BRIAN SCIARETTA - Sunday, October 21, 2012
The United States had a scare last week against Guatemala but regrouped and advanced to next year's final hexagonal round of Qualifying.
US coach Jurgen Klinsmann only has one FIFA international date before the first qualifier and there is only one opportunity for him to get a look at new players before the important games resume. That opportunity will come on November 14 when the US team visits Russia.
Klinsmann probably will not bring in many few faces but it is likely there will be a few. Here is a look at the players who have made the biggest cases for their first look under Klinsmann.
John Anthony Brooks:
Long regarded as one of the top prospects in the US system, this season the German-born Brooks is finally showing signs of living up to the hype. He has continued growing and is now 6'6. Even with his tall frame, he is smooth on the ball and reads the game well.
Brooks has said repeatedly that he would prefer to play for the United States but Germany remains interested and has invited him to U-20 camps this fall. Now would be the perfect time for the U.S. to step up their interest. But such a move would not be solely aimed at swaying Brooks' allegiances, there is a need for him on the team as well.
The US team is currently thin central defense with Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream, and Oguchi Onyewu struggling to start the European season. Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron are the obvious starters for the US team but after them the picture is very unclear. Now seems like the ideal occasion to bring in the exceptionally talented Brooks.
When Klinsmann announced his roster for the September qualifiers, Josh Gatt's inclusion was one of the most surprising inclusions. Unfortunately the speedy winger had to withdraw due to a pulled hamstring but he is still close to finally earning his first international cap.
Whether or not Gatt earns a callup for the Russia game will depend on whether or not he can remain healthy as he has struggled so far in his young career to stay fit for an extended period of time. So the next few weeks will be crucial for Gatt to get another callup.
The fact remains is that there is a huge need on the US team for wide players. Landon Donovan and Brek Shea are also struggling with injuries and while Graham Zusi has done well so far with the U.S. team, he is not naturally a wide player.
Gatt has explosive speed and is a true winger. Klinsmann clearly has a need for him on the team but Russia could be the right time to introduce him into the team so he has experience heading into the Hex.
Despite being one of the best players in MLS, Pontius is still yet to earn a cap for the United States. That was supposed to change for the October qualifiers but Pontius had to decline the callup due to an injury.
For Pontius to earn an invite to the Russia game, a lot will depend on DC United's standing in the MLS playoffs. It is unlikely anyone will make the roster from teams still alive in the MLS playoffs so that will be the deciding factor for Pontius.
Pontius would be useful to the U.S team in his versatility. He has the ability to play forward, wide right, or in a central attacking midfielder.This would certainly give Klinsmann options.
Whether or not he makes the roster, his play this year shows that he can help the U.S team. He takes chances and creates plays and for a U.S team that has struggled offensively, this is the exact type of player they need.
Largely under the radar, Conor O'Brien is proving to be an excellent midfielder in the Danish Superliga. His contract is up in December and it would not be surprising to see him attract interest from bigger clubs.
The U.S team has plenty of central midfielders but O'Brien's style is unique. He is not a defensive midfielder but he can sit deep and make plays. For Sonderjyske so far this year he has been involved in many of the team's goals. He also has a terrific shot from distance which can be an asset for Klinsmann.
O'Brien has never represented the U.S internationally but the 24 year old has made a strong case in 2012 and it would not be surprising to see him earn his first cap sooner than later.
2012 began with a lot of promise for the reigning MLS defender of the year who was called up to annual January camp but left camp to go on loan to FC Nurnberg of the Bundesliga.
Things quickly took a turn for Gonzalez who tore his ACL in his first Nurnberg practice and had to spend most of the year recovering and rehabbing from surgery. Fortunately, he returned early from the surgery and was playing in July. Initially he struggled but he is now beginning to hit his stride.
The backline problems for the U.S team have continued and Gonzalez, still only 23, is likely to have a future with the team. He has been capped before but never under Klinsmann.
If LA is somehow out of the playoffs before the game against Russia, a Gonzalez callup would make sense.
Sporting Kansas City has been one of the best teams in MLS in 2012 and Matt Besler has been an important reason for the team's success.
Besler, 25, is a strong central defender who was called up for the first time by Klinsman in August ahead of friendly against Mexico but he did not feature in the game. If Kansas City is out of the playoffs by the Russia game, Besler could be given a look as the U.S team is short on depth in central defense.