By Paul Kennedy
As the USA moves closer to returning to the World Cup finals -- the path will widen considerably if it beats Honduras on Tuesday -- attention begins to turn to who would go.
The versatility of so many players means the USA is deep at a lot of positions -- but no more than a dozen players would be considered locks on making a U.S. World Cup team.
The USA has played 11 qualifiers, and Jurgen Klinsmann has already started five different players at both right back and left back. But of those nine players -- Michael Parkhurst has started at both spots -- about the only ones you'd bet the ranch would be on the plane to Brazil are Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson -- and neither started at outside back against Panama.
Brad Evans on the right and DaMarcus Beasley were the fifth players to start at their respective positions in qualifying so that in itself indicates they aren't locks.
Evans' versatility has always been his strength and as his coach at the Sounders, Sigi Schmid, says, probably been his curse -- good at a lot of positions, great at none. He probably makes a U.S. World Cup team based on his versatility alone, though there is no guarantee that 10 months from now he'll be higher than the No. 3 right back -- if Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler return.
Beasley's situation is more complicated -- and reflective of the situation of so many players. The harsh reality of his late yellow card against Panama -- which means he'll miss Tuesday's Honduras game -- is that as of Wednesday morning his June run with the national team was over and he now has to figure out where he'll be playing next season.
After two good seasons at Puebla -- where his career was resurrected -- La Franja placed Beasley on the transfer list after he could not come to an agreement with management on a contract extension. No club picked him up in the recent Mexican league draft.
Beasley would be penciled in as the No. 1 left back at the moment with Johnson playing in front of him at left midfield, but he'll still need to sort out his club situation and be playing wherever he lands. (It isn't impossible that he ends up staying at Puebla for another season.)
More generally, the club situation of almost all the key field players is uncertain.
Jozy Altidore will likely be leaving AZ and the Netherlands, but to where? Michael Bradley will have a new coach, Frenchman Rudi Garcia, at Roma, where he didn't always start in 2012-13. The same goes for Clint Dempsey, who was in and out of the starting lineup at Tottenham, which is rumored to be looking to bring in another high-profile striker. Jermaine Jones would be the only player who you could say you know where he'll be playing and whether he'll be starting next season but even his long-term future is uncertain as Schalke 04 goes back and forth with him on a contract extension.
The fact is, the U.S. national team is not big enough that all its stars can write their own tickets, but there are few national teams that have that luxury.
Not that all this uncertainty will bother Klinsmann, just as he doesn't worry about player availability from game to game because of injuries or suspensions.
"It is what it is," he likes to say.