[HEXAGONAL COUNTDOWN] If the games against Jamaica Friday in Kansas City (ESPN, WatchESPN, UniMas, kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET) and against Panama Tuesday in Panama City (beIN Sport, beIN Sport Play, kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET) are the first tune-ups on the road to Brazil, the U.S. national team's engine is missing some very important parts. Missing down the spine are Omar Gonzalez, Michael Bradleyand Clint Dempsey, and also out are Fabian Johnson, the USA's most consistent wide player, and Eddie Johnson, who had the winning goal in the clinching win over Mexico but withdrew after injuring his groin in practice on Wednesday.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have only five more games with his full team -- the final two qualifiers, two friendlies in November and one friendly in March -- before he must pick his team for the World Cup 2014, so he has no intention of taking his foot off the pedal for the games against Jamaica and Panama.
Klinsmann had seemed to have found a winning lineup in June when the USA swept all three qualifiers, but injuries have since prevented him from showing his cards and revealing how he'd adjust the lineup to account for the return of the in-form Landon Donovan.
Does he start Donovan in place of Graham Zusi at right midfield? Start Donovan at left mid and move Fabian Johnson to left back in place of DaMarcus Beasley or right back in place of Brad Evans? Those seemed to be Klinsmann's most likely options.
But another move, unimaginable a few months ago, must now be considered. Will Dempsey end up in the Klinsmann doghouse like Donovan was in the first half of the year, meaning Donovan will take over the first choice as the second forward behind Jozy Altidore in the position he excelled at during the Gold Cup?
Klinsmann has made it clear that he's probably not going to seriously consider new players between now and the World Cup so the Jamaica and Panama games will be key tests for those players he has on hand.
Two emerged as Klinsmann favorites during the fall qualifiers a year ago:
-- Geoff Cameron should return to the position at which he started the Hexagonal in February. After opening at center back, he was shuttled around the field, first to right back for two games and then center mid for four more (two as a starter). He'll likely start in the middle in place of Gonzalez.
-- Zusi has played in every Hexagonal game he's suited up at right mid but faces competition from Donovan and Alejandro Bedoya, who started ahead of him for the Mexico game in Columbus. Friday will be a big test for Zusi in front of a home crowd.
Two more are youngsters, both foreign-bred (though not German-Americans):
-- Mix Diskerud did not have a good January camp but played well enough during the Gold Cup that he was recalled for the Bosnia-Herzegovina friendly, which he started, and brought off the bench last month for the Mexico match, in which he set up the insurance goal.
-- Aron Johannsson has only been eligible for the USA for two months, but he has already climbed to fifth on the frontline depth chart ahead of Terrence Boyd, Chris Wondolowskiand Herculez Gomez. Boyd and Wondo (recalled along with Clarence Goodson and Brad Davis after their MLS matches Wednesday night) are in camp and Gomez is back in action with Tijuana, so the pressure will be on Johannsson to reproduce for the USA what he has done for AZ so far this fall (10 goals in all competitions).
GOALKEEPERS (3):Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
DEFENDERS (7): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting KC) Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC).
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Aron Johannsson (AZ), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
GOALKEEPERS (3):DuWayne Kerr (Sarpsborg), Richard McCallum (Waterhouse), Gariece McPherson (Cavalier)
DEFENDERS (8):Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers), Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace), Demar Phillips (Aalesund), Daniel Gordon (Karlsruhe), Shaun Cummings (Reading), Kemar Lawrence (Harbour View), Westley Morgan (Leicester City), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo)
MIDFIELDERS (6):Jermaine Johnson (Sheffield Wednesday), Rudolph Austin (Leeds United) Marvin Elliot (Bristol City), Joel McAnuff (Reading), Je-Vaughn Watson (FC Dallas), Romario Campbell (Waterhouse)
FORWARDS (5):Theo Robinson (Derby County), Ryan Johnson (Portland Timbers), Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps), Deshorn Brown (Colorado Rapids), Jermaine “Tuffy” Anderson (Waterhouse).