When U.S. National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann put together his roster for 2014 World Cup Qualifying matches against Costa Rica and Mexico, he did so knowing that some players used in the first game might not be available for the second game.
Following the loss to Costa Rica, Klinsmann will be forced to make several changes to the starting lineup due to yellow card suspensions for Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler, as well as the injury to Michael Bradley. Klinsmann has also made several roster changes, replacing the four unavailable players with defender Clarence Goodson and midfielders Joe Corona, Brad Davis and Jose Torres.
The injury to Bradley is the most significant loss. Losing Bradley, especially at the last minute, was a big blow to the U.S. team in Costa Rica, as his absence was felt throughout the game. With Cameron, who replaced Bradley in the starting lineup against Costa Rica, also suspended, the next man on the depth chart is Kyle Beckerman, who will likely start alongside Jermaine Jones at Bradley’s holding midfield position.
Beckerman is not on par with Bradley as a player, but he’s solid and dependable at breaking up possession in the midfield, and should give Jones a little more freedom to push forward. Torres and Mix Diskerud will now supply the depth at the holding midfield spot in case Klinsmann is forced to make a mid-game substitution at that position.
Of the three suspensions, the loss of Besler is the most significant. Besler and Omar Gonzalez have formed a great tandem at center back during the team’s recent success, but Klinsmann will have to find a different center back duo for the Mexico game. Youngster John Brooks could be the choice, but a qualifying game against Mexico may not be the right time to give him his second international cap.
Furthermore, the combination of Brooks and Gonzalez would have a lot of size, but not necessarily the speed to keep up with some of Mexico’s attacking players.
Inserting Goodson straight into the starting lineup is another possibility, and while that seems unlikely considering he wasn’t even on the original roster, Goodson has the experience to handle himself in such a big moment. The other option would be to shift Michael Orozco from right back, where he started against Costa Rica, to center back alongside Gonzalez.
However, that would require inserting Michael Parkhust at right back, which may be a move Klinsmann is hoping to avoid.
Altidore may be the easiest suspended player to replace since he wasn’t even in the starting lineup against Costa Rica. Klinsmann will likely stay with Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson as his four offensive-minded players with Corona, Davis, Eddie Johnson, Aaron Johannsson and Alejandro Bedoya being options off the bench.
Part of what the U.S. accomplished during the 2013 Gold Cup was developing good depth, and with the loss of four key players, that depth will be useful.
However, the loss of Bradley and Besler will be difficult for the U.S. to deal with no matter how much depth they have, which will challenge Klinsmann to come up with a starting lineup that can beat Mexico and claim a spot in the 2014 World Cup.