FOX Soccer Exclusive
In-form players give Klinsmann options
Jurgen Klinsmann is a month away from picking the 23 players he will bring into World Cup qualifying camp, and he has to be excited with the form of his players.
With forwards such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez lighting it up for their teams; to midfielders such as DaMarcus Beasley and Jose Torres doing very well in the Mexican League; to his fullback options looking better and better thanks to the form of Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler and Eric Lichaj, Klinsmann has the makings of one very strong squad for upcoming qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
Still, central defense remains a priority. Rash injuries and the limited number of in-form pure wingers, may force Klinsmann to do some personnel shifting.
So what should we expect from the 23-man roster Klinsmann names to take part in next month’s camp? We are likely to see plenty of familiar veteran faces, as well as one or two youngsters who Klinsmann wants to put on the fast track to the national team.
Here is a look at who should get the call, along with who will just miss out, when Klinsmann picks his World Cup qualifying squad next month:
OPTIONS ON NET
Tim Howard, Nick Rimando and Brad Guzan are obvious selections. Out of the three, Guzan might seem like a bit of a surprise: considering how long it has been since he was called up. As his role with Aston Villa would suggest, Guzan has shown he’s still the second best goalkeeper option in the pool.
Bill Hamid could still get a call if Klinsmann decides he doesn’t want to discourage the youngster. But after his disappointing showing in Olympic qualifying, Klinsmann may have no choice but to bring in a more reliable veteran like Rimando.
THE BACK LINE
No real surprises on this list, though Oguchi Onyewu is far from a lock considering he has yet to actually return from knee surgery. He still has a month to get back to playing for Sporting CP, but if he cannot then an extra opening at center back will emerge. As things stand, unless Onyewu makes a strong recovery, Klinsmann will undoubtedly go with a Carlos Bocanegra-Clarence Goodson starting tandem.
Tim Ream is back in the fold here after a prolonged stint as a starter for English side Bolton. Don’t be surprised to see Michael Orozco Fiscal or Geoff Cameron grab a spot in place of an injured Onyewu, or even potentially ahead of Ream. Another name to consider is Zak Whitbread, though his inability to stay healthy will likely hurt his chances of a call-up next month.
Fullback is a much easier group to identify. Steve Cherundolo and Timothy Chandler are the right backs, and Fabian Johnson and Eric Lichaj should be the left backs. If Klinsmann decides to play Johnson as a midfielder, then Edgar Castillo could be rewarded for his outstanding season with Club Tijuana.
Klinsmann’s toughest decisions will be made in this group, where Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley and Shea all seem pretty safe, while Klinsmann favorites Torres, Beckerman and Williams appear to be good bets. Maurice Edu should also make the group, and if this midfield bunch seems heavy on central midfielders you should keep in mind that Klinsmann has preferred playing Williams as a right winger.
The glaring omissions from this group is Jermaine Jones, who looked great in the January friendlies and has enjoyed a strong (albeit card-filled) season with Schalke 04. Klinsmann will likely be forced to choose between Jones and Beckerman, and he has always seemed to prefer Beckerman when healthy. Beckerman is off to an outstanding start to the MLS season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got the nod. Jones could also edge out Maurice Edu, though Klinsmann has played Edu more than Jones when given the chance.
Beasley makes this projection because, let’s face it, there isn’t another natural winger enjoying as good a run of form in the U.S. player pool as he is. The fact that Brek Shea isn’t in his best form makes Beasley an even more enticing option for Klinsmann, though Klinsmann could decide to install Fabian Johnson as a left wing threat, thus freeing up a spot to bring both Jones and Beckerman.
Which players are on the outside looking in? Anderlecht midfielder Sacha Kljestan is having a strong season in Belgium, but will find it difficult to break through this group of midfielders. Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi is having an outstanding season, and didn’t do too badly in January with the national team. US Under-23 midfielders Joey Corona and Mix Diskerud impressed Klinsmann, but Corona seems the more likely of the two to get a surprise call. One player who doesn’t seem likely to get a call unless he lights up MLS over the next month is Freddy Adu.
PAY IT FORWARD
Dempsey may wind up playing more as playmaker or even a winger, but for the purposes of this roster, we will list him as a forward. Both Altidore and Gomez are tremendous seasons, but only Altidore can be called a lock between the two. Klinsmann could look at Gomez’s age and decide he would rather go with younger options, but Gomez’s outstanding form and the prospect of some very tough road games in qualifying make him too good an option to pass up.
Listing Boyd may come as a surprise, but the fact is he was the most impressive US Under-23 forward and he looks to be a better option than Teal Bunbury. That, plus the fact Juan Agudelo is sidelined with a knee injury, makes Boyd a safe pick.
You could make the case that Klinsmann won’t bring this group of forwards because there isn’t enough speed in the bunch, but the harsh reality is there just aren’t many viable speed options in the pool right now. Charlie Davies and Robbie Findley are both mired on the bench for their European clubs and Agudelo is injured. In truth, Landon Donovan seems like the best bet to provide a speed forward option if Klinsmann really needs one, though pairing Altidore with either Dempsey or Gomez should give the team enough firepower in this round of qualifying.
Who missed the cut? Chris Wondolowski just misses the cut, and very well could make the team if Klinsmann decides to leave a central midfielder like Edu or Beckerman home and bring an extra forward. C.J. Sapong is another potential option, though Klinsmann seems to really like Boyd as a longer-term option. Teal Bunbury seems an unlikely pick at this point, as does Edson Buddle, who is enduring a poor run of form with the LA Galaxy. Kenny Cooper also seems like an unlikely candidate, though if he keeps on scoring like he has so far this MLS season, Klinsmann just might be tempted to take a closer look.
The 23-man roster listed above is a reasonable estimation of the group Klinsmann will call in based on current form, as well as the preferences he has shown during his first eight months on the job. What will be interesting to see is just how bold Klinsmann is willing to be in naming his squad. Will he eschew safe, veteran picks like Beasley and Gomez, and go for some fresh faces, like Corona and Sapong?
Don’t bet on Klinsmann taking too many chances with the team he puts together. He knows how important it is for the USA to get off to a strong start in qualifying. While we may see one or two new faces join the team (like Terrence Boyd), the national team Klinsmann brings together next month should be an experienced group, and a group with several players coming off outstanding club seasons.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.