Things we know: the U.S. national team is going to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup; the USMNT conducted a training camp held in both California and Brazil, where players were allowed to show head coach Jurgen Klinsmann why they deserved to be on the Southbound flight this June; and not all of the players are going to make the cut. Yet with five and a half months left before the games begin, we still don’t know who all of those players will be. Saturday’s international friendly between the Korea Republic was the final test for all the training camp members that made it through Klinsmann’s tests.
The World Cup roster is partially set in stone — nearly half of the starting XI can be determined right now — but there remains a few positions on the pitch and the bench that are still up for competition. Even then, the XI that started against Korea consisted of members that can assume to know their place: Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez are the starting center backs, Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan and Graham Zusi will be also be on the plane but their exact usage and playtime is somewhat in the air.
What Klinsmann really needs to look at consists of the outside players of the defense. Both the left and right back spots can be considered the weakness of the U.S. team. It’s not that the players aren’t capable of standing their ground, but not a single person thrown into those situations has made enough of a defiant impact to clinch the World Cup start.
Ironically, the right back spot will most likely be a player from the Seattle Sounders. Brad Evans got the start at right back, but was later subbed-off for the high-potential young’un DeAndre Yedlin, who gets his first cap in a U.S. jersey. Yedlin will most likely be the future right back starter but that future seems further than five months; it wouldn’t surprise anyone for him to be a lock for Russia 2018.
The left back spot was manned by the Columbus Crew’s newest addition, Michael Parkhurst. He’s a talented center back, who is willing to move to the outside for a trip to Brazil. The worry with Parkhurst, the 2007 MLS Defender of the Year, is that his recent venture into Europe wasn’t wonderful. His time there was middling, some good years, some stalled by injuries; some question who is currently returning to the American pitch, the dominant defender of 2007, or the player of recent European years. The position is not his to lose, but with a good first half in MLS play, Klinsmann may include Parkhurst, which would definitely be good not just for the left back position but also center back depth.
There was more to garner from this game than just defensive players though, there were many other players who were trying to show their best. Left-side midfielder Brad Davis, from the Houston Dynamo, has plenty of talents that would be useful to most teams, and he’ll probably be on that World Cup roster, but he did not necessarily help his case on Saturday. There was a few times when he made bad passes or was even slightly out of place. Although he recovered from his mistakes quite well, Germany won’t be so forgiving; those failures would be the death of a 2-0 lead.
Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi continues to show his worth on the right side. He seems to always be in the right spot, and his crosses into the penalty box have been a tremendous boon to the U.S. attack in 2013 and now 2014.
Early in the game, Zusi sent in a cross that connected with Davis on the far side of the net. Davis made a contested shot that was directly at the Korean goalkeeper, but it was Chris Wondolowski who was in the right position to head it home.
Wondolowski is in a tough situation. He’s a very good player who can score goals when needed and is one of the best finishers in American soccer, but he plays a position that is already highly contested. Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson are the two strikers that will get the starts for Klinsmann, where Wondo stands is somewhere behind both of them, and it doesn’t seem he can move up the depth chart. At this point, it looks like Wondolowski, who plays for the San Jose Earthquakes, earned his World Cup bench spot. He scored another goal on Saturday when a loose ball ventured into his well-placed path, a one-time shot raised the score to 2-0.
Klinsmann will have deliberations to make as June gets closer. He’s been molding this roster for the past three years, preparing for the world’s biggest sporting event, but there are pieces to the puzzle that have yet to be placed. The U.S. is still growing as a soccer nation, so it’s not as if Klinsmann has definitive position players for every spot. He is truly doing managerial work that may make or break the U.S. hopes and dreams come June. What we are looking at right now is the foundation for what will be found in Brazil in June. Hopefully it can established not just for this year, but years to come.