[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN] Nowhere has the USA made more improvement in its play in recent months than in midfield, where U.S. national teamcoachJurgen Klinsmann has some very difficult choices to make about whom to bring into camp in Miami Monday, let alone whom to start against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Klinsmann has played 16 different players in midfield though he's only started the same quartet twice -- in the two March qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.
If you add in Landon Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya, Jose Torresand Mix Diskerud, who have yet to play in any Hexagonal games this year, that gives Klinsmann a starting base of 20 midfielders to choose from.
If you exclude Brek Shea, Herculez Gomez (who started on the left side of midfield in the two March qualifiers) and Maurice Edu, who are all coming off injuries and have yet to suit up for their clubs in the new seasons, plus the injured Stuart Holden, that leaves Klinsmann with 16 players to choice from for the September qualifiers. (Update: Shea is starting Wednesday in Stoke City's League Cuo match.)
If you allocate midfield spots to Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson -- Klinsmann's favored lineup when everyone was available in June -- plus Geoff Cameron, who played all or part of three games in Jones' place in the June qualifiers, and designate Eddie Johnson as one of four forwards, that gives Klinsmann five midfielders and a pool of 10 players to choose from to add four more players, for a likely total of nine midfielders to go along with three goalies, seven defenders and four forwards.
The increasingly competitive midfield picture underscores just how important it was for the USA to have played in the Gold Cup -- however inconvenient -- as players like Kyle Beckerman, Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Torres, Bedoya, Diskerud, Holden (injured in the final), Shea (injured shortly afterward) and Donovan (playing as a forward but likely to find a spot in any full-strength team in midfield) all made cases for inclusion -- rather than exclusion -- based on their play at the Gold Cup.
That leaves three other midfielders: Danny Williams,Brad Davis and Sacha Kljestan. You would have penciled in Williams as a starter at the beginning of the Hexagonal, but he's now probably the easiest to scratch off the list of midfield possibilities. Davis has been used more frequently off the bench during the Hexagonal than any other midfielder, but age -- he turns 32 in November -- will soon begin to work against him. Kljestan, who has scored goals in back-to-back games for Anderlecht, has remained on the fringes of the national team for most of Klinsmann's tenure.
Of these 10 remaining players likely battling for four midfield spots, only Donovan would be considered a lock, though Beckerman (as a back-up to Jones and Bradley both carrying yellow cards) would come close.
After that and assuming injuries don't become an issue the next few days, it would basically be a toss-up, though one would not be surprised if Bedoya (starting at Nantes) and Kljestan were called up.
On to the question of who'll start, Klinsmann will first have to decide whether to start Donovan and if so where to play him and whom to move out of midfield. Of Klinsmann's favored quartet, the biggest question mark concerns Zusi, who was injured in the MLS All-Star Game and only returned to action on Friday in Sporting Kansas City's 1-0 loss to Chicago.
4+1 Graham Zusi
1+1 Eddie Johnson
1 *Jermaine Jones
0+1 Joe Corona
0+1 Brek Shea
4 *Jermaine Jones
1+2 *Geoff Cameron
1 Danny Williams
0+2 Maurice Edu
0+1 Stuart Holden
6 *Michael Bradley
2 Herculez Gomez
2 *Fabian Johnson
2 Eddie Johnson
0+3 *Brad Davis
0+2 Edgar Castillo
0+1 Sacha Kljestan
0+1 Kyle Beckerman
*carrying yellow card.
+appearances as sub.