Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon
This is the first of many lists over the next eighteen months that will feature our twenty-three selections for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It is important to note that this list is essentially a list we would use today to select a team tomorrow, although we can’t completely filter from consideration the possible events of the next year-plus. Point-being, of course, that the list is imperfect but probably a pretty fair reflection of where the USMNT team pool is at this time. Four notes before the list:
1. Bruce Arena and multiple outlets reporting Landon Donovan will be back, but they don’t know “when.” That’s not exactly a guarantee, but hey–We’re going to include Landon Donovan, even though there is a smart part of us that thinks we’ll be going through this whole “time away/might be the end” thing again next year. Donovan is no Brett Favre, but drama is drama.
2. There was a great story by Jack Bell of the New York Times on US Soccer just before “the dawn”, when the NASL was desperate to save itself and a rather amateurish, confused USSF was desperate to get the US back to a World Cup after thirty-plus years and nothing. Anyway- it’s really worth a read because its interesting and also because…
3. This World Cup is in Brazil, of course, and the last time the US went there the Americans shocked the World, beating England on a goal by a Haitian American, Joe Gaetjens. The goal was so surprising that stateside, most media outlets reported the final score wrong, printing Dewey Defeats Truman style that the US had lost to England 11-1. Anyway, there’s a good story from the prior World Cup cycle about Gaetjens here, but one can only expect to hear a nauseating amount of stories about this shocking goal and win over England over the coming eighteen months, and in the month or two just prior, it will be nearly unbearable. We felt it our duty to warn you now.
4. Finally, our analysis of these players is limited for the time being. It’s eighteen months to selection day, and the fact we even have a list makes us feel a bit like the “Bracketologist” guy you and and your pals make fun of who has the NCAA tournament field picked out in November.
23 For the Big Plane South (Most Secure to Least Secure)
1. Tim Howard (G, Everton, England) – One of the world’s elite goalkeepers on his best day. Still the best option for the US on his worst day.
2. Clint Dempsey (M/F, Tottenham Hotspur, England) – As he continues to remind us, Deuce is a big game goal scorer. He’s also the best American field player, the best field player in CONCACAF (Hernandez had a nice seat on the bench for that match the other day, didn’t he?) and his versatility is still underrated.
3. Michael Bradley (M, Roma)– The USMNT’s most consistent performer, and the team’s best two-way midfielder since Claudio Reyna. If MB90’s on-field progression continues at the same rate it has over the past four years, we’re looking at a guy whose name should be mentioned along with Xabi Alonso and Daniele De Rossi (and not just as his club teammate) at this time next year. Here’s a belated Christmas gift courtesy of the NYT.
4. Josmer Altidore (F, AZ Alkmaar, Holland)— He’s scoring (A BUNCH!) at club level, and becoming a more complete player. Now it’s time for America’s best forward to start knocking them in for The States. Of course, he also might be the American Emile Heskey… hey- sometimes it’s rainy outside!!
5. Fabian Johnson (D, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Germany)–Finally a top quality left back we can believe in. And as we saw in the Slovenia friendly, he’s good enough going forward to play as one of Jurgen Klinsmann’s coveted attacking wingers if circumstance calls for it.
6. Steven Cherundolo (D, Hannover 96, Germany) – He’s not dead yet.
7. Jermaine Jones (M, Schalke 04, Germany) – A responsible (when he wants to be!?), talented (fairly), and tough (always) option in the defensive midfield. Jones should embrace his role, shielding the back four, and providing a link to Bradley and the wings. We read one list that basically booted him off the plane and suggested he’s like Arjen Robben- ha!- now there’s a guy who never did well at a World Cup! Oh wait…
8. Geoff Cameron (D/M, Stoke City, England) – How big was 2012 for Geoff? He’s now a starter on the USMNT and in the English Premier League. But will the fact that he often plays at right back for Stoke City ever have negative effects on his play at center back internationally? And will not having a consistent playing partner hurt him in the small sample size universe of the World Cup, where continuity is often crucial? There will be a time for answering such questions…
9. Timmy Chandler (D/F, FC Nuremberg, Germany) – He’s not American yet, nor is he as defensively responsible as right back incumbent Cherundolo frankly. He does have boatloads of skill, so he becomes the highest-rated not cap-tied guy ever.
10. Landon Donovan (M/F, Los Angeles Galaxy) – So he says he’ll return, or at least Bruce Arena says he says he will, but does that mean he’ll return to MLS and then decide that his international career is over regardless? My head hurts. I need to sit down. Also, I think Lando finds his form and a starting spot on this team.
11. Graham Zusi (M, Sporting Kansas City)– Another American who had an amazing 2012. Zusi is a starter as one of Klinsmann’s attacking wingers, either across the field from Landon Donovan or in his place.
12. Herculez Gomez (F, Santos Laguna, Mexico) – A striker that’s proven he can hold the ball up well and facilitate for others on this national team. His last couple of US efforts have been scintillating, particularly from an “effort” perspective, but like Jozy, he now needs to start scoring goals regularly. Herc also has the psychological makeup to have a huge World Cup.
13. Maurice Edu (M, Bursaspor, Turkey, on loan from Stoke City)– The defensive midfielder hasn’t had a great time of it under Jurgen Klinsmann, although the boss seems to appreciate him for his mind and for his versatility. Maurice has proven he can play center half as well, which gets him on the plane at the very least, although his club situation makes his relatively high spot on this list tenuous. Perhaps the Bursaspor loan will help…
14. Carlos Bocanegra (D, Racing Santander, Spain, on loan from Rangers FC) – Falls into the Cherundolo category in that he too is not dead yet. Furthermore, he’s the best option to pair Geoff Cameron in central defense until Omar Gonzalez capitalizes on a chance to prove otherwise. Plus, most nights he is still the captain, and until that’s not a common thing– he’s on the plane.
15. Omar Gonzalez (D, Los Angeles Galaxy)– The next great US center back, or a guy that will never recreate his club-level brilliance with the national team? We’ll find out if the manager ever gives him a real chance.
16. Danny Williams (M, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Germany) – The young German is finally a known quantity, and the news isn’t all bad. He’s a good option as a defensive midfielder, and a “it wasn’t that bad!!….Okay, okay, it was terrible” option anywhere further up the field or on the wings. Man has to know his limitations. Or in this case, I’m hoping Jurgen Klinsmann finally knows Danny Williams’ limitations.
17. Josh Gatt (M, Molde, Norway) — Another guy who had a pretty swell 2012, except for that whole, you know, missing the Olympic Games thing. Thanks Coach Porter!!! Good luck in Portland!! Seriously though- he won a title in Norway, a cap in Russia (where he troubled a hot Russian team with his pace), and now he’ll likely influence proceedings in qualifying. It all adds up to a seat on the plane.
18. Brek Shea (M, FC Dallas, for now) – Not as consistent a winger as Graham Zusi, and much more defensively negligent than Landon Donovan. But Shea has a way of making up for his flaws with mazy runs and transcendent performances. I’m penciling him in as a potential starter on the left wing if Donovan doesn’t return. Also note that as frustrating as he can be- Klinsy keeps inviting him in…
19. Michael Parkhurst (D, FC Augsburg, Germany) — The move to Germany is a good thing for a guy that wants more than anything to be involved in proceedings in Brazil. He really isn’t an international player- doesn’t have the physique, lacks pace, has no real strong skillset. But he is smart. And he is almost always in good positions. And he doesn’t make mental errors. And his teammates love him. You get the idea…
20. Brad Guzan (G, Aston Villa, England) – Tim Howard’s backup has finally taken the next step in his career. He’s generally been good with Aston Villa in the EPL this season. I bet the Villains wish he’d been in net yesterday against Bradford… can we get an inspired, Hoosiers style slow clap, please??
21. Stuart Holden (M, Bolton Wanderers) – Daddy, there’s that man again… oh wait, that’s just what James Milner says to his father about Steve Cherundolo. Stu’s back, however…
22. Clarence Goodson (D, Brondby, Denmark) – The Brondby captain provides reliable center back depth and is constantly a threat on set pieces. We opt for the extra defender in light of Dempsey’s versatility. Hell, Chandler can play striker in an emergency, and if the Yanks get to that point, there are problems anyway…
23. Bill Hamid (G, DC United) — Biased on this one but damn do we like Bill Hamid. He’s ridiculously athletic. He’s also really young. Bring him to Brazil, because he’s almost certain to see a lot of the field in Russia…
Eric Lichaj (D, Aston Villa)– Cherundolo gets hurt in the 2011 Gold Cup Final against Mexico, Bobbo brings on Bornstein, the day is lost, and we never hear from that tournament’s American breakout performer ever again? I don’t get it. Lichaj provides speed and depth at wing defender, and can play on the left or right. Like Guzan, he’s having a decent season on a bad Aston Villa team
Sacha Kljestan (M, Anderlecht) – Starts for a team playing in Europe, and plays quite well for them. Klinsmann must hate mustaches, because there have been many games where the US could have used an attacking midfielder capable of unlocking defenses with short, accurate distributions….
José Francisco Torres (M, Tigres, Mexico) – “Gringo” let some of you down when Klinsmann gave him a more than fair shot, but did he prove enough competence and value to make the squad? The ball movement is still there; it’s not his fault he’s not Cesc Fabregas as some folks were unrealistically expecting.
Juan Agudelo (No Man’s Land, California, United States)– This year is going to have to be a big one for the young forward if he’s going to make the roster. The good news? There isn’t much on that odd team he’s playing for…
Michael Orozco-Fiscal (D, San Luis, Mexico) – The hero at the Azteca, and the patron saint/villain all in one of this website is a guy that Jurgen loves to love. San Luis doesn’t love him, but hey– it only takes a manager with a soft spot to end up being Ricardo Clark.
Kyle Beckerman (M, Real Salt Lake) — Does anyone else see the Dred Pirate Beckerman being this cycle’s Brian Ching so clear you’d think you were smelling autumn air from the top of a Utah mountain? We thought so.
Joe Gyau (M, FC St. Pauli, Germany) – The Marlins had an outfield prospect several years ago, Cameron Maybin, who “had all the tools, man, had all the tools.” Joe Gyau is Cameron Maybin. Let’s hope he doesn’t end up a utility player for a bad team like Maybin did…
Terrence Boyd (F, Rapid Wien, Austria) – I sat in the pressbox in Jacksonville this summer listening to two pretty well-liked American soccer writers gush with joy over this player. We think Americans soccer folks tend to do that with new toys, especially ones that play striker, and we aren’t taking the bait yet. Show us something, sir.
Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon are Co-Founders and Editors of The Yanks Are Coming. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com – you can also follow them on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon and @nwb_usmnt.