BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Over the weekend, Jurgen Klinsmann announced final additions to his 27 player roster for the upcoming games which include the start of World Cup qualifying.
The roster shows that there are both some promising signs for the team as it moves forward and also there are some puzzling moves that are cause for concern. But here are the key storylines with the games fast approaching.
Erich Lichaj's absence is tough to explain
Erlc Lichaj's omission is by far the biggest head scratching decision. After recovering from his hip injury in the second half of the season, Lichaj emerged as a starter with Aston Villa.
Villa were generally disappointing this year and narrowly avoided relegation after winning just once in their final 17 games. Despite that, Lichaj played well at both right back and left back.
It is true that injuries have prevented Lichaj from playing for the US national team since Klinsmann was hired last August. Still, Lichaj is not a risky pick for Klinsmann despite his inability to play in recent games.
First, with Timothy Chandler possibly walking away from the US national team for good, Lichaj would seemingly be even more important. Steve Cherundolo is the starting right back, but what other fullback are there? Chandler is out, Edgar Castillo didn't impress in his last few national team games, Michael Parkhurst has had an extraordinary year but has never played fullback for the US team, Fabian Johnson is naturally a midfielder, and Alfredo Morales can play right back but he struggled to earn minutes for an awful Hertha Berlin.
One possible rumor for the omission of Lichaj and Bolton defender Tim Ream is that they both need rests after playing only the second half of the season. That reason would be puzzling as these games have been given high priority by Klinsmann and it would seem that it should be all hands on deck.
Both Ream and Lichaj are young players who should be up for the rigors of international play. Steve Cherundolo is 10 years older and has played a whole Bundesliga season. If anyone needs a break it would be him. Instead, Cherundolo was the first US player to arrive in camp.
Lichaj has played with the national team several times before and knows his teammates. Beyond that, he is an English Premier League starter which is a level higher than most other American players. Klinsmann has stated that this camp was not a time for new players (or players new to him), but Lichaj seemed like a wise, unrisky, and necessary exception.
Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey: together again
Klinsmann has been trying to put his stamp on the US national team since August and to this date, the two best American players have not played for the team under the new coach.
Clint Dempsey is coming off the best season any American has ever had in Europe. Landon Donovan has been the best performer for the US national team ever. Donovan is 30 and Dempsey is 29 but they both have a lot to offer.
It is unclear how and where Dempsey and Donovan will play together under Klinsmann, but the two will provide serious offensive firepower. When Bob Bradley was the head coach, one of his best accomplishments was that he got Dempsey and Donovan to play to the best of their abilities. If Klinsmann can do the same, the US team could achieve solid results.
It is unclear how Alfredo Morales will fit into the team
While Lichaj was the most surprising omission, Alfredo Morales was the most surprising inclusion. Klinsmann said this roster was not a time to experiment but Morales' seems in line with that reason. During this season, Morales struggled to break into a Hertha Berlin team that was relegated to the 2. Bundesliga.
Morales played well as a defensive midfielder in a friendly for the US U-23 team against Mexico but that really was his only noteworthy performance in 2012. His resume is pretty short right now.
Looking at the US team, it is unclear what position Morales will play. For Hertha he has played right mid, defensive mid, central defender, and right back. His best position is defensive midfield and there are several people ahead of him there on the depth chart.
Sacha Kljestan made a good case to be included
Sacha Kljestan is coming off a terrific year with Anderlecht where he was a consistent starter for the club that won the Belgian title. Playing one of the two controlling midfield positions along with Argentine international Lucas Biglia in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Kljestan was exceptional.
Kljestan has been uneven at times with the US national team in the past but rarely has he ever had the opportunity to play the position for the US team that he now plays at Anderlecht. The chance to let Kljestan play this position for the national team seems like it could be productive.
Klinsmann has stated that his reluctance to call on Kljestan is primarily due to the logjam of central midfielders. But Kljestan's resume is just as good as Maurice Edu, Jose Torres, Kyle Beckerman, and Graham Zusi.
Kljestan is not at the level to start for the US team, but it's hard to believe he hasn't done enough at a solid team like Anderlecht to make a 27 player roster.
Hard work paid off for Michael Parkhurst
One of the best stories among all the US players in camp is that of Michael Parkhurst who is a key reason why Nordsjaeland is in position to win the Danish title and secure a spot in the group stages of next year's Champions League.
Parkhurst has struggled to break into the national team throughout his career but this season he has proven to be able to play central defense, right back, left back, and defensive midfield at a high level. Despite his small frame, he is one of the smartest American players and can help the team as it begins its World Cup qualifying campaign.
Not much experience up top or on the wings
While Klinsmann is getting both Dempsey and Donovan together for the first time under his tenure, there are serious questions in the attack.
On the wing, Brek Shea has had a tough start to the MLS season so he did not make this roster. But DaMarcus Beasley did not make the team despite having a good season in Mexico with Puebla. Donovan will likely start on the right and Fabian Johnson will likely start on the left, but after that, there aren't as many options as Klinsmann would like to have.
At forward, the options are also thin. Jozy Altidore is a solid starter but there are not many experienced options behind him. Herculez Gomez had a great year for Santos but he struggled to regain his form late in the season after an injury. He also has no caps under Klinsmann.
Juan Agudelo is talented and has played under Klinsmann. But he has spent most of his career as a backup in MLS. Terrence Boyd has had a great season with Borussia Dortmund's U-23 team, but he has yet to make a professional first team appearance at the club level.
Altidore will be called on to do the heavy lifting for the US team but after him, there are lots of question marks.