When the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying began, there were plenty of questions about the depth of the U.S. national team, and about whether the team would have the necessary firepower and defensive quality to enjoy a strong run through qualifying.
Jurgen Klinsmann did an outstanding job of finding new players to strengthen the team, while giving some other players with prior experience the chance to regain their places in the pool. The result was a very good run through the Hex that has helped the USA clinch a World Cup place with two matches to spare.
The areas that have enjoyed the most improvement in terms of depth are center back and the midfield, where some new forces have emerged to replace some long-standing members of the national team.
Here is a look at the U.S. players who boosted their stock the most, and those who saw their national team stock dip the most, in 2013 through the Hex as well as the Gold Cup:
Brad Guzan’s stock rose thanks to his outstanding run as starter for Aston Villa, coupled with his strong starts in the March qualifiers. Nick Rimando didn’t get a chance to play in the Hex, but did solidify his hold on the No. 3 spot with a strong Gold Cup.
Among those who saw their stock drop, Bill Hamid has fallen out of the conversation for now, but remains a good long-term prospect. Sean Johnson hasn’t fallen quite as far, but he also hasn’t closed the gap on Rimando for the No. 3 spot.
Matt Besler and Brad Evans head the list of defenders who boosted their stock the most this year. Besler went from uncapped before 2013 to becoming a regular starter and arguably the best center back in the pool. Evans went from right back experiment to first-choice starter in the absence of injured regular Steve Cherundolo.
Omar Gonzalez had his ups and downs in the Hex, but his past two games, including a solid outing vs. Mexico, have solidified his place as a regular starter. Clarence Goodson followed up a good Gold Cup with a steady showing against Mexico to keep his name in the conversation.
DaMarcus Beasley really revived his national team career with some important showings in the early part of the Hex, and aside from a forgettable showing against Costa Rica, he has done a good job turning back the clock and making left back his position.
Michael Parkhurst’s good Gold Cup, and steady showing vs. Mexico, should keep him on the radar, but he will likely need to leave German club Augsburg this winter in order to get playing time to help boost his chances of a World Cup roster spot.
No defender saw his stock fall further than Carlos Bocanegra, who went from captain and starter to not even called into the team. Steve Cherundolo has obviously been battling injuries for much of the year, but remains a player who shouldn’t be written off long-term. Oguchi Onyewu might have seen his best chance of returning to the national team mix pass him by.
No player revived his national team career like Landon Donovan did, going from outcast to Gold Cup MVP and star of the win vs. Mexico, but nobody was all that surprised by the resurrection of the most successful career in U.S. history.
Alejandro Bedoya wasn’t a regular fixture in the Hex until the Mexico game, but his good showing in Tuesday’s World Cup berth-clinching match capped an outstanding summer from him that included a terrific showing in the Gold Cup and successful transfer to Ligue 1 side Nantes.
Graham Zusi may not have stood out in September, but we shouldn’t forget the good games he played in the June qualifiers. He could find it tough going fighting the likes of Donovan and Bedoya for playing time, but Zusi has established himself as a viable option.
Mix Diskerud has also helped boost his stock with the national team after a good showing at the Gold Cup and eye-catching cameo vs. Mexico. Kyle Beckerman also combined a good Gold Cup with strong game vs. ‘El Tri’ to regain his place as a top central midfield depth option.
Geoff Cameron did a good job this year of establishing himself as a Swiss Army Knife, capable of playing defensive midfield, right back or center back and doing any of those jobs well. That sort of versatility gets you on a World Cup roster.
Stuart Holden’s torn ACL in the Gold Cup final was a devastating blow to a player who is considered a potential difference maker if he can stay healthy. His latest setback looks like it could wind up costing him the World Cup, but nobody is ready to completely write him off just yet.
Maurice Edu suffered injuries that kept him out of the summer’s qualifiers and Gold Cup, and now his lack of playing time on the club level has really put his chance of a World Cup place in jeopardy. Brek Shea is another player who has had to stand by and watch others move ahead on the depth chart as he recovers from a foot injury and lack of playing time on the club level.
Jozy Altidore enjoyed a dream run in World Cup qualifying in June, and added a stunning hat-trick in the August friendly win vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina. Eddie Johnson revived his national team career last year, but has continued to build on that with important contributions in the Gold Cup and in qualifying. His ability to play on the wing also makes Johnson extremely valuable going forward.
Injuries have kept Juan Agudelo out of the conversation, but he is too young and too talented to write off just yet. Terrence Boyd didn’t get a chance to play in the Hex, but remains a very promising prospect, though the arrival of Aron Johannsson will make the battle for minutes among the young forwards that much more intense.
Herculez Gomez battled a knee injury that cost him a chance to take part in the June and September qualifiers, and at 31, he could find it difficult to work his way back up the depth chart with so many talented young forwards in the mix now.