The World Cup is quickly approaching, with only 9 days until the USA opens its 2014 World Cup campaign against Ghana. For a team with expectations of making a run to the knockout stages from the “Group of Death” the United States has a worrying amount of questions about how the team will lineup on June 12th and who will be the 11 players on the pitch.
In my opinion, at this point, there are only 5 players (possibly 6) on the USA team who 100% deserve a place in the starting 11 against Ghana. Those players are Tim Howard, Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson. Johnson was the stand out performer for the USA against Turkey on Sunday and showed, if given the chance, can be a vital part of Klinsman’s goal of having his fullbacks push as much as possible. Some of you may be asking, “Where’s Jozy Altidore,” well he is my “possible 6th” player. Jozy’s recent struggles have been well documented but if Jozy can play like he did against Turkey, where he consistently held the ball up well and was dangerous around the box, he will be a key player for the US regardless of his goal-scoring streak.
Let’s take a look at my top 5 questions surrounding the USA World Cup Team
Question #1: What will the back four look like?
The United States’ biggest weak spot over the first two games of their Send-Off Series has clearly been the defense. It seems as if Fabian Johnson and Matt Besler have cemented their spots as 2 of the 4 defenders who will start on June 12th, but Besler has been far from convincing at times. Against Turkey the US defense was often pulled up the field leaving a lot of space between them and Tim Howard, against any of the teams that the US will face in Brazil they will surely take advantage of that space on a consistent basis. Klinsman seems to like to have his defense as compact as possible when the opponent has the ball, which at times left the US exposed on the opposite side of the field. There were several times in the game against Turkey that the entire USA defense was beaten with 1 ball out of the midfield, which simply cannot happen in Brazil. Klinsman’s number 1 goal for the USA’s final Send-Off game against Nigeria should be to find a proper center back pairing. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler seem to be the best options right now, and if this is the case, they need to play together for 90 minutes against Nigeria. The communication between the center backs will be vital as the USA will be facing 3 of the most potent attacking teams in the world in Brazil. DeAndre Yedlin looked fairly strong in his 25 minutes of action on Sunday and should see some time against Nigeria to see if he can unseat Timmy Chandler as a starting fullback. If the USA doesn’t get their defense sorted soon they will be in for a very long trip to Brazil.
Question #2: How will Klinsman use Michael Bradley?
Michael Bradley is perhaps the most important player on the United States. He is often the one pulling the strings out of the midfield and sits in front of the defense providing an extra layer of cover for the center backs. However, in the first two Send-Off Series games, Klinsman has played a diamond midfield with Jermaine Jones sat in front of the defense and Bradley deployed in a more advanced role. Bradley cannot influence the game the way that the US needs him to playing in such an offensive role. Bradley is at his best when he is sat in front of the defense and has the entire field in front of him and can help the two center backs. Bradley’s role should be especially important in Brazil with the questions surrounding who the center back pairing will be and how they will perform. USA fans will be a lot more comfortable playing a flat 4 midfield with Kyle Beckerman and Bradley in the middle than if Jermaine Jones is left by himself in front of the defense. Jones is too incident prone and the US definitely cannot afford to be playing a man down for any stretch of time. If Klinsman plays Bradley in the same role he has been in recent games, look for the USA defense to be under constant pressure.
Question #3: Is Jozy Altidore still a lock to start in Brazil?
Like I said earlier, we all know about the struggles that Jozy Altidore has gone through this season as Sunderland. The fact of the matter is, Sunderland was not a very good team and would have been regulated without a late season run of form, Jozy is a striker who relies on the service of his teammates for him to score goals. Klinsman said it best in Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil: strikers rely on crosses and service from their wingers and supporting players to create chances. If you give Altidore 5 chances in a game, he’ll put 2 away. But if how can Jozy score if his teammates never give him the chance? Putting his goal scoring aside, Jozy showed against Turkey than his value has the potential to go beyond just scoring goals. His work rate against Turkey was as good as I’ve seen it in a long time and he finally used his big body and strength to hold the ball in the offensive third of the field. Altidore will be play an important role for the United States in Brazil, but it wouldn’t doom the USMNT if he doesn’t score a goal.
Question #4: Will the young players make an impact?
Jurgen Klinsman has come under a lot of scrutiny since releasing the final 23-man World Cup squad. Klinsman included several young players with little or no national team experience (Yedlin, Green, Brooks) and others who have rarely featured for the USMNT in the last year or so (Chandler). Klinsman also left off key members of the USA squad from qualifying, mainly Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan and Brad Evans (more on Donovan later). There were a few decisions that Klinsman made that caused me to double check that this was the year 2014 and not 2018. By including players like Julian Green and John Brooks, who are both very unlikely to ever see the field in the Brazil, Klinsman is basically saying, “I’m happy with a 21 man squad so these 2 kids can experience the World Cup,” and this worries me. The World Cup is a “now” tournament, not a tournament where you bring players just to prepare them for future appearances with the national team. When picking a World Cup squad, you have to pick the 23 best players in the country and I just do not believe Klinsman has done that with the USA. Now, obviously, Klinsman has his reasons but from the outside it seems as if he has stacked the team with young players yet to hit their prime in the hope that experiencing the World Cup first hand will allow them to be better prepared for 2018 and beyond. Let’s hope Julian Green (who will turn 19 on June 6th) sees the field in Brazil, maybe even scores a couple of goals, and proves us all wrong.
Question #5: Will the United States miss Landon Donovan?
Ok, you knew it was coming, the Landon Donovan question. I have been back and forth with the reasoning behind leaving Donovan off; was it the sabbatical? Was he just not in shape? Whatever weird flaw Klinsman saw in Donovan has yet to be exposed to the rest of the soccer world in the United States. Landon Donovan is the USMNT all-time leading scorer and, arguably, the best player the United States has ever had and he deserves to be at the World Cup. The USMNT is simply a better team when Landon Donovan is playing. Just take a look back at the 2013 Gold Cup, the USA won the competition was led by Donovan who had 5 goals and was named the best player of the tournament. When you look at the group of attacking players that Klinsman brought to Brazil you can’t help but wonder “Landon Donovan is worse than all of these players?” It was Klinsman’s responsibility to bring the best 23 players at his disposal to the world cup, and I just can’t fathom how he thought that there are 23 players better in the USA at this point than Landon Donovan. Donovan has voiced his disappointment at being left off the team but has set out to prove to Klinsman that he deserved to be on the team as he has scored in his last 2 games with the LA Galaxy and in the process has become the all-time leading scorer in MLS history. Like I have seen many people say since the squad was announced, if there are 23 players in the USA that are better than Landon Donovan then we should win the World Cup.
My Ideal Starting 11 for the United States
JOHNSON – BESLER – CAMERON – CHANDLER*
ZUSI – BECKERMAN – BRADLEY – DAVIS
*I prefer Beasley over Chandler but DaMarcus has rarely featured in the Send-Off Series so I am making a logical selection at left-back.
There are a lot of questions surrounding this United States team; some that are quite worry some. But, in the end, they will have my full support for however long they stick around in Brazil. There are few better places in the USA to watch a USMNT game than Jack Dempsey’s in Manhattan, where I’ll be watching every game.
For those of you in the NY area who would like to come down to Dempsey’s here is a link to their site:
And just so we don’t forget the magic of the World Cup, let’s relive the drama and heart racing action of USA-Algeria from 2010. GO GO USA!