In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann must cut a player pool of 30 down to his official 23-man roster by June 2. Many of the usually faces have already solidified spots, and now the debate turns to which players are on the fringes. It is suspected that 18 spots are accounted for, leaving five up for grabs. However, the decision is not as clear-cut of an equation as bringing the 23 best players, but rather bringing in those that fit the team most effectively. The current player pool, roughly 12-15 fringe players, will be viewed favorably if they play multiple positions and excel at positions where depth is weak.
In the first of a three part series, we will take a deep dive into the keepers and defenders that will make the cut.
There should be no surprises in goal, as Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando will make the squad, barring any sort of injury.
In the back, things get interesting. We know Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Demarcus Beasley, Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron will be in Brazil. Cameron’s ability to slide into the center is always an option, but the U.S. will want a true center back behind Besler and Gonzalez.
Currently in the conversation is Clarence Goodson, who Klinsmann has already shown a ton faith in. Goodson seems to be the best option at center back, and his 2010 World Cup means he brings experience to a squad riddled with youth. Goodson has never been a sure shot because he is often overcome physically, leading to costly errors. That fact makes European journeyman Oguchi Onyewu a more interesting candidate.
Onyewu is attempting to make his third World Cup, and as everyone knows, the 6-foot-4 defender has the physical prowess to match anyone in the world including the Germans. What leaves Onyewu’s roster spot in question is his distribution capabilities and quickness. In the past, he has had difficulties playing the ball out of the back and often resorts to the “kick ball” style of play Klinsmann detests. His inability to find a teammate inevitably increases the stress on his fellow defenders, as possession is surrendered too easily. On top of this, Onyewu is slow on the change of possession and struggles in tight spaces.
The only other player that can step in at center back is youngster John Anthony Brooks, but his recent struggles with Hertha Berlin and his dismal display in the USA’s friendly against Ukraine have him listed as a long shot. It is safe to say Brooks will need an almost perfect pre-tournament camp if he wants to make it to Brazil in this go around.
At right back, Klinsmann has a couple of options that include Evans and Cameron, and entering the conversation after the Mexico friendly is Michael Parkhurst. Parkhurst’s move to Columbus in the offseason has helped the outside back to regain his form and become relevant once again.
Of these three, Parkhurst is the best option in procession, and has the ability to slow the game down, allowing his fellow defenders a chance to rest off the ball. But for how great Parkhurst is offensively, he can be just as bad defensively; at times, the former Champions League veteran struggles against players with pace. All-in-all, Parkhurst’s ability to play almost anywhere on the defensive back line bodes well for him to make it down to Brazil.
At left back, the U.S. has only two options, Beasley and Johnson. We expect Johnson to start against Ghana, and Beasley to make the bench as a highly experienced veteran. Also to note, if Klinsmann wants to go ultra defensive, he could start Bealesy at left back and Johnson at left mid, moving Landon Donovan to the right side.
At the current juncture, we suspect six spots are accounted for and two more up for grabs. Goodson should be on the plane to provide cover at the center back position, only leaving room for Parkhurst; if he can slide to the left back spot, or the likes of Cameron or Evans can, then expect to see Parkhurst make the squad for tactical purposes. It looks like this will spell the end to Onyewu’s International career, and Brooks will have to wait for the World Cup 2018 in Russia.