Photo by ISIPhotos.com
To give you an idea of how times are changing when it comes to U.S. national team forwards and forward prospects, the past weekend barely seemed to register a ripple despite being the kind of weekend that would have had U.S. fans crying tears of joys just a few years ago.
Three different U.S. national team pool forwards (Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez and Terrence Boyd) scored goals in foreign leagues, and a fourth (Jozy Altidore) delivered a game-winning assist in the Eredivisie. In that same weekend, U.S. national team pool forward Chris Wondolowski was busy tying the MLS record for goals in a season.
No, the U.S. strike force isn’t going to be confused with Argentina’s or the Netherlands’, but considering some of the lean years of the past decade, when looking for useful forwards was an exercise in futility, the U.S. national team is enjoying what has to be described as a bountiful era for forwards.
You need only look at 2012, and see that of the 21 goals scored by the national team, 14 have been scored by forwards. Those may not be record-breaking totals, but compared to years past, forwards are carrying a bigger role in the U.S. than in years past.
Here is a closer look at the U.S. national team forward options as Jurgen Klinsmann heads into 2013 and the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying:
Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez emerged as tandem of choice for Klinsmann during qualifying, with both riding club success to a good level with the national team. Dempsey’s nose for goal and Gomez’s smart runs and tireless work rate make them an effective tandem, either in 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.
THE COMEBACK KID
Eddie Johnson is a riding a wave of confidence, and has combined his athleticism with an increased intelligence that has made him a more effective player. Strong in the air, and willing to take on defenders, Johnson will remain in the mix for starts as long as he is healthy and playing with confidence.
Jozy Altidore may be on the outside looking in at the moment, but he is far too talented to not work his way back into the mix. His skills are improving and he is gaining confidence as he tears up the Dutch League. Being snubbed by Klinsmann should only serve to motivate him and he could still emerge as the team’s leading score in the Hexagonal.
THE YOUNG GUN
Terrence Boyd is still settling in with Rapid Vienna, but when he has played he has scored goals. The 21-year old is an impressive combination of power, size and speed. If he can continue to play and score regularly for Rapid, it won’t be long before he starts drawing interest from bigger leagues, the German Bundesliga among them.
THE FRINGE VETERANS
Chris Wondolowski and Alan Gordon may not be considered long term options, but their form in MLS makes them players who Klinsmann can call on to fill needs. Gordon did just that in a key win vs. Antigua & Barbuda. Wondolowski has struggled to to get minutes with the national team, but as long as he continues scoring goals in bunches, he will remain on the radar.
THE FORGOTTEN ONES
Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo came into 2012 with high hopes for the year and national team aspirations, but injuries and other setbacks kept both from reaching their full potential this year. Bunbury suffered a torn ACL, and his recovery from that will go into 2013, but he remains a forward to keep an eye on once he returns.
Agudelo also endured an early-year knee injury, but his bigger issue was falling out of favor with the New York Red Bulls before winding up at Chivas USA. He fell off the radar, but came on strong later in the year and started showing glimpses of the player who was once considered a future star forward for the USMNT. It is easy to forget that Agudelo isn’t even 20 yet (he turns 20 in November), but it would be foolish not to think of his a player who could force his way back into the national team mix in 2013.
THE MLS RISING STARS
Chris Pontius and C.J. Sapong head into the MLS as key figures in the attacks of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, and both should be watched by Klinsmann. Pontius is perfectly suited to play in a wide forward role in Klinsmann’s 4-3-3 and should merit a look come January while Sapong is the kind of physical target forward who could develop into a good option for depth behind the likes of Gomez, Altidore and Johnson.
Landon Donovan may be pondering retirement, and may be struggling to find motivation to continue the best career in U.S. national team history, but as long as he still laces up boots, he remains an option for the national team. He is still too good to ignore when he’s on his game, and he’s perfectly-suited to fill multiple roles in Klinsmann’s 4-3-3. He might seem like a better option in midfield, but whether he plays there or in one of the forward slots, he remains the kind of player who makes the national team better when he’s on it.
Klinsmann will have plenty of forward options at his disposal when World Cup qualifying begins, and when the Gold Cup kicks off in June, arguably more than any U.S. coach has ever had. As centerback becomes the new cause for concern for the national team because of the lack of viable options, forward has rapidly become a new strength.
That would have been difficult to imagine even five years ago, but now instead of struggling to find two forwards to fill out the starting lineup who actually play regularly for their club teams, the U.S. national team could have the kind of forward stable that could turn the United States into an attacking force.
Now it’s just up to Klinsmann to pick the right forwards from that ever-improving stable. That won’t be easy, but it beats the more familiar alternative for U.S. national team coaches, which is not having many forward options to choose from.