Projecting the 23 Man USA Squad For Brazil: Pre-Camp Edition
I’m always one for a good game of “predict the squad.”
In forty-two days, Brazil and Croatia will kick off the opening match of the 2014 World Cup. With just over two months remaining, managers are in the eleventh-hour to construct their squad. Since the Jurgen Klinsmann hiring, the United States Men’s National Team fielded a myriad of starting-elevens and during what is now essentially crunch-time, the ideal 23 players, aside from the core-few, have hardly solidified themselves. In a projection that will most likely shift week-to-week, here is my current take on the group of players that should receive the 23 plane tickets to Brazil.
Volume I of II: Goalkeepers and Defenders
1) Tim Howard – Everton FC – Barclay’s Premier League
2) Brad Guzan – Aston Villa – Barclay’s Premier League
3) Nick Rimando – Real Salt Lake – Major League Soccer
The easiest group to project. The goalkeeper group has basically been set in stone for the past two years. Tim Howard continues to thrive between the posts at Everton. This season, Howard’s 12th in the English top division and has been one of the New Jersey native’s finest. Through 32 league games, Howard has 12 clean sheets and has been an indispensable element in what could eventually be a Champions League qualifying season. Backup Brad Guzan has been a no brainer as the #2 since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Tournament. Guzan is most assuredly the future #1 and has succeeded both in spot duty for national teams, as well as the everyday man for Aston Villa. The third spot has been the only position that was somewhat in question. Seemingly, it began as an open competition for domestic keepers: Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid. Rimando, based at Real Salt Lake, held off the two youngsters and put the competition to bed in what was nothing short of a stellar performance during the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Klinsmann should feel good about this trio moving towards Brazil. Plane tickets…booked.
Matt Besler – Sporting Kansas City – Major League Soccer A no brainer. Besler was forced into the starting lineup March 2013 during a qualifier against Mexico. Since then, in what was nothing short of an inspiring performance, Besler has not looked back. The left-center back has been the most consistent and best performing player on the back line during this cycle. Consider his ticket punched.
Omar Gonzalez – Los Angeles Galaxy – Major League Soccer –
A month ago, I would have not only guaranteed Gonzalez a spot in the final-23, but most assuredly the right-center back position in the starting XI, as well. Things have changed. Gonzo has always had the tendency to make boneheaded mistakes and come down with a bad case of ball-watching disease, yet his world-class ability to win balls in the air kept his position in the lineup concrete. However, his recent spell in poor form has put his mistakes under the microscope, noticeably becoming the liability in the center defense. Omar all but certainly will be on the team, but should feel some heat from the players below for his spot on the first team.
Clarence Goodson – San Jose Earthquakes – Major League Soccer – The guy that garners a collective groan from USA fans when seen in a starting lineup. Goodson is unspectacular in his play and typically gets beat by more athletic center-forwards, but his steady performance, terrific length, and veteran composure is what gets him the nod in this situation. Most USA fans (including myself) where hoping John Anthony Brooks would compete for this position, but his late string of ghastly showings may have lead Klinsmann to look at him more as an option for the 2018 cycle.
Geoff Cameron – Stoke City FC – Barclay’s Premier League – Where will he play? Who knows. Better response; who cares? Cameron is quietly the top performing US outfield player in the world who also just happens to be playing in the world’s toughest league. Stoke’s everyday right back will be as important to his country as he is to his club come June. His ability to play both right back, center back, and center midfield should ensure his place somewhere in the starting lineup or at the very worst, as the first man called off of the bench.
Fabian Johnson – Hoffenheim 1899 – German Bundesliga – Has been nothing short of a revelation since putting on the red, white, and blue. The German-born Johnson, much like Geoff Cameron, can play all over the field, thriving in space on the outside. His pace on the perimeter, clean crosses, and superior fitness makes him a manager’s dream. Look for Johnson to start at either right midfield or right back in Brazil. Ticket punched.
Damarcus Beasley – Puebla – Mexican Premiera – Could potentially play in his fourth-consecutive World Cup. The former speedy winger has seen a rebirth under Klinsmann as a defender. In what started as a positional experiment has grown to be a consistent presence in the left corner. Beasley makes up for his small stature with world class speed and change of direction ability, giving even the most talented wingers fits when trying to play a clean ball into the box. As long as he scales back the boneheaded clearances, he’ll provide a steady presence on the back line. Even if he ends up as a bench player, Beasley’s experience and skill set make him impossible to keep off the team entirely. Looks like #7 will be making the trip once again.
Brad Evans – Seattle Sounders – Major League Soccer – Ugh. For some reason the Seattle middy has become a favorite of Klinsmann during this past year. He is an unspectacular grinder with an endless motor and great spirit, yet lacks the athletic ability to compete with even the most modest of wingers (i.e. every WCQ team that doesn’t end in ‘amaica’). Seriously, imagine Evans going one on one with Cristiano Ronaldo in space…seriously do it…I’ll wait…yeah, my point exactly. Against all hope, I still think Klinsmann rewards his tenacity and gritty play by adding him to the final roster. Here’s to hoping he never sees the field.
DeAndre Yedlin – Seattle Sounders – Major League Soccer –
This is my wild card. The more I watch this kid play, the more I am impressed and the more I see him as a valuable asset off the bench in Brazil. Yedlin’s pace on the outside is unmatched by anybody at Klinsmann’s disposal, even Beasley. His breakneck speed compounded with his quick, developing all-around game have made him one of the most dangerous players in the MLS during the first quarter of the season. If his run of good form translates to the May Camp, it’ll be hard to leave him off the squad.
Coming up…midfielders and forwards.
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