USMNT May Camp: Four Thoughts
On Wednesday, midfielder Jermaine Jones arrived in Palo Alto, making all 30 members of the preliminary USMNT World Cup roster present and accounted for. Camp is now in full swing and the competition will be fierce. The following are a few storylines to pay attention to while the national team is in camp prepping for their friendlies against Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria as well as the June 1st cuts.
Formation Still in Flux
With less than a month out most nations competing in the World Cup are putting the finishing touches on their final-23 and beginning to formulate the best assembly of talent for the starting XI. While the United States of course is doing this, the USMNT seem to be a bit further behind the eight ball than their competitors. Klinsmann’s crew launched camp extra-early for this very reason so they have not yet warranted the ire of unpreparedness.
With that said, the clock is ticking for the team to get several elements sorted out. The most pressing question facing the squad seems to be their formation. Against Mexico last month the US experimented with a new 4-4-2 “diamond” formation. In this system instead of using two overlapping center midfielders, the defensive-mid, or the “6,” plays behind his more aggressive central partner, leaving the latter more room to roam and attack the goal. This worked masterfully in the first half. The more defensive minded Kyle Beckerman played behind Michael Bradley, allowing the Toronto FC captain to attack the Mexican defense with ferocity that left American fans salivating on things to come. However, Mexico is not Ghana, Mexico is not Portugal, and Mexico is most certainly not Germany. This formation will not bear the same fruit against these more talented, counter-attacking based squads. It remains to be seen if Klinsmann will continue with the diamond, resort to the typical 4-2-3-1, or roll out a new formation all together. The configuration, of course, all depends on who will be taking the field.
Ambiguity of Starting XI
It’s safe to say that only Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and Fabian Johnson are locks for the starting lineup. Which leaves, and this is difficult math here, five open spots. Several variables leave those remaining spots virtually unknown, maybe even to Klinsmann. Versatility of several players, mainly Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson, gives the skip with malleable options. Both players, coming off formidable seasons with their respective clubs in Europe, can play multiple positions. Cameron, thriving at right back for Stoke can also play center back and has even found success as a holding midfielder for the national team during qualifiers. Johnson, also playing right back for club, can play on the left side or even higher up on the wing. With Omar Gonzalez still rehabbing from a knee injury and Landon Donovan now being seen as a “pure forward,” it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cameron line up at center back and Johnson at wing-mid, at least for next week’s friendly against Azerbaijan.
Landon Donovan Needs to Prove He Belongs
A player that meant so much to the USMNT over the past decade, it pains me to say, is far from a lock to make the final squad. When announcing the 30-man last week, Klinsmann stated that he sees Donovan as a “pure forward,” forcing Landon to contend for place in Brazil at a different position than he played during the World Cup qualifiers. No explanation was given for the shift in evaluation, but one could infer it has something to do with the 32 year old’s fitness at the current time. With this, Donovan sees himself shifted into a competition with a formidable group of forwards, all of which arguably are in better form than he. In the group; the aforementioned Dempsey and Altidore; who are virtual locks to start, Aron Johansson; a gifted forward with a nose for the net, Terrnce Boyd; who finished his season in the Austrian Bundesliga on a ferocious goal-scoring tear, and Chris Wondolowski; who has found net in each of his last two USMNT appearances. Landon Donovan, maybe the most celebrated US goal scorer ever, will face an uphill battle to be one of the four or five forwards on the plane to Brazil
There are many compelling positional battles to choose from, just like in any camp, yet right back might be the most interesting simply due to the amount of players involved. At this position specifically there is currently very little dividing the players that will be staying home from the potential starter. More likely than not, Fabian Johnson and Demarcus Beasley will book-end the back four just like they did through most of qualifying. However, if Johnson is pushed into the midfield and/or Beasley proves to not be recovered from his lower body injury, things could get exciting. Competing for that extra spot could be Geoff Cameron, but if he is thrust into the center it will come down to a motley crew of seasoned yet unspectacular vets and exciting yet unproven youngsters to fill the void. Included in the former category are Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst. Both have started a respectable amount of CONCACAF matches as well as international friendlies over the past 16 months. While their try-hard attitude is admirable, neither has popped as a game changer.
DeAndre Yedlin and Timmy Chandler provide interesting foils to the previous two players, being moderate surprises to even be invited to camp. Chandler seemed to be on the outs with the national team pretty much up to the moment Klinsmann said his name on the conference call. He has since, recovered nicely from a tumultuous cycle that brought him injuries, on field struggles, and a complicated off-field relationship with the USMNT. After finishing his season with Nurnberg playing at a high level, Chandler may be a quality remedy to some of the more talented wingers the US will have to face in Group G. Yedlin is a spark-plug defender unafraid to press forward and help with the offensive attack and currently is competing as one of the ten-best players in the MLS. Yedlin may be a risk to start in Brazil due to inexperience playing against premier talent, but the World Cup stage is very often where untapped talent comes to blossom.
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