[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN] Only two weekends are left before Jurgen Klinsmann will announce the team he's bringing in for the
crucial U.S. World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica March 22 in Commerce City, Colo., and Mexico four days later in Mexico City. Here's a look at the sure picks and those battling for the half dozen
of so spots to complete the roster.
A quick overview:
-- Sixteen players would be considered sure picks to be called in for the two games, assuming they are all healthy. Two key players, goalie Tim Howard and forward Clint Dempsey, have been sidelined though there is no indication that their participation in the March is in doubt. Klinsmann can suit 23 players -- three must be goalies -- for each game. They might not all be the same 23 players for each game.
[UPDATE: Everton manager David Moyes said Friday Howard has two broken bones in his back and could be sidelined four weeks, ruling him out of the March
-- The goalkeeping situation is set with the No. 1 and No. 2 choices (assuming Howard's back is OK). Two MLS goalies could come in and out and fill the No. 3 spot depending on their schedules. (MLS will be playing a full slate of games between the two qualifiers.) The frontline is the most settled position (again with the assumption that Dempsey's calf injury heals in time). If not, well, the picture changes dramatically.
-- As many as five players could be fighting for two midfield spots, and four players from among seven candidates could grab the remaining spots on the backline. The former reflects the growing options Klinsmann has among wide midfielders, making players like DaMarcus Beasley, Chris Pontius and Josh Gatt very much longshots. The latter reflects the dearth of central defenders starting right now.
-- One, two or three MLS games isn't a lot of time for a player to impress Klinsmann or change his opinion. But the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals involving Houston, Los Angeles and Seattle could turn his head. Three goals against Chicago might not earn Mike Magee a call-up, but three goals against Chicago, plus two strong CCL games, may. See below.
*Called in for Feb. 6 Honduras qualifier.
*Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England). Earned Sky Sports Man of the Match in a 1-0 home loss to defending EPL champion Manchester City on Monday. If Villa avoids relegation, Guzan will be a big reason.
*Tim Howard (Everton, England). Back injury forced him to sit out last week's 3-1 win over Reading, ending his streak of 210 consecutive starts. This weekend Everton plays Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup quarterfinals, and backup Jan Mucha will again play.
[UPDATE: Everton manager David Moyes said Friday Howard has two broken bones in his back and could be sidelined four weeks, ruling him out of the March qualifiers.]
*Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire). Had excellent first half and couldn't do much to prevent 4-0 loss to the Galaxy. Fire plays Sunday between Costa Rica and Mexico, so he could suit up against Ticos and skip trip to Mexico City.
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake). Shut out San Jose, 2-0, in MLS opener. RSL plays Saturday between two qualifiers, so he could (re-)join national team for trip to Mexico City.
*Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England). Didn't play in last week's 1-0 loss to West Ham, just the third EPL game he's missed in his first season. Isn't a worry unless he doesn't start again this weekend against Newcastle.
*Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg, Germany). Sat out last week's game against Freiburg for yellow-card accumulation but otherwise playing well for Nuremberg.
*Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy). Off to strong start with the Galaxy. You have to assume he stays in the U.S. starting lineup.
*Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany). Hoffenheim has lost all four games since February qualifier -- dooming it to almost certain relegation -- but the defense has only allowed five goals (one 2-1 and three 1-0 losses).
*Matt Besler (Sporting KC). Only player who traveled to Honduras but didn't dress. SKC struggled for first half hour before it came to life and thumped Philadelphia, 3-1, in season opener.
John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin). Long shot? Sure. And also a possibility to play for Germany (U-20s). But 6-foot-7 (that's right!) German-American is getting high marks with promotion candidate. Klinsmann says USA needs to be more aggressive in nailing down dual citizens. Call-up could accelerate decision on joining U.S. U-20s for Under-20 World Cup.
*Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander, Spain). Hasn't played since returning to Spain. Would be in danger of being dropped except for lack of depth in the back.
*Edgar Castillo (Tijuana, Mexico). Would be shoo-in for next two qualifiers but suffered three broken bones in his face in last Friday's Liga MX game. Injury was expected to keep him out of action for a month but he might be able to return to training when the USA assembles in Colorado. Big part of Xolos' first two wins in Libertadores Cup.
*Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders). Strong January camp and versatility earned him a trip to San Pedro Sula. Hit post in Sounders' 1-0 loss to Montreal. Competition for another call-up will be tough.
Clarence Goodson (Brondby, Denmark). Turned down move to Turkey in January. Didn't start in Superliga spring opener but came on in 10th minute.Missed Honduras game because Danish season had not yet resumed but fact he's playing again is no assurance he'll be picked. Has fallen down the depth chart since a year ago.
*Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg, Germany). Started at Bayer Leverkusen, only start since moving to Bundesliga in January. Ability to play anywhere along the backline works in his favor.
*Michael Bradley (Roma, Italy). Began last two games on the bench but Roma is winning (three victories in a row) and he is playing well when he comes on. One of the few shoo-ins to start in March qualifiers.
*Maurice Edu (Bursaspor, Turkey). Started every game since Honduras match so loan move to Turkey has paid off. He didn't even dress at Stoke City.
*Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04, Germany). Became only second American to score in knockout phase of UEFA Champions League when he scored in 1-1 draw at Galatasaray. Will miss second leg in Gelsenkirchen with suspension for yellow-card accumulation. Also suspended for Saturday's Borussia Dortmund for same reason.
*Jose Torres (Tigres, Mexico). Playing very well after transfer from Pachuca. Missed first two games for unbeaten Tigres with calf injury but started every game since then.
*Danny Williams (Hoffenheim, Germany). Started last two Bundesliga games after being relegated to bench.
*Graham Zusi (Sporting KC). All he did in MLS opener was score one goal and set up other two goals in SKC's 3-1 comeback win over Philadelphia.
Joe Corona (Tijuana). Strong game in 1-0 win over Corinthians in Libertadores Cup came as no surprise. He's integral part of the Xolos' championship team. Klinsmann said before Honduras game he'll get his chance. Perhaps now.
*Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo). Scored winner in Dynamo's 1-0 win over Santos after coming off bench. How he plays in second leg in Torreon should determine whether he gets another call-up.
*Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium). Signed a contract extension with the Belgian champions two days after returning from San Pedro Sula. Came on as sub against Honduras but faces competition for a roster spot from several more attacking midfielders this time.
Mike Magee (Los Angeles). You can't ignore what he did in MLS opener -- spectacular hat trick in 4-0 win over Chicago -- or how he was unlucky not to score Thursday night at Herediano -- shot off crossbar and goal unjustly disallowed. Versatility works in his favor. Can play third forward spot like Eddie Johnson has played.
Brek Shea (Stoke City, England). Rehab kept him out of January camp, but he's starting to get some minutes, albeit off bench, at Stoke.
*Jozy Altidore (AZ, Netherlands). Has scored four goals and an assist in his last three games to set single-season scoring record for an American abroad: 24 goals.
*Clint Dempsey (Tottenham, England). Hasn't played in two weeks since lingering calf injury and is unavailable this weekend against Liverpool. Not the kind of news you want to hear.
*Herculez Gomez (Santos, Mexico). Started every game for Santos in Torneo Clausura since change in coaches and had best game of the season last weekend with two goals and an assist at Chiapas.
*Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders). Hit crossbar in Sounders' 1-0 loss to Montreal. Worked very hard in 1-0 defeat at Tigres on Wednesday night.
Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna). Was on winter break when Honduras game was played. Scored his team-high seventh goal in the Austrian Bundesliga and 10th in all competitions in first game back.