BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The US national team is now finished for 2011 and while it's safe to say it wasn't a very good year for the team, 2012 is likely to be more promising.
The first half of the year saw Bob Bradley struggle to achieve results and he was dismissed after a poor Gold Cup where the US failed to impress in any one of their six games.
While Jurgen Klinsmann's arrival was met with a great sense of optimism, that was quickly damped as the team won only once in its first six games and scored only two goals in that span.
In the final game of 2011, Klinsmann's team showed a spark and scored three goals en route to a 3-2 win over Slovenian team that is known for its defense.
Next year will be interesting as 2014 World Cup Qualifying gets under way and the Klinsmann system should really begin to set in with the core players on the US team. Not to mention, the top young players on the US team may also play in the Olympics.
The game against Slovenia was only just one game but it was a positive sign in that it showed a US team that was able to attack in a way Klinsmann had wanted. They moved to a familiar 4-4-2 and it worked.
Aside from the January camp, the top US players likely won't be together again until February and over the course of next year, the US could look quite a bit different.
With that said, let's look at the team in depth as to which players make up the core moving forward, which players could fall off, and which players can begin to rise.
Core: Tim Howard
Potential to rise in 2012: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando
Potential to fade in 2012: None
The US team's goalkeeper situation is settled at the top with Tim Howard certain to start through the 2014 World Cup as long as he is healthy.
Following him, Klinsman has said that DC United's Bill Hamid is now the number two because Brad Guzan is not playing for Aston Villa. Hamid should remain at number two if he can continue to play at a high level with DC United but he still can't be considered a core player despite being a regular backup because he has yet to play in a US game.
The third-string goalkeeping position is wide open right now but signs point to it going either to Sean Johnson or Nick Rimando.
Core: Timothy Chandler, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson
Potential to rise in 2012: Omar Gonzalez, George John, Michael Parkhurst, Zach Loyd, Alfredo Morales
Potential to fade in 2012: Steve Cherundolo, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Tim Ream, Jonathan Spector
Wild Cards: Eric Lichaj, Heath Pearce
The US national team's defense is right now should be the top concern for Jurgen Klinsmann. With the exception of Timothy Chandler, the defenders who played the most meaningful minutes so far under Klinsmann are either over 30 or will be over 30 by 2014.
Steve Cherundolo has not had a good start to the 2011/12 season in the Bundesliga. Also, players like Michael Orozco and Tim Ream were regularly called into camp under Klinsmann but failed to perform well.
In central defense, the starting central defense is Bocanegra and Onyewu but there are some interesting options. First, Omar Gonzalez continued to improve in 2011 in MLS and he looks poised to be given an extended look at the international look. George John also played well at FC Dallas but when his transfer to Blackburn fell through in August, his consistency dropped.
In the fullback positions, Chandler and Cherundolo hold the starting spots. With Spector playing mostly in the midfield for Birmingham, his future in the backline for the US could be limited. Michael Parkhurst is a potential solution as he is enjoying a career year for FC Nordsjaeland at both right back and central defense.
Another potential defensive solution in 2012 is Alfredo Morales who is also seeing occasional minutes for Hertha Berlin at both defensive midfield, central defense, and right back. Also Zach Loyd has been called up by Klinsmann but his ability to play both right and left back could see an additional look.
Eric Lichaj has been forgotten with his hip injury and if he returns to full health, he could be an option as well.
The Core: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brek Shea, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones,
Potential to rise in 2012: Sacha Kljestan, Mikkel Diskerud, Josh Gatt
Potential to fade in 2012: Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, Robbie Rogers
Wild Card: Jose Torres, Danny Williams, Stuart Holden
The US team midfield has looked erratic under Klinsmann in 2011. In the most recent friendlies, the team struggled to create any scoring opportunities against France but then looked sharp for long stretches against Slovenia.
Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will continue to be regulars for the team but it is likely that either could move to forward. Michael Bradley was perhaps the best player on the field for the US team against Slovenia and should be a starter once again.
Fabian Johnson looked like a revelation in his first start and his strong play for Hoffenheim this season suggests he will quickly become part of the core. Jermaine Jones has been gradually regaining his dominant form at Schalke.
While there have been positives, there have also been players that have struggled. Kyle Beckerman does not appear to have the speed to play at the international level and he is unlikely to improve given his age. Likewise, Maurice Edu has been lackluster with his play in the final third of the field.
Despite numerous caps, Sacha Kljestan has never been an elite player for the US national team but he having a career year for Belgian power Anderlecht. Likely to be in the Champions League next year, Klinsmann should give Kljestan a continued look to try to figure out how to carry over his club success to the international level. If Kljestan continues to play well, he could likely take Edu's place.
Josh Gatt is another player who could likely find his way into the US national team. His strength is explosive speed on the wings and that is something the US has not had as of late. Playing for the Norwegian champions, Gatt could find himself in the Champions League next year and is one of the top young American players in the game.
Klinsmann could also receive a boost in the midfield with the return of injured players. Stuart Holden has not played significantly since his injury last March and he is unlikely to return before April. He is obviously a talented player but it is impossible to say how good he will be after missing more than a year.
Danny Williams has been playing significantly for Klinsmann ever since the 22 year old received his US passport in late September. It is tough to evaluate where he is moving forward because he is yet to play his natural position as a defensive midfielder. Williams is having a strong season at Hoffenheim in the center of the field and it is probably only a matter of time before he plays there for the US team. Still, his versatility makes him an asset for the US team.
The core: Jozy Altidore,
Potential to rise in 2012: Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd, CJ Sapong, Teal Bunbury
Potential to fade in 2012: Edson Buddle
Wild Card: Juan Agudelo, Chris Rolfe
The forward pool has been thin for the United States ever since 2009 when Charlie Davies was injured in a car crash.
Jozy Altidore remains the unquestioned first choice forward but after him there are a bunch of young players.
Juan Agudelo has been regularly called up despite inconsistent playing time for the Red Bulls and it uncertain how much that will continue should Agudelo not play more in 2012.
There are also a number of young forwards who are knocking on the door. Terrence Boyd is close to playing for Borussia Dortmund and had a great first US U23 camp. Teal Bunbury has been called up by Klinsmann but has yet to play. CJ Sapong is the MLS rookie of the year and should get a chance to play for Klinsmann in January.
Among the veterans, Herculez Gomez is coming off yet another strong season in Mexico but his age makes him questionable. The same can be said for Chris Rolfe who is impressing in Denmark and Edson Buddle who had a strong outing for the US against Ingolstadt.
In all likelihood, Landon Donovan remains a good bet to move up top to forward as 2014 draws closer. The all-time leading scorer is yet to play with Dempsey under Klinsmann but the emergence of midfielders like Fabian Johnson and Brek Shea could make a move up-top a strong possibility.
PREDICTED 23 PLAYER ROSTER FOR 2012 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
Tim Howard, Bill Hamid, Nick Rimando
Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Timothy Chandler, Michael Parkhurst, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Jonathan Spector
Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Brek Shea, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan
Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Juan Agudelo