann’s radar.
For a variety of reasons younger players like Josh Gatt, Joe Gyau and Luis Gil haven’t forced the issue with Klinsmann, and Brek Shea’s chances continue to fade with each DNP at Stoke.
And then there is Landon Donovan. His sabbatical has come and gone, and the all time U.S. MNT leader in goals and assists has reclaimed his place in the U.S. team. Some see the veteran as suited to a supersub role, although the view here is that Donovan needs to be on the field whenever possible for the Yanks.
Klinsmann and Donovan appear to be getting along well enough these days, but the coach hasn’t had much to say regarding Donovan’s disinterest in a European loan move to prep for the World Cup. Only Clint Dempsey, with his temporary return to Fulham, has taken Klinsmann’s offseason advice. Could Donovan’s preference for rest and rehabilitation spark renewed friction between player and coach?
So, here is a brief U.S. MNT wish list for 2014.
1) Continued good health and perhaps a sip or two from the fountain of youth for Steve Cherundolo. Because, as well as Brad Evans has done in 2013, do you really feel comfortable with the Seattle Sounders midfielder facing world class wingers in Brazil?
2) On the same subject, a return to Klinsmann’s good graces for Tim Chandler. But, only if he proves he wants it. Chandler has been an enigma since committing to the U.S. after a long and awkward courtship. The Nuremberg defender looked like the answer for the U.S. until he played in a game that counted.
Chandler flopped in his cap tying game last February, a 2-1 loss to Honduras in the opener of the final round of World Cup qualifying. He hasn’t played for the U.S. since. Chandler spent some time out of the Nuremberg lineup, but is back and playing well at the moment.
If he wants back into the U.S. MNT set up he should be considered, but only if he really wants it.
And here are a few final wishes as we sit here 162 days from the opening of the Brazil World Cup.
3) Playing time, at new clubs or not for Brek Shea, Michael Parkhurst, Maurice Edu, and because the new year is about new leafs, even Oguchi Onyewu.
4) Goals for Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. Here we are a year on, wishing again for goals for Altidore, who seemed to have put his drought behind him. But the EPL is not the Eredivisie, and Sunderland are not AZ Alkmaar and the goals have dried up for Altidore.
As for Dempsey, his transition back to MLS, did not go as planned. There were injuries and some hard luck, but Seattle paid big money in large part for goals. A short sojourn to the cozy confines of Craven Cottage may well do wonders for Deuce, we will find out starting this weekend.
And finally, Happy New Year!