Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
In just a few days we will be hitting 2013, the year before the World Cup in Brazil, and all of a sudden it will feel like the tournament soccer fans spend four years waiting for will be just around the corner.
There is still plenty of time though, plenty of days and weeks and months until 23 American players will be chosen to represent the United States at the 2014 World Cup (yes, assuming the USMNT qualifies). There are position battles that haven’t even begun yet, and young players who could still emerge from obscurity and become breakout stars.
As we wrap up the final month of 2012, we can see some players who have already begun to make their hard pushes to climb the USMNT depth chart, and solidify their places in Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans. Brad Guzan has gone from perennial back-up to standout starter at Aston Villa. Michael Parkhurst parlayed a strong showing in the UEFA Champions League into a contract with German Bundesliga side Augsburg. Oguchi Onyewu has begun the climb back onto the national team radar as he takes advantage of playing time for Spanish Champions League side Malaga.
There are also players who have seen their stock dip considerably in recent months. Maurice Edu, Jose Torres and Brek Shea have all gone from regular fixtures in the conversation to fringe options who will need to rebound in 2013 to re-assert themselves as World Cup candidates.
Something to keep in mind when thinking about what a U.S. World Cup roster will look like is Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments about the structure of a World Cup roster. For Klinsmann, a World Cup team isn’t necessarily the best 23 players, but rather the best 23-man team. Klinsmann will select some players who are better locker room personalities in order to provide balanced to the squad, which means a more talented player could miss out in favor of a player who is a better teammate and locker room personality.
With all that in mind, here is a look at the 23 players we project making up the U.S. World Cup roster in 18 months:
PROJECTED USMNT WORLD CUP 2014 ROSTER (December 2012)
(Changes from November in bold)
GOALKEEPERS– Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
Outlook– Guzan has a hammerlock on the second goalkeeper spot, but the third goalkeeper remains a position in flux. Rimando might be a surprise to some, but with Guzan looking like such a strong No. 2, Klinsmann could be tempted to bring along a good locker room presence like Rimando rather than one of the pool’s younger options. There is no guarantee Klinsmann will use the third goalkeeper slot on a young goalkeeper, and his recent comments about the important of balance of personalities in a World Cup roster sure bodes well for Rimando’s chances.
Missed the cut– Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid.
DEFENDERS– Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Matt Besler, Timmy Chandler, Eric Lichaj
Outlook– Maurice Edu’s absence from Stoke City’s plans has dropped him off the projection here, and while Edgar Castillo is fresh of winning a Mexican League title, he gets edged out here by an improving Lichaj.
No, Klinsmann hasn’t called in Lichaj yet, but the fact that he has become a regular starter in a top league makes him the choice. Another player who drew strong consideration is Michael Parkhurst, who just completed a move to Bundesliga side Augsburg. He is fresh of a strong run in UEFA Champions League and could be in our projection by January if he transitions well to the Bundesliga.
Centerback remains an interesting position. Carlos Bocanegra is still the U.S. captain, and just might keep himself on a high enough level to be a part of the team, but for now we will project Cherundolo to make the team and Bocanegra to just miss out. Having both would seem like a stretch given their ages. That being said, Klinsmann still needs some other centerbacks to develop and Gonzalez and Besler look like the best candidates to do that. We can’t forget about Oguchi Onyewu, who has played himself back onto the radar by showing well in spot duty for Malaga.
Missed the cut– Bocanegra, Parkhurst, Oguchi Onyewu, Edgar Castillo, A.J. Soares, Amobi Okugo, Steven Beitashour, Justin Morrow
MIDFIELDERS– Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Josh Gatt, Sacha Kljestan.
Outlook– It was a toss-up between Kljestan and Diskerud for the final spot and right now the edge goes to Kljestan, who is enjoying an outstanding run with Belgian side Anderlecht. Klinsmann may prefer Diskerud, but right now Kljestan is peaking and should be forcing his way into the conversation.
Yes, Landon Donovan is still on the list, and while we don’t know for sure just what his national team plans are, we will project him on the team until he officially retires, either from the national team or from soccer altogether.
Gatt provides some speed on the flanks, and gives the team some youth in midfield. There are other players who could provide that, like Gyau and Shea, but for now we’ll give Gatt the nod. Shea is a player who figures to stay on the fringes until he returns to action in March and re-asserts his place as a key member of the 2014 plans.
Joe Corona is another player who could be in for a big 2013. He just helped lead Club Tijuana to the Mexican league title, and should have an opportunity in the Gold Cup to make his mark on the national team.
Missed the cut– Diskerud, Edu, Shea, Corona, Joe Gyau, Alejandro Bedoya, Nick DeLeon, Jose Torres.
FORWARDS– Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson, Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez
Outlook– There is a tough decision coming between an older player like Gomez and a younger player like Juan Agudelo. With the World Cup still a year and a half away that is plenty of time for Agudelo to hit his stride, and time for Gomez to start showing signs of slowing down. That very well may happen, but until we see some serious signs of that it will be tough to omit a player like Gomez, who brings so many intangibles and a good locker room presence.
The top three of Altidore, Johnson and Boyd feels like a lock at this point, even if Boyd is still developing as a pro. He just has the look of a breakout star in 2013.
Missed the cut– Agudelo, Chris Wondolowski, Chris Pontius, Will Bruin.
What do you think of this group? Which player are you happy to see make our projected 23-man roster? Who didn’t make the squadd that you think should have?
Share your thoughts below.