BY: John D. Halloran
Coming off the September and October World Cup qualifiers, the USMNT lineup is finally beginning to solidify with a preferred starting XI of Howard, Cherundolo, Cameron, Bocanegra, F. Johnson, Williams, Bradley, E. Johnson, Zusi, Dempsey and Gomez emerging.
However, the lineup still has a number of weaknesses, particularly at center back. So, looking forward, which players could begin to push themselves into the starting XI?
Here’s 11 Americans USMNT fans can get excited about (arranged in a 4-3-3).
Not exactly a brave choice to start off the list, right?
The problem (which is actually a good thing) is there are a number of good choices here. The obvious one is Brad Guzan, who at 28, is still a relative youngster for a goalkeeper.
There is also Luis Robles who is enjoying a resurgence with the New York Red Bulls and there are the obvious prospects in Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid.
Some other, less prominent options would be Cody Cropper, who is only 19, but recently signed with Southampton and Steve Clark, a 26 year old who plies his trade with Honefoss in Norway.
Right back: Eric Lichaj
Lichaj’s performances with Aston Villa as of late have left something to be desired, but he is still currently the best young right back in the USMNT player pool.
Lichaj has good speed, a willingness to battle (sometimes too much), plays against some of the best competition in the world on a weekly basis in the EPL and has proved he can get it done internationally (at least in CONCACAF) through his play in the 2011 Gold Cup.
Center back: Omar Gonzalez
Gonzalez has been at the heart of the turnaround of the LA Galaxy’s season this year as the team was struggling early in the year as Gonzalez was making his recovery from ACL surgery (Thank you again for that Timmy Chandler).
Gonzalez is physically imposing at 6’ 5” and young at only 24 years of age. He has also proven that he can play against the more direct/speedy type of competition most prevalent in CONCACAF because he does it on a weekly basis in MLS.
The next step for Gonzalez is to prove he can get it done at the international level.
Center back: John Anthony Brooks
Brooks is one of the best defensive prospects the USMNT has had in years.
At 6’ 7” and only 19 years of age, Brooks is beginning to become a regular starter for Hertha Berlin in second-division of the Bundesliga.
While some might criticize the fact that Brooks is not playing in the top division, neither are Carlos Bocanegra or Tim Ream. And a pretty strong argument could be made that the second-division in Germany is at least as strong as the Danish league, the home of current second-choice center back Clarence Goodson.
Brooks is one of many potential American players who hold dual nationality and Brooks recently participated in a U-20 camp for Germany. Hopefully, he picks the U.S.
Left back: Fabian Johnson
Despite Johnson only having nine caps for the USMNT, at 24 years of age, Johnson is just starting to hit his prime and should be able to provide the U.S. with years of service.
He continues to be a regular part of Hoffenheim’s lineup and is a big part of both Hoffenheim’s and the USMNT’s attack out of the back.
Holding midfielder: Danny Williams
If you missed Williams interview with CNN last week, you need to check it out.
Williams has proved his worth to the USMNT, especially since he was moved to his natural holding midfielder position against Jamaica in September.
Williams has also won a regular starting role with Hoffenheim, something which will undoubtedly help him continue to develop.
Center midfielder: Michael Bradley
Where have all the cries of nepotism gone?
When he was younger, and his dad was the manager, plenty of USMNT unfairly accused Michael Bradley of only being included in the U.S. lineup because his dad was the coach.
I was never among that group, always loving Bradley’s competitive temperament and appreciating his ability to build the U.S. attack out of the back, especially with his back to pressure.
Now, a year into his club career in Italy, Bradley has become a world-class midfielder.
Center midfielder: Mix Diskerud
Since emerging on the USMNT scene in a friendly against South Africa in 2010, Diskerud has been at or near the top of any list of American prospects.
More recently, Mix was a key part of the U.S.’ U-23 team in Olympic qualifying and has made a move to Rosenborg in the Norwegian league where he has established himself as an important part of their midfield.
Another call-up to the full national team should be on the cards sooner rather than later.
Forward: Josh Gatt
While Gatt is not a natural forward, he could easily play as one of the outside forwards in a 4-3-3 where he would function primarily as a winger.
Gatt has become one of the most anticipated Americans that USMNT fans want to see on the national team and although he received a call-up for the September qualifiers, he was forced to withdraw due to injury.
The 21-year-old Gatt, who plies his trade with Molde in Norway, will certainly see the field very soon for the USMNT.
Forward: Juan Agudelo
Agudelo’s national team presence has faded since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the squad, but much of that has to do with the torn meniscus Agudelo suffered while on duty with the U-23 squad in March.
His club form hasn’t exactly helped, as Agudelo only scored five times this season with Chivas USA.
It’s important, however, to remember that Agudelo is only 19 and anyone who has seen his goals with the USMNT and his former club the New York Red Bulls knows he has talent coming out his ears.
Forward: Terrence Boyd
Boyd offers the USMNT a skill set that few others in the pool can match. At 6’ and 180 lbs., Boyd is a physical specimen. His ability to get on the end of services into the box is fantastic, he is strong in the air, has a terrific work rate and loves playing for the U.S.
He is everything you want in a center forward.