The U.S. team’s recent 2-0 loss to Ukraine isn’t a reason by itself to press the panic button, but placed in context with a series of other events and trends, the loss is the latest problem and you get a picture that is far less encouraging now than the one painted during a memorable summer of 2013.
Jozy Altdore and Clint Dempsey have been out of form for extended periods of time. Long enough to raise questions about whether Dempsey’s dip is a product of circumstances or because of his age. Altidore’s painful struggles at Sunderland leave you wondering just how low his confidence will go over the next two months, and whether he will be able to shake off a forgettable first season at Sunderland in time to be a threat in the World Cup.
The fullback positions remain a serious area of concern as well, especially given the dangerous wingers the U.S. will face in Brazil. Brad Evans' national team struggles, coupled with Geoff Cameron's steady play at Stoke City appear to have given the edge to Cameron even if Klinsmann still seems hesitant to commit to him. At left back, Edgar Castillo's struggles make it more and more clear that Klinsmann will have to seriously consider committing to Fabian Johnson as a fullback. That is, unless DaMarcus Beasley can hold up against Group G's outstanding wingers.
Then you have the central defender position, which appears to have Klinsmann a bit worried. Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez appear to be the first-choice tandem, but they lack big-game experience and neither has been to a World Cup. Both had good first years as national team regulars in 2013, and they continue to look like the top pairing in the pool, even as Klinsmann scours the pool for other potential options.
These are just some of the questions lingering with the World Cup fast approaching, and with the Group of Death looming, a lack of form within the group is making advancement from the group stages look tougher and tougher.
So how does the team look as the spring arrives and summer draws near? Here is how the U.S. World Cup roster is shaping up with three months to go before the World Cup:
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Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
The easiest position to projected on the U.S. World Cup team, with Rimando reminding us last weekend why he considered the unquestioned No. 3.
Stock Rising: Rimando starts the MLS season in style, widening the gap on any other potential No. 3s.
Stock Falling: Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid. Not that either had a bad game in their MLS season debuts, but both their teams look to have some defensive issues to work out, which won’t help boost either's chances.
Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco, DaMarcus Beasley
Klinsmann’s attempt to give Edgar Castillo another chance to prove himself as a left back failed miserably, and with Fabian Johnson not exactly tearing it up as a wing midfielder against Ukraine, the U.S. coach will have to consider whether to leave the midfield to other options and play Johnson at left back, where he would be the best option in the pool.
The fourth central defender spot on the squad is up for grabs, and with both Oguchi Onyewu and John Brooks struggling badly against Ukraine, the big winner might be Orozco, who has been a consistent starter for a Puebla side that has defended well. Orozco also happens to be a more natural option to replace Besler were the U.S. to need a replacement.
If Klinsmann sticks with playing Johnson as a winger, a player who could benefit is Michael Parkhurst. The versatile veteran won’t figure to play much as a fullback for the Columbus Crew, but playing regularly will help his sharpness, and he’s capable of playing anywhere along the back-line.
One player we won’t rule out is Timmy Chandler. Though he is out until April, the lack of strong fullback options keeps his faint World Cup hopes alive. It is tough to argue that he isn’t one of the top four fullbacks in the player pool, but he needs to recover from his knee injury and get back on the field quickly.
Stock Rising: Cameron. Looked solid at right back against Ukraine and seems more and more like Klinsmann’s best option.
Stock Falling: Brooks and Castillo. The young German-American Brooks just hasn’t looked ready for prime time, and his lost standing at Hertha Berlin has only exacerbated his struggles. As for Castillo, he once again looked incapable of handling defensive duties, making him, quite simply, someone Klinsmann can’t afford to bring to Brazil.
Missed the Cut: Parkhurst, Onyewu, Ream, Chandler.
Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud.
This group of eight is looking more and more like the probable group, though there are some other candidates who could make a late push. Diskerud's spot seems potentially vulnerable, but Sacha Kljestan’s decline makes him a bit safer.
One interesting player to consider is Brek Shea, who has shown an ability to make an impact off the bench. His discontinued loan at Barnsley could set him back if he doesn’t continue to find playing time, and another key question is who among Donovan, Dempsey, Bedoya and Zusi would Klinsmann honestly think would be a worse roster option than Shea?
Maurice Edu looked good in his debut for the Philadelphia Union, and can’t be ruled out as a threat to Kyle Beckerman’s place on the team. The same can be said for Danny Williams, who is enjoying a good season at Reading. Beckerman didn’t exactly lose ground in his strong outing for Real Salt Lake in its season-opening win against the LA Galaxy.
Stock Rising: Bedoya. Regular minutes in Ligue 1, coupled with good showings for the national team, keep Bedoya looking like a clear midfield option for Klinsmann.
Stock Falling: Sacha Kljestan. Had what was probably his last real chance to impress against Ukraine and he didn’t get it done.
Missed the Cut: Brad Davis, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu, Brek Shea, Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber
Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd, Eddie Johnson
Altidore’s struggles continue but he remains Klinsmann’s first-choice starting striker. Johannsson keeps scoring goals for AZ, and showing signs in his national team appearances, but he remains second choice to Altidore. That being said, Johannsson continues to make a strong case for being a starter alongside Altidore,
Johnson gets the nod here in a race that also includes Juan Agudelo. Klinsmann has shown an affinity for Johnson’s versatility, and if Johnson gets off to a strong start with D.C. United, he just might be able to hold of Agudelo’s push.
Boyd has long been considered Altidore’s backup in terms of being a pure target forward, but his failure to see any minutes against Ukraine has to raise some eyebrows. Boyd continues to score in the Austrian League, but you have to wonder just how safe his place in the team is at the moment.
Stock Rising: Johannsson. Keeps on scoring goals, but will need Klinsmann to reconsider his tactics if he’s going to have a serious chance at starting.
Stock Falling: Herculez Gomez. Hasn’t really gotten going for Club Tijuana this year, and until he starts finding the net for the Xolos, Gomez could be the odd man out.
Missed the Cut: Agudelo, Chris Wondolowski.