Now that we are officially in a World Cup year, it is time to take a shot at evaluating who will make U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s final 23 man roster for Brazil 2014.
So let’s get started with the goalkeepers, the one position that that should be drama free.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard (Everton) Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Outsiders: Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo) Bill Hamid (DC United)
The top three candidates are near certainties, only injury is likely to break up this trio. So let’s start with the number one, Tim Howard. After a slight down year last season for Everton, Howard is back to his best, and is firmly entrenched as the United States starter.
Klinsmann loves Howard’s leadership almost as much as his shot stopping ability, handing the captain’s armband to Howard on more than one occasion.
Howard’s backup, Brad Guzan is Aston Villa’s first choice between the posts’ and with crucial shutouts versus Costa Rica, 1-0, and Mexico 0-0 in March, Guzan showed Klinsmann and his teammates, that should the need arise, the U.S. would be in very capable hands.
Real Salt Lake veteran Nick Rimando has the third goalkeeper spot on lockdown, and Klinsmann made his preference clear in turning to Rimando as his number one keeper for the successful Gold Cup run.
Right fullback: Geoff Cameron (Stoke) Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders)
Outsiders: Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest) Tim Chandler (Nuremberg) Steve Cherundolo (Hannover) Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew)
Wild card: DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
While the goalkeeper position is essentially settled, the fullback spots are anything but. Klinsmann is on record as saying the right side job is Brad Evans’ to lose. Still, Geoff Cameron seems well on the way to winning the position with his play in the EPL for Stoke.
A midfielder by trade Evans stepped into the breech for Klinsmann against Jamaica and the coach is unlikely to forget that, but Cameron has been getting it done week in and week out in the English Premier League. The former Dynamo has been a mainstay for Potters manager Mark Hughes, providing excellent two way play at fullback, and filling in on occasion at his preferred central defense position, while Evans continues at midfield for the Seattle Sounders.
Hannover captain and World Cup veteran Steve Cherundolo is an “outsider” because he just can’t get healthy. As he contemplates heading to Brazil with a potential back four with zero World Cup experience at their respective positions, Klinsmann would surely love to have Cherundolo available, at least in a subs role. But a troublesome knee has limited the veteran to training on his own at Hannover, and time is running short.
Michael Parkhurst finally received a desperately needed transfer away from his personal black hole of Augsburg, leaving the Bundesliga club to return to MLS with the Columbus Crew. Klinsmann immediately called the versatile defender into January camp, a solid sign that Parkhurst is back in the picture.
Tim Chandler has sulked his way into an outsider position while Eric Lichaj is hoping to parlay a solid season in the English Championship into a trip to Brazil.
The wild card in this bunch is DeAndre Yedlin. The Seattle fullback is raw, but he can be dynamic going forward and his athleticism is hard to overlook. Klinsmann sent five players home after the team’s Brazil training camp, but not Yedlin. 2018 should be the U20 stars time; Yedlin just might speed up that timetable.
Left fullback: Left fullback: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla) Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
Outsiders: Edgar Castillo (Tijuana) Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew)
Wild card: Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids)
This position has historically been a nightmare for U.S. coaches to fill, so it may be fitting that a 31 year old career long midfielder, is the leading candidate to man the position this summer in Brazil.
DaMarcus Beasley was a national team afterthought before Klinsmann tapped the veteran to play fullback versus Costa Rica last March 22nd in snowy Colorado.
After playing his way onto Klinsmann’s radar following his move to Mexico, Run DMB repaid his manager’s faith with a Man of the Match performance in that vital 1-0 win over Costa Rica. Four days later, the neophyte defender survived some early struggles against Mexico to play his part in a 0-0 draw at the Azteca, and a fullback was born.
So, with Beasley in the drivers seat, who is next in line? Fabian Johnson who suffered a broken hand over the weekend, was Klinsmann’s choice earlier in qualifying, but the coach has preferred Johnson in a wide midfield role more recently. If, as expected, Johnson is back in action soon, Klinsmann could still turn to the Hoffenheim man at fullback. The boss seems content with Beasley as a defender though, even if many pundits do not.
Edgar Castillo is carving out a decent career for himself at Tijuana, but while Castillo has had some good moments for the national team, they generally have come in a more advanced role. Defensively, the slightly built Castillo has looked to be a liability.
Parkhurst has shown himself to be a reliable defender for Klinsmann, ready to step in at either fullback position. He can get forward at times, but against the likes of Germany and Portugal, it figures to be defense first for the U.S.
Unlike DeAndre Yedlin at right fullback, left fullback wild card Chris Klute was sent home by Klinsmann following the Brazilian leg of the team’s January camp. The promising Colorado fullback is just making a name for himself, so he figures to be one for the future.
Central defenders: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy) Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes)
Outsiders: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin) Geoff Cameron (Stoke) Michael Orozco (Puebla)
Wild card: Oguchi Onyewu (Sheffield Wednesday)
At the beginning of this World Cup cycle Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu were the starters, with Bocanegra the team captain. Now, almost four years on Bocanegra appears to have aged out of the roster, while Onyewu is only now back on the fringes, after a long period of inactivity.
With those veterans pushed aside, Klinsmann has looked far and wide for a starting duo, and Besler and Gonzalez have emerged as the favorites to start in June. Cameron was an early front runner, but he has been used primarily at fullback for Stoke, while playing fullback and defensive midfield, as well as center back for the nats.
Besler made his WCQ debut at the Azteca in March, coming through that cauldron with his reputation intact. The Sporting KC man has since made the left center back position his own, and is all but assured of starting when the U.S. MNT lines out against Ghana on June 16.
The arrival of Omar Gonzalez to the national team had long been touted, and the towering Los Angeles Galaxy defender is a solid bet to partner Besler in Brazil. A troubling propensity to lose concentration at key moments is all that stands between Gonzalez and “sure thing” status for a starting role in Brazil.
The “Quiet Man” of the backsmen, Clarence Goodson, has, em quietly, cemented a place for himself on the U.S. roster. The lanky defender is solid defensively and can provide a threat on set pieces, something the U.S. may value, with goals expected to be at a premium this summer.
Michael Orozco has been playing fullback for Puebla, but has been used more often in the middle for the U.S. He impressed for the national team in the Gold Cup, and has a nice habit of chipping in with the occasional goal, most recently in the final WCQ match against Panama.
20 year old German-American defender John Brooks, was recently told to grow up by his Hertha Berlin manager. Brooks remains a highly regarded prospect, but he will have to earn Klinsmann’s trust in order to claim a coveted World Cup roster spot.
The wild card in this group is Oguchi Onyewu. After a series of bad career moves that left him languishing on benches throughout Europe, the big man finally seems to have gotten it right. Sheffield Wednesday may only be in the English Championship (2nd Division), but Gooch is back on the field and he already has an F.A. Cup game winning goal to his credit. Klinsmann has kept Onyewu in mind, calling him in for the Gold Cup, so don’t count this wild card out just yet.