The Summer World Cup qualifiers and the Gold Cup are now over and a the U.S team is on an 11 game winning streak, the competition to make the World Cup team is intense.
Over the course of the 12 games, several players have made a strong case to be included in the team's plans and others have hurt their chances. There is also the promise of adding two high profile dual nationals in Aron Johannsson and John Anthony Brooks who could be part of the team's future.
Most importantly is that this summer has proved that very, very difficult decisions will have to be made by Jurgen Klinsmann. Making the U.S team is very competitive and some established players will be cut. That, however, is the problem of a growing and maturing soccer team.
It is important to remember that a lot can change and a lot will change over the next nine months as a full European season and two transfer windows lie ahead. But as of now, here is how I foresee things coming together.
1) Tim Howard
2) Brad Guzan
3) Nick Rimando
Notable omissions Out: Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Tally Hall
The goalkeeping position is by far the easiest to predict and the top three choices are very clear. At the Gold Cup, Rimando made his case to be a lock for Brazil even as the third choice. Meanwhile, Howard and Brad Guzan are starting in the Premier League. Sean Johnson is the fourth keeper right now and he remains one for the future.
4) Steve Cherundolo
5) Timothy Chandler
6) Clarence Goodson
7) Matt Besler
8) John Anthony Brooks
9) Omar Gonzalez
11) Fabian Johnson
Notable omissions: Brad Evans Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, Michael Parkhurst, Michael Orozco, Oguchi Onyewu.
The backline is full of a lot of assumptions right now. How will Steve Cherundolo recover from his second surgery of the year? Will Timothy Chandler get another chance after his poor outing against Honduras in February? How will John Anthony Brooks fit into the team? Is Carlos Bocanegra done with the national team?
While Timothy Chandler had a bad game against Honduras, he still remains the best option over the next year at right back. He is more likely to see meaningful minutes that Michael Parkhurst in the Bundesliga and Brad Evans, while dependable, is not a solution playing out of position at right back.
For Steve Cherundolo, it is far from certain that he will recover from his second knee surgery at age 34. For now, the position is his but if he loses his starting spot at Hannover, Michael Parkhurst remains the top choice to move into the 23 at right back.
In central defense, the only true lock right now is Matt Besler. Clarence Goodson had a very, very strong Gold Cup and is probably now on the 23. Omar Gonzalez is not as strong of a lock as it would appear. The reason is that Geoff Cameron is listed as a midfielder but he can also play central defense. If Gonzalez is not a starter for the U.S team, Jurgen Klinsmann may prefer that a backup central defender go to a player like Cameron that versatile and can play several different positions. For now, Gonzalez is on the team but how or if he plays in the remaining qualifiers will be important.
John Anthony Brooks is only 20 and has never played with the U.S team. For now I am having him on the team because I think he is going to have a strong season in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin. He remains a top prospect with a very, very high ceiling and I think that will become apparent over the months ahead.
As for some of the other omissions, Carlos Bocanegra has not played for the U.S team in 2013 and the team has gone on an 11 game winning streak in his absence. If Brooks struggles, perhaps there will be another opening for him but for the moment it looks like the team has moved on.
12) Michael Bradley
13) Jermaine Jones
14) Geoff Cameron
15) Graham Zusi
16) Mikkel Diskerud
17) Jose Torres
18) Alejandro Bedoya
19) Clint Dempsey
Notable omissions: Kyle Beckerman, Sacha Kljestan, Maurice Edu, Danny Williams, Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Brad Davis
A lot has changed in the U.S team's midfield in 2013. Maurice Edu, Danny Williams, and Brek Shea will all need to have very strong seasons to climb back into contention. Edu and Williams did not play for the U.S team this summer and Shea scored two game winning goals in the Gold Cup but still was inconsistent overall. It has been a year since Shea played regularly at the club level and almost two years since he was playing well consistently. The door is still open for him but this year at Stoke City is crucial.
Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Graham Zusi are true locks. Geoff Cameron had a nice run with in the midfield during the World Cup qualifiers and his versatility will be a bonus. His chances of making the team are good but he will need to have another good season with Stoke to a safe bet.
The rest of the midfield options are very much open. Jose Torres, while inconsistent at the Gold Cup, has a good chance at making the team because it is important to have a left footed player in the midfield. For now, he gets the nod over Brad Davis but that could easily change. Mix Diskerud was very good in the Gold Cup and with Stuart Holden's latest injury, his chances have increased to be another creative force in central midfield off the bench in Brazil.
Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona are similar players and it is hard to see both going to Brazil. For now, Bedoya had the stronger Gold Cup with three assists in the final two games and that likely improved his standing. This all could change, however, as Bedoya is likely to have a new club this summer and he will need to earn consistent minutes immediately. Likewise, Corona will have to continue to be an effective starter for Tijuana. This is a player competition worth watching.
Kyle Beckerman is a tough omission after an outstanding Gold Cup. But Geoff Cameron looked very good in the midfield during World Cup qualifying and the Jones/Bradley tandem is rightfully the first choice in central midfield. So there are only so many defensive or box-to-box midfield positions available. Beckerman is very much in contention to make the World Cup team and he should be given more opportunities this fall but as of now he may lose out on a numbers game.
20) Jozy Altidore
21) Aron Johannsson
22) Eddie Johnson
23) Landon Donovan
Notable Omissions: Herculez Gomez, Chris Wondolowski, Terrence Boyd
One of the toughest cuts will likely have to come at the forward position. Right now Jozy Altidore is an obvious lock and Eddie Johnson has found a role within the team to likely have a spot secure.
Herculez Gomez was injured for the summer World Cup qualifiers and was ineffective as he played hurt in the early stages of the Gold Cup. It is very possible he could climb back into the picture with a strong season at Tijuana but minutes could be tough to come by with Argentine Dario Benedetto becoming a strong possibility to be the club's top forward.
Similarly, Terrence Boyd will need to be one of the top players again in the Austrian Bundesliga to reclaim a spot on the team. He has only played roughly 20 minutes for the U.S team in 2013 and is still a work in progress.
Aron Johannsson recently announced that he will file his one-time switch to play for the Unites States over Iceland. It is a wise choice and it will have to earn a spot on the team. If the World Cup were today, he wouldn't make the team but he has an entire season to prove he belongs and I think he will.
Last season he was recovering from hernia surgery and only saw limited minutes with AZ Alkmaar. But in his time with AGF Aarhus and in the minutes he played with AZ, his talent was obvious. Former U.S international and now AZ technical director Ernie Stewart has raved about Johannsson's ability and Jurgen Klinsmann as spoken publically about wanting to get Johannsson into camp quickly and it appears as if his recruitment of Johannsson was a priority. He is Altidore's replacement at AZ and will be the team's starting forward this year. My guess is that he does very well under the coaching of Gertjan Verbeek this year and claims a spot on the U.S team. So far he is off to a strong start with a strong preseason and a goal against Ajax in the Dutch Super Cup.
As for Landon Donovan, he has erased all doubt about his ability to still be a vital player for the U.S team. He was magnificent in the Gold Cup and he likely forced his way back onto the team. Whether he plays as a winger, a playmaker, or a forward, he is still an asset to this team.