The USMNT played out an ugly, scoreless draw in its friendly with Canada on Tuesday night in preparation for The Hex – which kicks off February 6th in Honduras. The match wasn’t much for entertainment, but it did serve one important function: it wet my patriotic whistle.
Full disclosure: I get hyped on the USMNT. Overly-so. You see an uninspired, friendly draw against an inferior opponent – I see world beaters lifting five kilos worth of 18 karat gold in Brazil. It’s a character flaw. I’m sure somewhere inside me I realize Edson Buddle and Graham Zusi aren’t quite the Wayne Rooneys and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world – but that rationality escapes me when they don the red, white, and blue.
I’m also critical of Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT. Overly-so. For instance, I do not understand Jurgen’s untenable devotion to Kyle Beckermann, who doesn’t belong any closer than restraining order distance from a US Camp. Nothing against Kyle or his luscious locks – he simply does not add anything to this squad.
So what if Jurgen’s won a European Championship and a World Cup as a player and helmed Germany’s third place World Cup finish in 2006 as a manager – he’s got nothing on my 4th place league finish in the under-9 division of northern-Atlanta, rec-league soccer (Go Lions!).
Clearly I should be calling the shots.
So without further adieu, I offer you my 23-man-and-1-woman roster for the Hex:
Tim Howard, Keeper
This one’s as obvious as it gets. There is no one challenging for Howard’s spot, and keeper is the one position where we have a clear advantage over the vast majority of other countries. His Everton side has let in the third fewest goals in the Premier League thus far.
Steve Cherundolo, Right Back
Barring injury, ‘Dolo is the clear starter at RB. He’s missed his last three matches with Hannover ’96 in the Bundesliga, but he’s as consistent a performer as it gets when he’s healthy. He’s the only real trustworthy defender the USMNT has had for several years now and still has the legs to push forward in attack without neglecting his defensive duties. His crosses in the offensive third will be a big asset with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson waiting in the box on the other end to receive.
Timmy Chandler, Left Back
We haven’t seen a lot of Timmy Chandler, but the German-American told ussoccer.com in November that he “finally feel[s] ready to make the commitment” to the United States. I had some choice words for Timmy in the past when he backed out of the USMNT to potentially play for Germany, but all will be forgiven when he steps onto the field for his first official, non-friendly match. He has the most raw talent of any US defender – maybe ever – and should start in Honduras if for no other reason than to officially lock him into the USMNT.
Omar Gonzalez, Center Back
Considering the struggles and inconsistency of the US defense for, well, as long as I can remember – it’s a wonder Omar only has three senior caps since his debut for the National Team in 2010. Part of that will have been due to his torn ACL in January 2012, but he’s come back strong – exemplified by his Man of the Match performance in a 3-1 LA Galaxy win over Houston in the 2012 MLS Cup. He’s imposing at 6’5″ and will be a target in the box on set pieces. He won’t get beat in the air on defense and, despite his size, has the athletic ability to keep in position and hang with shifty forwards. He’s the type of central defender to build a back four around, and the trick will be to pair him with a CB that can complement his skill set.
Michael Bradley, Midfield
The General is – at minimum – the second most important player on this squad. There is no player in the Hex better than Bradley at his position.
Graham Zusi, Midfield
I’ve never been more excited by the potential of an MLS player than Zeus, and he’s a sure starter in my lineup. He’s versatile – able to play in the center of the pitch or down the wing, high in the offensive third or deep in his own end. He can lead the counter, he provides dangerous service on set pieces, has great touch and control around the box, is always looking to get his forwards in behind the defense, and he can finish.
Jozy Altidore, Forward
Jozy has 20 goals in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar and is second in scoring in the Eredivisie. Jurgen needs to cut the shit and get Jozy back into camp. Our best striker better be on the pitch in Honduras come February 6th. He’s got tremendous size for a forward and has the rare ability to physically impose on defenders. Even when he’s not scoring goals he’s attracting attention in the box, which opens things up for Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Wondolowski.
Clint Dempsey, Forward
Clint Dempsey is one of the few position players on this squad that has played and thrived against the world’s best competition, and he plays with a level of confidence befitting that experience. He will be absolutely vital to the USMNT efforts in the Hex and – knock on wood – Brazil.
The Potential Starters:
Eddie Johnson, Forward
Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey have a great relationship, which might be reason enough to start him on the wing. He’s shown the ability to take on defenders and create space to get serviceable balls into the box. Without his two goals against Antigua and Barbuda (including the game-winner in the 90th minute) in the previous round of qualifying, there’s a good chance my opinion on the Hexagonal-round roster is unnecessary.
Chris Wondolowski, Forward
I don’t love Chris, but I see his value. The dude scores. A lot. Yes it’s in the MLS, but 27 goals in 32 matches last season is nothing to scoff at. Those are Robin van Persie numbers. He’s a true poacher, something the USMNT desperately needs. He has that innate ability to be in the right place at the right time and may warrant a starting spot depending on the competition.
Brek Shea, Midfield
Oh, Brek. Unlike Wondo, I do love Brek – but Brek needs to grow up. He’s as streaky as they come. When he’s on I like his chances against any fullback in the world, but when he’s off he’s a liability. His move to Stoke will be interesting and I’m curious to see how it affects his play for his country, assuming he’s invited to camp. Based on raw ability, athleticism, and upside alone, Brek needs to see time on the pitch for the US.
Danny Williams, Defensive Midfield
In terms of a central midfield partner for Bradley, I tend to lean towards Danny Williams. He and Jermaine Jones are very similar players. I value youth, especially on underdog squads, so I would start Danny over Jermaine – generally speaking. I think Danny brings a tiny bit more in attack than Jermaine, which for a defensive midfielder isn’t all that important. Still, it puts him just in front of Jones in my book.
Jermaine Jones, Defensive Midfield
See Danny Williams, above. Jermaine may be the more consistent performer if you’re into that sort of thing.
Clarence Goodson, Center Back
It’s between Goodson and Bocanegra for the second CB spot. Right now I give the nod to Boca strictly because of his experience and his leadership, but I worry about his legs. I don’t think Boca can hang with the Mexican or Jamaican attacks in particular – I’d lean towards Goodson against the two.
Geoff Cameron, Center Back/Fullback
As good as Geoff Cameron is, there’s a greater benefit to start him on the bench right now. He’s incredibly versatile. He can play anywhere along the back line, as a defensive midfielder, or even as an attacking midfielder in a pinch.
Carlos Bocanegra, Defense
He’s currently the captain, so it would be a big deal to keep him off the pitch. But like I said above, there are teams he’s going to struggle with. He was burned several times in the previous qualification round and I don’t trust him against a speedy attack.
Landon Donovan, Midfield
Donovan needs to get his mind right. There’s not much to say about him that hasn’t already been said. He’s still very important to the USMNT cause, but his heart needs to be in it. If he needs to sit out the Hex to reinvigorate himself for Brazil, I’m on board.
The Goal Chasers:
Josh Gatt, Forward
Gatt’s got some serious Gattitude.. (I’m not proud). He’s hoarding roughly 82% of the team’s speed all to himself; he’s the first Yank since a young Donovan to be a true speed-threat up front. He’s not going to start, nor should he – but if we’re chasing goals in the 75th minute, the 21 year-old should be first off the bench to wreak havoc on a tired defense.
Hercules Gomez, Forward
Jurgen and I don’t see eye to eye on Gomez’s value, though I will admit he grew on me a bit in the previous qualifying round. He and Kyle Beckerman used to share a chapter in my book, but Gomez has shown me his worth and his work ethic could come in handy if we need a late goal. I’ll be livid when Jurgen inevitably starts him over Altidore in Honduras, though.
Sean Johnson, Keeper
It’s time for Tim Howard’s successor to become Tim Howard’s backup. I want him in every US camp and at every US match studying Howard for when it’s his turn in 2022.
Joe Corona, Midfield
Joe’s another guy with the “future of the USMNT” tag. He was a monster in Olympic qualifying, despite failing to qualify. National Team experience will be hard to come by for a while, but he should be a legitimate contributor to our qualifying efforts for Russia 2018.
Juan Agudelo, Forward
Juan’s got all the potential in the world. Experience breeds consistency – two things Agudelo needs before he earns a regular starting nod.
Stu Holden, Midfield
I’ve got a soft spot for Stu – possibly the most unlucky footballer in American history (a great read if you have the time). I’ll argue that Bolton survives the drop in last year’s Premier League relegation battle if Holden is on the pitch. If he can somehow manage to find fitness and form, he can be a real difference maker for this squad. I’m cautiously optimistic for an impact cameo by 2014.
The Morale Booster:
World Cup Qualifying can be a grind. I’m just saying, it might not hurt to have a morale booster around.
My Starting XI:
S. Cherundolo – O. Gonzalez – C. Bocanegra – T. Chandler
G. Zusi M. Bradley
J. Altidore – E. Johnson