By Ridge Mahoney
The exclusion of Eddie Johnson, while triggering a powerful backlash of reaction, removed one of many players from the USA national team pool who has played more than one position for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Only Klinsmann, and perhaps Johnson, knows precisely why this choice was made, but along with a prickly attitude there were questions about Johnson’s technical and tactical limitations clashing with the coach’s philosophies.Still, as he showed six weeks ago in a friendly against Mexico, his scoring drought for D.C. United hadn’t impaired his ability to pierce defenses; in that game, he timed his run nicely to control a through pass and smack his shot into the net, but an offside flag on a very close play annulled his strike.
Without Johnson as a candidate for the wide midfield and forward spots, Klinsmann’s selection of 27 field players is listed by U.S. Soccer as 11 defenders, 10 midfielders, and six forwards. Using those selections as a base, and for now accepting the coach’s decree that Landon Donovan is a forward, we have chosen 15 field players as definite locks for Brazil along with the three keepers who will all be going: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando. They are listed by position and in alphabetical order, followed by the remaining candidates in order of their probable selection.
Locks: DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Michael Parkhurst.
Candidates: 1. Tim Chandler. 2. Clarence Goodson. 3. Michael Brooks. 4. Brad Evans. 5. DeAndre Yedlin.
Tim Chandler’s inclusion might put Michael Parkhurst’s "lock" status in jeopardy, but though he’s been playing in the middle for Columbus, Parkhurst is best suited to provide cover for the USA at both outside back positions. Yet it’s also possible Klinsmann has Chandler in mind as a starter at right back; a string of good performances for Nuremberg in the Bundesliga has pushed him into the forefront.
The return of Chandler and presence of Parkhurst could lessen the chances that Geoff Cameron plays right back, as he does for Stoke City, and therefore is the No. 3 centerback behind Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. It’s possible Klinsmann would want another option, and though Clarence Goodson has played some solid games for the USA, such as the 1-0 snow-encrusted defeat of Costa Rica last year, the coach has obviously seen something in John Brooks that he likes.
Brad Evans can also give cover at both outside-back positions, and was the starter at right back for Klinsmann throughout much of the Hexagonal. He recently returned from injury and has been at left back for Seattle, and though he’s versatile enough to play in midfield the USA has many options in that part of the field. DeAndre Yedlin’s great speed and attacking prowess could earn him consideration as a secret weapon of sorts, but as he showed during a 5-0 New England rout on Sunday, his positional naivety is an extreme risk at the international level.
A strong camp for Chandler could force Klinsmann to choose between Goodson and Brooks, or perhaps forego both of them to take another midfielder or forward. There are interesting options at both positions.
Locks: Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi.
Candidates: 1. Mix Diskerud. 2. Maurice Edu. 3. Julian Green. 4. Brad Davis. 5. Joe Corona.
It seems unlikely that Donovan, regardless of where he plays, will start every game, and so Bedoya is a prime candidate to man one of the outside midfield slots with Fabian Johnson -- listed as a defender by U.S. Soccer -- the probable first-choice on the other side.Graham Zusi can also play both wide slots and like many players under Klinsmann, has increased his defensive contributions while also providing attacking impetuts. The coach has experimented enough with personnel and formations to utilize players in many ways.
The wild-card on the 30-man roster is Julian Green, but the intriguing battle could be for the central spots. If Beckerman is first backup for Jermaine Jones or Michael Bradley, is it redundant to take Mr. Dreads as well as Maurice Edu, whose greater physical attributes give him a Jones-like presence? Beckerman has given Klinsmann such good service that it’s hard to imagine him not going to Brazil, but Edu has World Cup experience that Beckerman lacks.
Mix Diskerud is an attacking catalyst who could be valuable off the bench, yet in the past year his workrate, range and defensive influence have improved significantly. He’s also got the Euro-background – he plays in Norway for Rosenborg -- that the coach, despite softening a stance regarding foreign leagues vs. MLS, values highly. Since Klinsmann has rarely used Cameron in central midfield, the coach needs other options. Brad Davis is one of the true left-footed players in the pool, now that Brek Shea -- once an automatic pick for Klinsmann -- has dropped out of the picture.
Taking Green to Brazil would be a brazen ploy by the coach, but the Bayern Munich teenager has been recruited for a reason. He’s not nearly as experienced as Davis or Joe Corona, or anybody else in the 30-man squad for that matter, and so would take a spot from someone who’s slogged through the tough times of qualifying or the Gold Cup. If he goes to the World Cup at the expense of, say, Chris Wondolowski or a centerback, the players have to be convinced the decision is a correct one.
Locks: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Aron Johannsson.
Candidates: 1. Chris Wondolowski. 2. Terence Boyd.
Terrence Boyd’s late-season scoring flurry has returned him to the status as backup big guy to Altidore, one of the preparation camp’s restoration projects. Jozy Altidore’s struggles for Sunderland will be forgotten if he can regain his form and sharpness, though his performances against tough opposition at the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup ranged from pretty good to mediocre. He’s a year removed from a spectacular season for AZ that prompted the move to England, and needs to regain that level at least.
As go Clint Dempsey and Bradley, so goes the USA. Dempsey’s scintillating form for Seattle contrasts sharply with Donovan’s lackluster showings and simply put, if Deuce is being blasted every time he gets the ball, others must step up. Klinsmann’s decisions about who plays with Dempsey must be spot-on. Aron Johannsson is not the bruiser Altidore is and so would present opponents an entirely different set of skills, those of quickness and guile and close control under pressure. Pairing Dempsey with Donovan would deprive the USA of a true target yet present opponents myriad situations of interchanging players and combination play.
Boyd can be the backup for Altidore, should Klinsmann decide one is necessary. Or the coach might opt for Wondolowski, whose deserved reputation as a goal poacher is buttressed by a great sense of timing and angles, as well as unrelenting workrate and unquenchable team spirit.