Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
The U.S. men's national team's friendly against Italy is a little more than two weeks away, and it is the first chance that manager Jurgen Klinsmann has to have his "A" team assembled together in the new year.
With only a few friendlies remaining before World Cup qualifying begins in June, Klinsmann will look to the Feb. 29 match in Genoa as a measuring stick for where his in-form, mostly European-based players currently stand. Italy's attack might be without the injured Alberto Gilardino and the recovering Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi, but that hardly means the Azzurri won't challenge and pressure the U.S. defense and try to dictate the tempo and rhythm of the match on their home soil.
Considering Klinsmann's track record and current players' form and health, the back four and starting goalkeeper are pretty well established by this point, but it is the depth spots behind them that are points of contention. The fact that the U.S. Under-23 national team is holding a camp and playing in a friendly at the same time as this match also has to be taken into account for some of Klinsmann's selections.
So which goalkeepers and defenders should Klinsmann call up to face the Italians? Here's who we think should get the nod:
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
Howard is the unquestioned starter of the bunch and will be between the posts against Italy. That's about as much as a given as there is when it comes to the U.S. lineup. After him, it gets a little more unclear. Bill Hamid has been anointed Klinsmann's No. 2, but with the U.S. Under-23 national team slated to have a training camp in the 10 days leading up to a friendly against Mexico's U-23 side that is on the same day as the Italy friendly, it seems unlikely that Hamid would be brought along for this trip.
Considering how well Guzan showed in his time as Aston Villa's starter, it is worth Klinsmann's time to bring him in and assess his progress.
CENTERBACKS: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Zak Whitbread, Geoff Cameron
Considering form and ability, Bocanegra and Onyewu remain the first-choice centerback pairing in the U.S. player pool. Onyewu has worked his way back into peak shape while with Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, while Bocanegra has maintained his status as the anchor of Rangers' back line.
The battle for the spots behind them is where the discussion really takes off. With Clarence Goodson having his winter break wind down with Brondby, he isn't likely to be at the ideal fitness level to face the Azzurri.
Couple that with Michael Orozco Fiscal not showing much in past call-ups to merit another look, Tim Ream just now starting to work his way into Bolton's lineup, George John still sorting out whether his move to West Ham will be a full transfer and Omar Gonzalez having a torn ACL, and it figures to be a perfect time for Whitbread to get his first look under Klinsmann and for Cameron to get his first run out with the A team after a strong showing at the January training camp.
Whitbread suffered a hamstring injury in Norwich City's match against Bolton two weekends ago, meaning that his inclusion is dependent on his health, a common theme in the 27-year-old defender's career. Orozco Fiscal, Goodson and Michael Parkhurst are likely next in the pecking order.
FULLBACKS: Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler, Jonathan Spector, Alfredo Morales
In a one-game scenario, Cherundolo on the right and Chandler on the left are Klinsmann's top options right now. Chandler can man either flank if need be, while Spector, a stalwart in Birmingham's lineup this season in the club's quest for promotion, can provide cover on either side as well.
Morales, who has been starting recently for Hertha Berlin (even though he struggled this past weekend), is a right-sided option and has already caught Klinsmann's eye given his call-up for the France and Slovenia friendlies.
Bocanegra can still provide cover on the left, although he has yet to be called upon for that duty by Klinsmann, and considering the premium on roster space and multitude of versatile midfielders and attacking players that will get the call, no more than eight defenders should wind up making the trip. Keep in mind that players like Hoffenheim's Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams can also put in time in the back if need be.
As for those not making our cut: Edgar Castillo is getting regular minutes at left back for Tijuana, but that does not mean that the holes in his game that were exposed during his previous call-ups have been corrected. Eric Lichaj has just returned from a five-month injury layoff, and while he may get some minutes with Aston Villa's first team in the coming weeks, it's still a bit too soon to throw him into the fire against Italy. Come the friendlies in May and World Cup qualifying in June, Lichaj could very well be in the picture.
Which goalkeepers and defenders do you think Klinsmann should call up for the Italy friendly?
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