Hey, it’s not too early to speculate. But who should be in the starting 11 during the 2014 World Cup will be probably be the main discussion point surrounding U.S. soccer all the way up to the first game in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
U.S. men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has big decisions in front of him to figure out on who to start. And, they will not be easy. Substitutions are critical decisions as well, but, typically the subs don’t spend as much time on the field as starters do.
Klinsmann may decide to vary his starting lineup according to the play or physical nature of his opponents. Certain situations may call for more speed, more height, more ball control or more emphasis on defense.
Obviously, Klinsmann will have some idea (the winning formula) who he believes his best 11 are to give the U.S.A. the very best chance against other teams. The difficulty in selecting his starters will be due to the elevated play and solid contributions of many up-and-coming players, such as Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Omar Gonzalez, Jermaine Jones, Nick Rimando in goal, and the resurgent DaMarcus Beasley.
Assuming everyone is healthy for the start of the 2014 World Cup, let’s review the potential starting 11 by starting with defenders. They are the least heralded players on the roster and a good lead-in to the midfielders/forwards:
Oguchi Onyewu - skilled and 6′ 4″ is a must to have on the back line. He must continue to be quick on his feet, though.
Clarence Goodson - has been a pillar of consistency and will even score goals on occasion.
Omar Gonzalez - is money on defense. He is reliable and helps to maintain ball control.
Jermaine Jones - definitely has a spot with the team. He’s earned it. His grittiness and determination towards the opposition are only matched by Clint Dempsey.
Maurice Edu - is a quick, shifty, athletic player the U.S. needs to keep active in the flow of the games.
Landon Donovan – his play over the last six months with the national team during Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying has proven once again that he must be on the field as much as possible to give the U.S. the best opportunity to win.
Clint Dempsey - has withered some over the last few weeks under the spotlight of a huge transfer back to MLS and he will need to get back to his best form, but he must be on the field as much as possible, too.
Michael Bradley - is a playmaker and has shown his strength many times over.
Herculez Gomez - should get a starting spot if he is recovered completely from a knee injury. Prior to the injury, he was around the goal a lot and making the team look good in the process.
Jozy Altidore - has to be given a chance to get it right this time in the World Cup. He has the potential to be the U.S.’s best scoring player. Jozy can be a roller coaster of a player at times, but the upside is worth too much to not give him his due.
Tim Howard - as goalkeeper is fine until he messes up. Only one error allowed. A keeper is all about confidence and the U.S. has Rimando and Brad Guzan ready for their opportunities.
Like I said, this is a team with many options. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra have been stalwarts in the past and Jose Torres has done well, too.
This is a team that will have more than a chance to win in 2014. It is a team built over many years and has experienced many degrees of success and failures. In my opinion, this is a team that will come into Brazil with something to prove and could walk away with the cup. A lot would have to go right for the U.S., including Germany getting eliminated along the way.
It could be argued that the U.S. is the second best team after Germany headed to Brazil.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com