[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN]Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, who form the frontline tandem, are along with central defender Omar Gonzalez and midfielder Michael Bradley the only U.S. players to have started every game in the Hexagonal. Dempsey, appointed the U.S. captain in 2013, has started every game of qualifying, while Altidore has reasserted himself with goals in his last five national team games, making both of them sure starters -- if healthy and available -- for the September qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. Available could become the issue ...
Both Dempsey and Altidore will be carrying yellow cards into the Costa Rica match, so cards against the Ticos will mean they'll be suspended for the Mexico game four days later.
The first choices as replacements for Dempsey and Altidore would be Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson, who started in their respective positions in the Gold Cup final.
Donovan has yet to be called up for a qualifier in 2013 but that will surely change and he'd be a likely choice to start, based on his current form, somewhere in midfield. Johnson started the last two qualifiers but in midfield and, if everyone was available, be the first attacking option off the bench.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will likely call in four forwards in addition to Donovan to the camp that opens Monday in Miami. If you allocate spots to Dempsey, Altidore and Johnson, that leaves one forward spot open.
Herculez Gomezstarted up front in all six qualifiers in 2012 and in midfield for the two March qualifiers, but he missed the June qualifiers with a knee injury and then left the Gold Cup after the group stage to have surgery on his knee. He's moved from Santos in Mexico to Tijuana but has yet to suit up in any Xolos' league matches.
The only other forwards used in qualifying were Alan Gordon and Terrence Boyd. Gordon was called in for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup but didn't play. Boyd was injured (dislocated shoulder) while with the national team for its match at Bosnia-Herzegovina, so they aren't expected to called in for the September matches.
That leaves a veteran and a newcomer battling it out for the final spot. Chris Wondolowski's stock soared after scoring five goals in two games -- his first five goals with the national team -- in July but by the end of the Gold Cup he was on the bench. Icelandic-American Aron Johannsson had his association switch -- the FIFA term for players changing allegiances -- approved the day before the Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where he came off the bench and looked very dangerous. Five goals in five games with Dutch club AZ will only bolster the case of the player nicknamed Aron Bacon for his resemblance to actor Kevin Bacon.
6 *Clint Dempsey
6 *Jozy Altidore
0+2 Eddie Johnson
*carrying yellow card.