I’m not going to say that United States National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is getting desperate, but the roster he has selected for the upcoming World Cup qualification matches against Costa Rica and Mexico has made it clear that he knows something is wrong (it’s the defense!) and that he’s going to explore every possible solution in order to improve it- but we’ll get to that in a moment. We’ll begin with the goalkeepers.
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
With stalwart Tim Howard out injured Brad Guzan steps in as Jurgen Klinsmann’s first choice and for the first time I can say that I don’t see too much of a drop-off in quality with this change. While Howard will always have the advantage in big match experience (both at the club and international level) Guzan has finally solidified himself as the first choice goalkeeper at Aston Villa and his play in recent weeks has been stellar- especially given the, ah, “inconsistent” nature of Villa defense. If they avoid relegation it will be largely due to the play of their towering American keeper.
I’m perfectly comfortable with Nick Rimando as a back-up as his play in MLS over the years probably would have earned him more caps with any country other than the U.S. due to it’s deep roster of top level goalkeepers. As for Sean Johnson, I’m trying to reserve judgment given his young age. That said, my gut tells me that he may never be as complete a goalkeeper as people want him to be despite seeming to have all of the requisite “parts”- size, athletic ability, courage, etc.. We shall see…
Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes)
Interestingly, I think the most telling thing that Klinsmann had to say about his roster this week was actually about a player who he did not select, Carlos Bocanegra:
“We’ll play it by ear over the next couple of months, how his situation hopefully will improve,” Klinsmann said. “He’s on loan until the end of the season – maybe about two more months – and then he’ll probably make another switch in his career. It’s definitely a situation where we’ll reevaluate it a couple of weeks down the road.”
Combined with some other comments Klinsmann had about Bocanegra, that basically translates to, “If you want to wear that national shirt again come back to MLS when your loan is over and nail down a starting spot with a domestic club.” Until then…
Additionally, Steve Cherundolo is still out, Oguchi Onyewu’s international career is over, so what else is Klinsmann to do but to roll the proverbial dice? So, he’s done that.
Beltran, Besler, and Morrow each have a cap a piece. Gonzalez only has four, but that’s mostly due to some untimely injuries and he’s probably going to be a mainstay of the side going forward. Anchoring the back line, if that’s a term that can be used, will be Clarence Goodson (34 caps) and Geoff Cameron (12 caps). At first glance it appears Klinsmann has gone with size (4 of the 6 are over 6′) complemented by speed (Beltran and Morrow). I don’t really know what to make of this group, but the fact is that Klinsmann didn’t have another way to go. One could argue that he should have had this all sorted out before the qualifiers began, but there was no way to know who would be injured or for how long, or that Bocanegra’s loan to Santander from Newco F.C. would be such a disaster.
DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Bradley, Jones, Kljestan, and Zusi would probably be my preference for a starting four, but tactics might require the presence of Edu or Shea. Whatever the case, I think this is a pretty strong group (especially with a certain somebody still off “finding himself”). If you’re a regular reader of the site you know I’m not pleased to see the Dirty Hippy back on the roster, but that is more than balanced out by the return of DaMarcus Beasley, who, you may be shocked to learn, is still only 30! Beasley has been tearing it up since he moved to Puebla and he seems to be returning to the form that made him a hot commodity with some of the best clubs in Europe (Rangers, PSV, Manchester City, etc.). It’s great to see him back and I hope he can find a meaningful role for himself in the current USMNT set-up.
Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
This is the group that could, if things come together, make the team’s defensive issues almost a non-issue. All of these players are having good seasons- Altidore’s 2012-2013 is probably only second to Dempsey’s 2011-2012 as the best ever by an American forward, though he and Gomez need to do a better job translating their club form to the international level. Johnson has been a bit of a savant when it has come to scoring goals for the national team in recent years, and Boyd is the top scorer (third overall) for the top team, Austria Wein, in the Austrian Bundesliga.
I would love it if Altidore and Dempsey could instantaneously develop a shared soccer brain and just rain goals on whatever side they are fighting, but failing that, I would pair them up and just tell them to get possession and to run directly at the defenders over and over and over again.
Maybe that’s the key to whole thing- take the game to the opponent and dare them to respond.