BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Jurgen Klinsmann announced the roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico and there is plenty to discuss on the issue.
After a loss against Honduras in the opening game of the Hexagonal, the game against Costa Rica is indeed a "must win" game with the US team heavy underdogs in the third game against Mexico at Azteca. Anything less than three points against Costa Rica would signal a time to hit the panic button.
With that said, here are my thoughts on the roster.
Injuries were worse than expected
It was expected that Tim Howard, Edgar Castillo, and Steve Cherundolo would miss these games with their injuries but the rest come as more of a surprise.
Danny Williams and Timothy Chandler each started over the weekend and put in strong performances with their clubs. Also, Fabian Johnson has been back training with Hoffenheim since last week. Chandler's injury is by far the biggest surprise since it wasn't mentioned in the German press and he did not hobble off the field on Saturday when he was subbed off in the 86th minute. Williams' illness is also a surprise as he managed to go a full 90 on Saturday for a Hoffenheim club in the middle of a tight relegation battle.
Jose Torres also started on Saturday for Tigres and was subbed out in the 81st minute. Birmingham City's Jonathan Spector left the game in the opening minutes of his game on Saturday with an ankle injury.
The bottom line is that as bad as people thought the US team's injury situation was last week, it's far worse now and with so many of the injuries coming over this past weekend, Jurgen Klinsmann will have to adjust quickly.
The injury situation is bad but no area of the team has been hit worse than the fullback position. The top two left backs in Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo are both out. The top two right backs in Steve Cherundolo and Timothy Chandler are also injured.
On top of that, the top two reserve utility fullbacks who can play both on the left and the right in Jonathan Spector and Michael Parkhurst are also not in camp.
As a result, Klinsmann called up San Jose's Justin Morrow and Salt Lake's Tony Beltran to help fill the void. Both players were never part of the US national team picture outside of January camp and now they could see minutes in one of the biggest World Cup qualifiers in recent memory.
It'll be a tough task for them but it will also be a tremendous opportunity as well to reshape how they are viewed within US Soccer, the fans, and the media.
Will both Morrow and Beltran start? It's possible but another likely possibility is that Geoff Cameron moves to a fullback position because he has been playing there this season with Stoke City.
The fullback position is hit the hardest but central defense is also far from settled.
Clarence Goodson is on the team but after a poor season with Brondby, he could struggle for playing time.
Right now, there are only a few options for Klinsmann. The first is to start Cameron with Besler or Gonzalez with the likelihood favoring a Cameron-Gonzalez pairing. Or Cameron shifts out wide to a fullback position and Besler-Gonzalez instead start in the middle.
It's an challenge since neither Gonzalez or Besler were ever seeing minutes under Klinsmann prior to 2013 but the future is now for these two players who have been among the best in Major League Soccer.
Moving into the midfield, the key will be for the US team to control possession as much as possible for the team to ease pressure on the inexperienced backline.
In addition to the usual contingent of holding/defensive midfielders of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman, and Sacha Kljestan, the US team has some natural width on this team.
Graham Zusi is on the team and while he can play centrally, he is likely to be on the right side. On the left DaMarcus Beasley and Brek Shea are each on the roster for the first time since August. So the US team will have options wide and that is welcome news.
Getting players to play to their club ability
One of the biggest challenges for Klinsmann in the year ahead is to get his players playing to the ability they show with their clubs. With the exception of perhaps Steve Cherundolo, no American field player seems to play as well for the national team as he does with his club.
Jozy Altidore is scoring at well in the Eredivisie this year despite playing for a poor club. Timothy Chandler is solid Bundesliga fullback. Jermaine Jones plays for a team that made it out of the Champions League group stages. Jose Torres is a rock in Mexico and now plays for the country's best club. Despite the success of these players, neither have found similar success at the club level.
The burden is on Klinsmann to put players into roles which fit their styles of play and allow themselves to play to their abilities. With a thin roster, it is even more crucial to have the team playing to the best of its ability.
The decision to leave the team captain off the roster is risky for Klinsmann. It would have been more understandable if other central defenders were stepping up but the team currently has a backline decimated with injuries.
Bocanegra is the captain for a reason and most of it has to do with how he relates to the team off the field. He is considered a leader and figurehead of the team. No one is expecting him to play since he's not playing for Racing Santander, but the fact he won't even be with the team could hurt the team's morale and chemistry.
That being said, Bocanegra's move to Racing Santander looks even more questionable. It was known heading into the season that the team was collapsing financially and would struggle this year. With just a few months to go in the season, Racing is in the relegation zone of the Segunda and has conceded 40 goals in 30 games. It was a puzzling decision for Bocanegra given that he was leaving a club in Rangers that collapsed in amazing fashion.
A move to another club is likely on the horizon for Bocanegra and perhaps then he will find some stability but this is turning into a lost season for the California native and at age 33, a lost season is the last thing you want to have.
It's not the best of times right now for the US team but at this crucial time Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu and Graham Zusi are all sitting on a yellow card. That means they will be suspended the following game whenever they acquire their next yellow card. With an already depleted roster, Klinsmann cannot afford to be without just one of these key players.