By Ridge Mahoney
The 2014 World Cup is about a year away. How does the U.S. team compare to its counterpart four years ago?
stage of the 2009 Hexagonal, the Americans had the same number of points, 10, that they do now. Crammed in between the fifth and sixth Hexagonal games were the Confederations Cup and Gold Cup. It made
for an extremely busy year: in 2009, the U.S. team played 24 games, the most since U.S. Soccer employed players full time in 1993 (34 games) and 1994 (27 games).
The 2013 Gold Cup will
commence in about three weeks and there’s considerable interest in which players head coach Jurgen Klinsmann takes from the 35-man preliminary roster
announced May 31. Veterans Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and, of course, Landon
Donovan highlight what in the past few editions was more of a "B" team but this time around could include a few "A"-listers as well.
So a year out from the 2014 World Cup, is the
U.S. better or worse than a year prior to the 2010 competition? This is not a comparison of the current team to the 2010 World Cup squad, but rather the national team pool that eventually topped the
Hexagonal, finished second in the Confederations Cup, and lost to Mexico in the Gold Cup final.
GOALKEEPERS, THEN AND NOW. Not much has changed, at
least at the top. Tim Howard, 34, has a lot more Premier League seasoning, and while his occasional gaffes inevitably prompt calls for a change, he’s the
top dog. A very good season for Aston Villa and added experience does strengthen the No. 2 slot, and thus Brad Guzan is much better prepared to step in if
necessary. The probable No. 3, Nick Rimando, is the same age as Howard and doesn’t seem to have lost any of his bounce nor exuberance.
Better or worse than in 2009? Better.
DEFENDERS, THEN. Bocanegra, in his second season in France with Rennes, was
still toggling between left back and center back. Onyewu was at the top of his game, and Jay DeMerit had been playing for years in England and led Watford into
the Premier League with a storybook goal at Wembley in the playoff finale. Left back was a problem spot; the much-maligned Jonathan Bornstein was beset by
critics and challengers (though he did eventually play well at the 2010 World Cup). Right back Steve Cherundolo, the longest-serving U.S. player in a European
league, was joined in the outside slots by Jonathan Spector, Heath Pearce and Michael
Parkhurst. (Just a point of reference, a guy named Brad Evans played three games in 2009. Wonder what happened to him?)
NOW. There’s great potential in Omar Gonzalez, but his instincts at the international level have not yet matched his amazing physical attributes.
Matt Besler is emerging as a steady, reliable defensive pillar who can be counted on. Cherundolo, another member of the 34 Club, hasn’t played for the SA
yet this year, and behind him are Evans, Timmy Chandler and maybe Eric Lichaj. Likewise on the left, the ascent of DaMarcus Beasley is encouraging but not definitive, and Fabian Johnson and Chandler are among the alternatives. Geoff Cameron is also in the mix at right back or centerback as well as midfield.
Better or worse than
in 2009? Worse.
MIDFIELDERS, THEN. The midfield mainstays for the World Cup qualifiers were Michael
Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Donovan and Beasley though both Donovan and Clint Dempsey played forward as well. Pablo Mastroeni was still in the mix, as were Eddie Lewis, Maurice Edu and Sacha Kljestan. Though they didn’t play in many qualifiers, Stuart Holden (11 games) and Robbie Rogers (nine games) were pretty busy in 2009. Then-coach Bob Bradley played myriad midfield combinations with undulating success.
MIDFIELDERS, NOW. Uncertainty over Donovan’s future clouds the prospects in midfield, though the ascendancy of Bradley, improvement by Graham Zusi, recent play by Fabian Johnson on the left side and big-game prowess of Dempsey are major pluses. So, too, is the recent play of Jermaine Jones, whose propensity for cautions appears to be a chronic problem Klinsmann is willing to live with. And as for Eddie Johnson, it
ain't broke, so .....
The return to health of Holden and emergence of Joe Corona are also encouraging, but what’s the long-term future of
Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo, Brek Shea, Brad
Davis, Edu and Kljestan? Will this be Donovan’s position if he gets out of Klinsmann’s doghouse? Danny Williams showed a lot of promise in
2012 but this year has played only one game and was dismissed from the current camp for lack of fitness.
Better or worse than in 2009?
FORWARDS, THEN. Since debuting for the national team against China in 2007, Charlie Davies had
grown in strength and confidence. His scrappy goal that triggered the 3-0 defeat of Egypt in the Confederations Cup personified determination, and being paired with a 19-year old Jozy Altidore or Donovan or Conor Casey offered lots of possibilities. This wasn’t the best phase of Eddie
Johnson’s career, Freddy Adu had stagnated, and Brian Ching and Kenny
Cooper were fringe players at this level.
FORWARDS, NOW. Altidore has only recently translated his club success into national-team production,
yet his ability to hold up balls and battle center backs are valuable assets. He’s on the upswing. Finding a reliable partner for him among Herculez
Gomez, Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson hasn’t happened, and none of them has the skill set of Dempsey, so deploying Dempsey in the hole seems the
Better or worse than in 2009? Worse.