The 2014 FIFA World Cup is one year away, and the first teams are beginning to secure qualification.
The United States are sitting in a good position at the moment, and are looking like they will qualify out of the CONCACAF region.
Assuming they are able to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil next summer, what would be the best starting eleven that coach Jürgen Klinsmann could put on the field?
Assuming as well that everyone is healthy and in good form, here is my best starting eleven for the Americans.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
The competition between the sticks for the US is the best they have. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are both very capable of defending the goal. While Guzan has been in excellent form as of late, and absolutely deserves a starting spot, I’m going with the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy.
Howard has done nothing to lose his starting position so until that happens, Howard is the man in goal.
Right-back: Timmy Chandler | Centre-back: Omar Gonzalez | Centre-back: Matt Besler | Left-back: Fabian Johnson
The back-line is the area where I have given the biggest changes. Gone are the days of Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundelo, and DaMarcus Beasley patrolling the defence for the US.
Gonzalez and Besler did a fantastic job against Mexico at the Estádio Azteca earlier in qualification, and up to this point have been the best pairing in central defence as far as I’ve seen. I think their partnership should be given the opportunity to flourish. Both are talented defenders and can match up physically with top forwards.
At right and left back I have Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson, respectively. Both are young, quick and can help in attack as well.
While Steve Cherundelo may have a slight advantage defending compared to Chandler, Timmy more than makes up for it with his athletic ability. The same goes for Johnson on the left. Fabian Johnson has recently been deployed as a left-winger in attack, but has been unimpressive and I feel he is best as a defender.
As with the centre-back pairing, these two fullbacks will continue to grow and develop.
One knock against this bac-kline is their lack of experience. The more matches they get, and the more matches they get as a unit, the better they will be in Brazil.
Right-wing: Landon Donovan | Centre-midfielder: Michael Bradley | Centre-midfielder: Jermaine Jones | Left-wing: Brek Shea
Michael Bradley is the rock of the US national team, and someday will be captain of the squad. Jones gets the other centre-midfield position because of his edge and leadership he brings. His experience in Europe no doubt helps, and he is almost always one of the better performers on the pitch each match.
Even though Landon Donovan is not currently one of Jürgen Klinsmann’s first choices, I believe he will earn his spot back and continue to lead the squad.
His performance is vital to the US and he has the ability to orchestrate the attack. The team has performed adequately without him and his return will be an added boost.
Brek Shea is the wildcard. When he’s on, his size and speed are difficult to deal with and can create a lot of opportunities down the left side. I strongly considered putting Eddie Johnson or Hércules Gómez at left-mid because of Shea’s inconsistency, but I feel that with another year under his belt in the English Premier League with Stoke City, Shea will be the best choice on the left.
Centre-forward: Clint Dempsey | Striker: Jozy Altidore
Inserting Dempsey into the starting line-up is probably the easiest decision Klinsmann will have to make. The man produces qualify performances match after match. Dempsey is at his best in the centre, where he can roam about and make plays and get into good positions to score goals.
Jozy Altidore has cemented himself as the first choice Striker after his last few performances against Germany in a friendly, and against Jamaica in qualifying. The goals are now coming, and he also possesses great strength and has ideal size. After his last season at AZ Alkmaar, he is currently oozing confidence, and hopefully that confidence and form will continue on to next season and next summer.
The key to the United States performing well and advancing past the group stages at next summer’s World Cup will be Klinsmann finding the right group of players to have on the pitch. If all are healthy and playing well, I definitely think this is his best choice for starting eleven by the time the 2014 World Cup comes around.
The odd men out in this starting eleven are Graham Zusi and Brad Evans. Zusi has been one of the most consistent performers throughout qualifying and absolutely deserves a starting spot. Who do you take out though?
One option could be to take out Shea, move Donovan to the left, and insert Zusi on the right. Evans has been somewhat of a revelation as of late.
Searching for a serviceable right back throughout qualifying, Klinsmann inserted Brad Evans, who is traditionally a centre midfielder. Evans has performed wonderfully and even scored the winner against Jamaica in extra time.
Again, the key to success will be the right mix of players on the field in the right moments. As always, comments are appreciated.
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