By Patrick MacDonald
Believe it or not, the third round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying is coming to a close. Two weeks from tonight, we will know who is going on to the final round of World Cup Qualifying with a chance to go down to Brazil and who will have to wait until 2018 for another shot.
In September, the U.S. looked great for 65 minutes between two games and underwhelming for the other 115. How many changes coach Jurgen Klinsmann makes to the roster remains to be seen, but considering Landon Donovan and possibly Michael Bradley will be back, at least two players on the roster in September won’t be making the trip to Antigua and Kansas City.
Here’s my predicted roster for the October qualifiers, followed by some thoughts:
Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjælland), Clarence Goodson (Brøndby), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Timothy Chandler (Nürnberg)
Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Michael Bradley (Roma), Jose Torres (Pachuca)
Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna)
- Barring any catastrophic injuries, the goalkeeper situation is locked up through 2014. Klinsmann made a clear statement on where Brad Guzan fit in the fold calling him into June qualifiers despite not getting any playing time at the club level. Now that he’s the starter for Villa (albeit a bad Villa), he’s not going anywhere. Rimando is the most consistent MLS keeper and deserves his perennial number 3. Tim Howard is simply a no brainer.
- There are two odd men out in the defensive picture; Michael Orozco Fiscal and Jonathan Spector. Spector made the previous roster due to his versatility and because Edgar Castillo picked up a knock right before the matches. With Castillo healthy and in good form in Mexico, he should reclaim his spot. Michael Orozco Fiscal got his “Thank You” call-up for beating Mexico – that’s all that was.
Yes, Tim Chandler is on this roster. Chandler himself in interviews said he would be very open to coming to these qualifiers. No, he hasn’t suddenly decided he doesn’t mind the travel, as was his excuse of the month in September. However, Chandler does have to realize that he is not on Germany’s radar for 2014 and possibly beyond. If he wants to play International football and play a key role in the 2014 World Cup, he’s going to have to do so for the United States.
- Where’s Eric Lichaj? Klinsmann has finally addressed it in an interview on ESPN. It looks like he will get his chance in the crowded 2013 calendar, so don’t expect him to be called up. Oguchi Onyewu has yet to suit up for Malaga, so don’t expect him. Tim Ream had one horrific match and fell off the face of the earth after appearing to be on the cusp of re-entering the national team picture.
- Michael Parkhurst is playing Champions League football and is versatile, so he’ll be called up. Clarence Goodson is a solid backup at centerback.
- Your defensive starters; Fabian Johnson is purported to be the best Bundesliga leftback and he’s only 24. Don’t expect to see him left off a roster anytime soon. Bocanegra showed he’s still got it despite the long layoff in September. Cameron was tremendous in September and is playing regular Premier League football. Cherundolo also proved how sorely he was missed in the first Jamaica match. Barring a full commitment by Chandler, he’s not going anywhere despite the rumors he nearly retired after 2010.
- Midfield is where the roster gets butchered due to the pending returns of Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. Many likely think Jose Torres will be the odd man out to make way for Donovan, but he had a solid second match in Columbus and the fact that Joe Corona didn’t even see the field speaks volumes. A defensive midfielder will likely lose his spot to make room for Bradley. It’s a bit of a toss up between Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu who both left much to be desired in September. My money’s on Edu staying home as he has not gotten on the field yet for Stoke.
- Danny Williams should be the defensive midfielder starter after the stellar match he had against Jamaica. More than likely, however, it will be Jermaine Jones. Bradley may not start unless he cracks the Roma roster on Sunday and performs well. There is a slight chance he may not get called up altogether. Brek Shea is still a good sub who as long as he keeps progressing, could eventually crack the starting 11. Graham Zusi is currently one of the best players in MLS and should start on the right wing where he shined in Columbus vs. Jamaica. Landon Donovan (though listed as a Forward) is more than capable of playing on the left.
- It’ll be interesting to see what Klinsmann does with Clint Dempsey. He could play up top, but on a team that is starved for goals, it may make the most sense to play Dempsey in that central attacking midfield role where he could feed balls to the workhorse Gomez and Eredivisie goal leader, Jozy Altidore …. Which brings us to our next point:
- Klinsmann has got to figure out how to properly utilize Jozy Altidore, though service certainly has been an issue. Altidore has 8 goals in the Eredivisie, plus one in the Netherlands Cup. The fact that the U.S. is not taking advantage of that goal scoring prowess is a problem. Klinsmann put some of the onus on Altidore to create his own chances, just a few days later, Altidore did just that.
Predicted starting XI:
If Bradley can’t go, Jones will move into the more advanced role and Williams will man the CDM. Otherwise, look for Klinsmann to trot out the lineup that looked damn good in Columbus though with the wrong players subbed out (Zusi over Torres, Williams over Jones). The lineup I’d personally like to see is below
Bradley has proven he can be a destroyer as much as a player who can move up the pitch, so he’ll be very good in a CDM role. This is a heavy offensive lineup that could go a long way to running up the score in Antigua for a much needed padding of the U.S. goal differential.