As the U.S. national team kicks off its first training camp of 2014 on Tuesday, here is the latest Goal USA look at the 11 American players who could start at the World Cup.The World Cup is just five months away and while Brazil's stadiums may not be fully constructed, most of the 32 teams heading to Brazil already have a good sense of what their lineups will look like. Injuries and the rare sudden emergence of a breakout star can shake things up a bit, but projecting starting lineups for June’s World Cup isn’t too difficult for most teams.
The U.S. national team starting lineup is a fairly simple group to figure out for the most part, though there are some question marks that will be answered in the coming months. The fullback positions remain the biggest question marks, though Geoff Cameron is starting to ease fears about right back with his steady play for Stoke City. Left back isn’t without options, but what coach Jurgen Klinsmann must figure out is whether he can count on DaMarcus Beasley to do the job in a World Cup group that features some extremely tough wingers, including Cristiano Ronaldo.
While Klinsmann sorts out his wide options, the spine of the team seems pretty straightforward, though the drop off from starter to backup is considerable at a few spots.
Another interesting aspect of projecting the starting USA lineup in Brazil is what roles long-time stars Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will play. Both have been penciled in as key starters for so long that it’s tough to imagine either not carrying an important role, but with growing competition in the attack, neither is safe from losing their job if they don’t head into the summer on good form.
That is still five months away. For now, here is a look at what the USA starting lineup for the World Cup looks like as we head into the new year:
GOALKEEPER- Tim Howard
Not much to discuss here. Howard is enjoying a standout year, while Brad Guzan remains the No. 2. Guzan has shown he is capable of stepping in when needed, but an in-form Howard gives the U.S. one of the world’s best goalkeepers.
RIGHT BACK- Geoff Cameron
With his form at right back for Stoke City improving at a steady rate, Cameron is looking more and more like the clear-cut pick. That said, don’t rule out a Steve Cherundolo resurgence if he can stay healthy and play regularly during the next five months at Hannover 96.
CENTER BACK- Matt Besler
Fresh off an MLS Cup title, Besler enters 2014 confident and arguably the best center back in the national team pool. Clarence Goodson is probably Klinsmann’s first choice off the bench as a backup center back, though if Cherundolo does return, then Cameron becomes Besler’s backup.
CENTER BACK- Omar Gonzalez
The LA Galaxy defender has formed a solid partnership with Besler, and the two will have a chance to continue building that connection in this month’s national team camp. He still needs to cut out the penchant for mistakes that plagued him in 2013
LEFT BACK- DaMarcus Beasley
The veteran defender enjoyed a good 2013, but he will need to keep playing at a high level to hold off Fabian Johnson as Klinsmann’s top left back option. If anything does happen to Beasley, Johnson would make the most sense to slide in, especially given the number of wing midfield options who can step in and replace Johnson higher up the field.
RIGHT MIDFIELD- Landon Donovan
As much as we have grown accustomed to seeing Donovan’s name in the lineup at World Cups, a starting role in Brazil isn’t a foregone conclusion. We will project him here now, but with Aron Johannsson improving dramatically and Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi both looking very good, Donovan could find himself out of the lineup if he isn’t sharp come June.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD- Michael Bradley
The first field player you pencil into the U.S. starting lineup, Bradley is as clear-cut a choice as there is, even with his inconsistent playing time at AS Roma. As we saw in Costa Rica, replacing Bradley is pretty much impossible, but if he weren’t available, Klinsmann would likely turn to someone like Mix Diskerud or Sacha Kljestan to help provide a more attack-minded element to the central midfield.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD- Jermaine Jones
A regular when healthy, Jones is at a turning point in his club career after recently stating his desire to leave Schalke 04. He needs to be playing regularly in the coming months to ensure his place in the starting lineup, whether that means a move elsewhere in Europe or potentially a move to MLS. If Jones is unavailable, Kyle Beckerman showed in 2013 that he can step in and play the defensive midfield role well.
LEFT MIDFIELD- Fabian Johnson
Johnson has shown some very good glimpses playing on the left wing in the U.S. attack, but with options being thin at left back, he might wind up having to play as a defender. If he can stay on the left wing he can help provide important service, but if he isn’t available we could see Donovan getting a look on the left wing. Bedoya has also been used on the left flank as well.
ATTACKING MIDFIELD- Clint Dempsey
Whether playing as a forward or underneath a loan striker in a 4-2-3-1, Dempsey is likely to be the person pulling the strings in the middle of the U.S. attack. His form in the second half of 2013 was troubling, but a full vacation followed by a loan to Fulham should help him regain his sharpness heading into 2014. If Dempsey can’t fill this role, then Donovan makes the most sense as the alternative in a playmaking role.
FORWARD- Jozy Altidore
He might be struggling at Sunderland, and Johannsson might be lighting up the scoreboard in the Netherlands, but Altidore remains the projected starter and after the way he lit it up last summer, it’s tough to argue. If his form takes a hit, and his Sunderland woes continue, Klinsmann could consider benching him for Johannsson, but the more likely scenario would be Klinsmann pairing Johannsson with Altidore and moving Fabian Johnson to the left back role.