Seth Vertelney: Five players ready to make a U.S. national team breakthrough

The U.S. national team has had a great 2013, but several players who weren't involved much could see a greater role as the World Cup approaches.
By all accounts, 2013 has been a banner year for the U.S. national team. After losing at Honduras in its opening Hexagonal game in February, the Yanks went seven months without another loss. Jurgen Klinsmann's side won the Gold Cup, qualified easily for the World Cup, and rattled off a record 12-game winning streak in the process, en route to a 15-3-2 overall record in 2013 so far.

Though these are heady times for the USA, the team is by no means a finished product. With nine months to go until the World Cup, Klinsmann has two qualifiers and several friendlies to perfect his roster, which should include at least a few players who didn't play much part in the team's 2013 success.

The following five players have combined for just 198 minutes for the USA this year, but could all play an important part in the team's upcoming matches – and the World Cup next summer.

Eric Lichaj, right back, Nottingham Forest

It's abundantly clear that Jurgen Klinsmann has never rated Lichaj. Despite being forced to play converted midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans as starters at outside back in 2013, Lichaj –  a starter at times for Premier League side Aston Villa – has never even been called up by the U.S. manager. His last appearance for the national team was under Bob Bradley in the 2011 Gold Cup.

When asked about Lichaj's omission from his team's most recent roster, Klinsmann replied simply: “Now is not the time to experiment.”

Things might be different this time around. The 24-year-old Lichaj has started well at Championship side Nottingham Forest, entrenching himself as starter. Although he never latched on as a Premier League starter, Lichaj offers athleticism, work rate and perhaps most crucially, versatility, as he's able to play right back and left back. With the U.S. so clearly hurting at those positions, Lichaj has earned his chance.

Terrence Boyd, striker, Rapid Vienna

In 2013, Boyd has shown he's ready for the next step, both for club and country. With Rapid Vienna, Boyd has become one of the most dangerous strikers in Austria, scoring 13 league goals in his debut campaign and following that up with five in just six games in the young 2013-14 season. With rumored suitors in the English Premier League and Serie A, the 22-year-old may only have months remaining in his time at Rapid.

Boyd's club form hasn't translated to opportunities with the national team though. Although he's been named to most of Klinsmann's rosters in 2013, he's only played 18 total minutes for the USA this year. With the strong form of Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson, and the emergence of Aron Johannsson, the U.S. suddenly has admirable depth at the forward position, but Boyd deserves a shot to replicate his club form at the international level.

Timothy Chandler, right back, FC Nurnberg

The last we saw of Chandler in a USA jersey, he was finally getting cap tied, and then was summarily torched in the team's 2-1 loss at Honduras in its first Hexagonal game. Since then, Chandler has been frozen out by Klinsmann, who admitted last month that the Nurnberg right back simply hadn't climbed high enough on the depth chart to warrant a call for any match following the Honduras disaster.

With the USA's aforementioned lack of depth at the outside back position, Chandler's recall could be imminent. Following a slow start to the Bundesliga campaign which saw him used as a substitute, the 23-year-old has reclaimed his starting spot for Nurnberg, and has turned in several strong performances in a row. The German-American is renowned for his pace, energy and athleticism. Those traits could push him above the likes of Evans when it comes to facing the world-class wingers the team will likely encounter in Brazil.

John Brooks, center back, Hertha Berlin

Having publicly made clear that he wants his players to test themselves at the highest level possible, will Klinsmann feel comfortable with a center back pair in Brazil that has never played a club game outside Major League Soccer? That's the situation the U.S. faces, with Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler the team's preferred defensive duo at the moment. There is a player who could break that paring up, though, and its the ultra-talented, but still raw Brooks.

Brooks will be 21 by the time the World Cup rolls around and, presumably, will have a full season as a Bundesliga starter under his belt. What he lacks is international experience, having only earned one cap with the USA. However, if he's given more chances at the international level, it's possible he won't look back. Gonzalez and Besler have both been solid during their time with the Yanks, but Brooks' upside, and Klinsmann's propensity for risk taking mean the youngster could very well be in line for a big role in Brazil.

Paul Arriola, midfielder, Club Tijuana

Let's get the reasons why Arriola won't feature for the USA this cycle out of the way quickly: He's 18, has only just begun playing first-team soccer, and has made just one start among his eight career league appearances.

Arriola is admittedly a long shot at this point, but the ability he's shown during his young professional career means he shouldn't be ruled out. Compared by many to a young Landon Donovan, Arriola brings a package of skill, speed and attacking intent that hasn't been seen by an American at this young of an age since a certain Ontario, Calif. native was winning the the Golden Ball at the 1999 U-17 World Cup.

Additionally, Arriola's emergence has at least partially contributed to the marginalization of Joe Corona from the Xolos lineup. The midfielder, who has been a big part of the U.S. setup in 2013, has made just five appearances in the 2013 Apertura so far after being a regular starter in past seasons. That alone should be justification that Arriola is for real.

Follow SETH VERTELNEY on or shoot him an email