With each passing weekend, and each set of matches around the world, the U.S. national team depth chart keeps on shifting like a volatile stock market. One week, a certain player might have an edge over his competition at a set position. The next week, an injury or benching or even a standout performance by a competitor can lead to the reversing of roles, with the hunter becoming the hunted in the quest for places on the U.S. World Cup team.
As we laid out last week, there is serious competition for invitations to the U.S. national team’s pre-World Cup training camp, and some of the battles for the final places are coming down to the wire.
When Klinsmann convenes the 25-28 player roster for the pre-World Cup camp at Stanford University, he will obviously have a nucleus of players who have been locks for some time, while also wanting to incorporate some players coming in playing at top form. Those players riding the momentum wave into the squad could provide Klinsmann a surprise option or two for the final 23-man World Cup squad.
Here are some head-to-head battles that might be taking place on Klinsmann’s U.S. depth chart, and which players have the edge with three weeks to go before the national team reports for pre-World Cup camp:
John Brooks vs. Michael Orozco
Two weeks ago Brooks looked like he might not score an invitation for Stanford. He wasn’t starting regularly, and reports out of Germany stating he was in hot water with his club coach after adding a back tattoo that forced him to miss practice time. Luckily for Brooks, the incident didn’t keep him out of the starting lineup, and he started in Hertha Berlin’s 0-0 tie against Augsburg over the weekend.
The timing of Brooks’ reprieve couldn’t be better for him because Michael Orozco was sidelined by a hamstring injury two weeks ago. Orozco had been enjoying a steady and injury-free season with Puebla, and is seen as a more natural backup to Matt Besler.
Has Brooks edged ahead of Orozco? Brooks is the better overall long-term prospect and has more upside, but Orozco has done well in central defense for the national team when given the chance. If Brooks continues to earn starts in the final weeks of the Bundesliga season, he should make it to the pre-World Cup camp, with an outside chance of making it to the World Cup.
Maurice Edu vs. Danny Williams
As recently as a month ago, Williams would have been considered the favorite to win this matchup due to his excellent form for League Championship side Reading, but Edu has been outstanding for the Philadelphia Union and has catapulted himself back into the World Cup conversation.
Working against Williams down the stretch has been some lingering knee issues that have forced him to miss a few games in recent weeks. Those setbacks have come after his most impressive run of form for Reading, which saw him score three goals in seven matches as the Royals were fighting for a promotion playoff place.
As well as Williams has played, he doesn’t have Edu’s experience, and Edu’s ability to potentially contribute as a central defender makes him an even more intriguing option. Edu should roll into the pre-World Cup camp as a strong contender to grab one of the 23 roster spots. Williams has an outside chance of still making the training camp, but the wealth of options in the middle could leave him out.
Mix Diskerud vs. Joe Corona
These former U.S. Under-23 and 2013 Gold Cup teammates are both very promising young midfielders, but it seems unlikely we will see both in the May training camp.
It is tough to see Diskerud not making it to the pre-World Cup camp, which means Corona is likely looking at an uphill battle to even make it to Stanford, let alone earn a World Cup roster spot. Klinsmann’s decision to make Michael Bradley a clear-cut attacking option makes the race for attacking midfield roles an even tighter one.
The edge will likely go to Diskerud, even though his more recent showings with the national team haven’t exactly been outstanding. His efforts during World Cup qualifying, at a time when Corona wasn’t playing for Club Tijuana and fell out of the national team picture, should give Diskerud the edge.
Julian Green vs. Brek Shea
Okay, so this one seems to be a foregone conclusion at this point, but it merits a closer look given Shea’s long-standing place as a Klinsmann favorite and an effective bench option.
Whether or not you believe Klinsmann has already promised Green a World Cup roster spot, there are very few scenarios that exist that consist of Green not even being invited to the pre-World Cup camp. With the time frame on his shoulder injury expected to see him be healthy in more than enough time to participate in the camp.
And Shea? His move to Stoke City didn’t lead to much playing time, and while a few League Championship loans saw him earn some minutes, he has spent the past month collecting dust at Stoke City. For that reason, even his history of being a strong option off the bench for Klinsmann isn’t likely to help him earn a ticket to the training camp.
Terrence Boyd vs. Juan Agudelo
These two forwards picked bad times to hit slumps, and for Boyd, who had long seemed a safe bet for the World Cup roster, an eight-game drought began raising questions about whether he was really a lock.
A two-goal performance this past weekend for Rapid Vienna shows that Boyd is still capable of finding the net, and the fact remains he is the American player best-equipped to step in for Jozy Altidore as a target forward.
Agudelo is also a capable target-forward option, but his stint at FC Utrecht hasn’t exactly catapulted him ahead of the other forward options in the player pool. Right now, Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson are the safe bets to be in Stanford, and barring any injuries, Boyd seems a good bet to hold off Agudelo for the final forward spot at the pre-World Cup camp.