USA Soccer: Reaction to final WCQs and Updated Roster Projection

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The Cover 4.com presents you with USA Soccer: Reaction to final WCQs and Updated Roster Projection! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup Qualifier has wrapped up, and wow did it go out with a bang. The United States won both of their games and several players saw action with an opportunity to help, hurt, or cement their place in the squad preparing for the World Cup.

If you’re late to the party that is the Hex, here’s how it went down: The US beat Jamaica to wrap up the top spot in the Hex going into their final game at Panama, and Mexico beat Panama to control their own destiny heading into their final game at second-place Costa Rica, where a win or draw would at least clinch a home-and-home playoff with New Zealand for a place at the World Cup. In other words, the US had nothing to play for and Mexico had everything to play for.

You wouldn’t have known it watching the US, who put on an incredible display of resilience that exemplified sportsmanship and fair play. Panama has never been to a World Cup, so even a shot at a playoff was huge and their stadium was ready to come unglued. With nothing to play for, it would have been easy for a group of fringe players from the US to mail in the game and let Panama have their party, but that’s not what they chose to do.

Jürgen Klinsmann has instilled in this squad that they are out to win every game, and that’s exactly what happened. With the traditional “never say die” attitude that has been a trademark of American soccer, the US scored twice in stoppage time to completely crush Panama’s dreams and keep Mexico’s hope alive. After the game several US players including Terrence Boyd and Aron Jóhannsson stayed on the field to console some of Panama’s players who were visibly emotional after they failed to hold the lead (more on that later).

Though it is true that the US had nothing to play for in the standings, many of the players who took the field had a spot on the roster to Brazil to play for. Several are considered to be fringe players heading into next summer, and they needed to prove to Klinsmann that they blend well with the team and are capable of making an impact if given the chance on the World’s biggest stage. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman stated after the game that he was going to play hard the whole game regardless of what was on the line for Panama, an attitude that was prevalent throughout the squad that night as well in a hard fought 2-0 victory against Jamaica.

Before analyzing individual performances from the final two games, here is the updated squad projection for next summer’s World Cup:

 

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake/MLS)

Outside Defenders (4): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96/Germany), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS)

Center Defenders (5): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City/MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Omar González (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes/MLS)

Outside Midfielders (3): Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City/MLS)

Center Midfielders (4): Michael Bradley (AS Roma/Italy), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Jermaine Jones (Schalke/Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands)

The only change in the squad from the last projection is Mix Diskerud taking Beckerman’s place as a center midfielder. This was a tough decision, especially since Beckerman played well in his start against Panama. However, Diskerud started both games and played a variety of roles, some he thrived in and some he did not, but the fact Klinsmann started him in both shows confidence in what Diskerud brings in his ball-handling skills and playmaking.

The decision ultimately came down to Beckerman or Sacha Kljestan. Though Kljestan was less than impressive as a starter for most of the Panama game, he was very solid as a substitute against Jamaica when he nearly scored right after he was brought on. The deciding factor was that Kljestan plays for a better club team, Anderlecht, which is playing in the Champions League, allowing Kljestan an opportunity to be tested and grow since he is a regular starter. In addition to this, he has been scoring goals and consistently turning in good performances. His experience will be valuable in the World Cup as the speed of play increases against the top teams, something I feel Beckerman might struggle with.

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Player Evaluations

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard started against Jamaica and Brad Guzan started against Panama. Both played well individually, taking goals allowed out of the equation since Guzan had an entirely different center-back pairing and a road environment to deal with, though he should have done better with the rebound he spilled leading to Panama’s second goal. Guzan is certainly the keeper of the future and the US has a lot to be excited about with him, but it is Howard’s net for now.

Outside Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley put in a solid stint against Jamaica which included a great run forward and a shot that barely missed the target in the first half before being subbed out in the second half. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but he still picks his spots well and is a threat in attack on overlapping runs. Edgar Castillo came on for him against Jamaica and went the distance against Panama. Castillo adds more speed and playmaking down the wing, but he leaves A LOT to be desired on the defensive side. I am ignoring Alejandro Bedoya’s cameo at right back in the Panama game, all I will say is don’t expect to see him there again. Brad Evans got exposed in these qualifiers on the right. He was repeatedly beaten by quicker wings for the opponent. Though he recovered well and bailed himself out a few times, he is not what is needed from a starting right back at the World Cup. If Panama made him look that vulnerable, imagine how much Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery, or even Theo Walcott would feast on him. Steve Cherundolo began his rehab last week, and the job is definitely his when he is healthy.

Center Defenders: Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron both played great in the clean sheet against Jamaica. Cameron can and probably will overtake Omar Gonzalez as the regular starter there at some point. He was very steady, consistent, and worked well with Besler, who was his usual calm and collected self, playing in front of his hometown fans in Kansas City. Clarence Goodson against Panama was the fixture he usually is; nothing flashy but no glaring mistakes either. Michael Orozco is another story. Yes, he scored the first goal of the night to tie it at 1 off of a corner kick, but he was often caught out of position and is just too inconsistent to be considered for the final 23 at this point.

Outside Midfielders: Landon Donovan was clearly not 100% when he took the field against Jamaica. He had a quiet first half by his standards and was subbed out at the break. He has been battling an injury, and his performance should not hurt his place in the starting lineup long-term given his track record. With Fabian Johnson injured and remaining in Germany, the aforementioned Bedoya started both games on the right flank and had his ups and downs. He created space well but failed to provide quality service on his short passes and crosses. His place in the squad is safe but don’t expect him to start with the full team healthy. Graham Zusi cemented his place in the squad going forward, scoring as a substitute against Jamaica and the late equalizer against Panama. Houston Dynamo veteran Brad Davis showed well as a sub against Panama providing stellar crosses, including the assist to Zusi’s header. But at a position of depth for the US he is a long-shot at best to go to Brazil.

Center Midfield: Center midfield had the most action in these two games. Jermaine Jones started against Jamaica and went the full 90, doing his duty as a part-time bruiser in front of the back 4 and part-time distributor bridging the gap from defense to attack. He remains the easy choice to partner with Michael Bradley when he comes back from injury. As mentioned before, Diskerud made a decent showing for himself, more so as he was freed to push forward and play underneath a forward. His pairing with Jones was not the best and he lends better to the role Clint Dempsey usually occupies, which he played against Panama. Beckerman did nothing to hurt his chances, with some decent passes from his holding role. Kljestan was an interesting case. He showed very well in his time against Jamaica pushing forward and holding up play, which created more offensive chances. Against Panama as a starter, it took him a while to get going. He worked much better with Jones than with Beckerman for some reason and looked much more comfortable perhaps because he knew Jones wanted to sit back so he was free to push forward, whereas Beckerman tends to do both. Once Diskerud was subbed out, he pushed up field more and looked much better in the final half hour of that game. I expect Klinsmann to call him in for the November friendlies for another look.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore played well both matches, captaining the Panama game, and scoring an easy tap-in near the end of the Jamaica match. He continues to distribute well with his back to the goal, though he tends to get passive when he isn’t getting consistent service or support. In the Jamaica game he tended to drift back into the midfield and allowed Jóhannsson to stay up top, which does not suit his game well. All things considered, he remains the top choice for the Americans as he is a menace for opposing defenses to deal with. Jóhannsson got his first start for the US against Jamaica in a 4-4-2 formation. He created, and subsequently wasted, many chances in that game while paired with Altidore, but he did show flashes of what he is capable of. When he came on as a substitute for Diskerud against Panama, he dropped behind Altidore and showed the two should have switched roles against Jamaica as he is more than capable of being a supporting forward. His best role for this team may be as offensive spark off the bench giving the US a two-striker attack with the ability to still keep possession of the ball and dictate the pace of play. Not to mention, he is a poacher from outside the box as he demonstrated on the winning goal (follow the link to see it, courtesy US Soccer/beIn Sport) to completely crush Panama’s spirits.

Finally, Terrence Boyd came on for Altidore for the final 15 minutes against Panama and provided the assist on Jóhannsson’s goal. Though he has been in good form for Rapid Vienna, this position is just too crowded right now to see him breaking through for a World Cup spot barring an injury or severe drop in form from someone ahead of him. He has a bright future for the National team and it was good to see him get some productive time on the field paired with Jóhannsson. His greatest moment from the match, without a doubt, was after the final whistle where he was photographed consoling a Panama player (follow hyperlink for photo) who was overcome with emotion, what many are calling a true demonstration of sportsmanship. In a moment where it would be easy to just walk away and go celebrate, Boyd and Jóhannsson represented the United States with class and honor by doing the right thing and acknowledging that in their victory there was a dream crushed on the other side. That moment combined with their on-field play should have all American soccer fans excited about what the future holds for these two.

Check back soon as the United States prepares for November friendlies on the road against Scotland and Austria, theCover4 will have full analysis of the squad leading up to those matches and all things US Men’s National Team as the 2014 World Cup inches closer.

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David Oleson
Guest Sports Activist for The Cover 4

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