For as many positives as there were after the U.S.’s recent run of qualifiers, there were a couple of negatives: Microscopic points of concern that may prove inconsequential; may be the fist-sized snowballs that start building once cast down the hill. With Jurgen Klinsmann’s side unbeaten in five in World Cup qualifiers, it’s hard to find major areas of concern in his 4-1-1 side. But if we were looking for falling stoacks in the USMNT portfolio, there’d be two experiencing slight downturns:
Jermaine Jones (pictured) – The conventional dialog around Jones has become so distorted, it’s near impossible to discuss the polarizing midfielder in any kind of fair context. This is a man whose been a regular starter for a Champions League caliber side for years, and although he has helped turn a U.S. midfield previously reliant on resiliency and opportunism into one which can regularly dictate a game’s flow, Jones may be the least popular starter among Klinsmann’s regular XI.
There’s a huge disconnect between fan perception and playing reality when it comes to the German-born American, a dissonance that won’t get any better after the past week. Against Panama, a game for which the Schalke man was injured, the U.S. gave their best performance of CONCACAF’s final round – a controlling affair fueled by a midfield tandem of Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron. On Tuesday, the team was as controlling but less convincing. And they only improved once Jones came off.
To many’s disappointment, Jones won’t be anywhere close to losing his starting spot, nor does he deserved to be relieved. Lucky for U.S. soccer fans, Klinsmann has a drastically different view of Jones’s value. But Cameron made up some ground this week, with the former Dynamo man who struggled at center and right back proving a candidate in the middle. For Jones, that’s not a big deal, but if the incumbent midfielder were a stock, he’d be down a couple of points on the news.
Omar Gonzalez (right) – MLS’s best defender said it himself after the Panama game: He’d like to make it through one game without a mistake. That didn’t happen on Tuesday, with a bad early giveaway creating a chance for Honduras. No matter the positives he brings to the field (which, when you see the protection he’s giving Brad Evans, are immense), a defender just can’t make those kind of mistakes – errors likely to prove decisive against better teams.
Though they’re entirely different types of defenders, Gonzalez is becoming the U.S.’s Mats Hummels, He’s undoubtedly the most capable defender in the pool, but he’s also a player whose aberrational mistakes are too prominent a part of his game. Still inexperienced at international level, there’s every reason to hope the Galaxy defender will work this out of his system, but with each game that expires without giving Gonzalez those 90 clean minutes, there’s more reason to think the U.S. will have to live with this type of inconsistency.
Two other U.S. players didn’t see their stocks fall, per se, but their circumstances bear mentioning:
Brad Evans – The start against Germany served as a proof of concept. If the U.S. could survive with Brad Evans at right back against that caliber of attack, surely the Sounders midfielder can handle CONCACAF qualifying. After 270 minutes and one goal allowed in three qualifying wins, it bore out. Evans at full back was good enough.
But with the exception of the support out wide that he provides for Bradley and Jones, there was little about Evans’ game that goes beyond good enough. His game-winning goal against Jamaica bears mentioning, but it was also something that’s not part of the core responsibilities for a right back (nor is it an anticipated bonus). As the likes of Jamaica and Panama sought to exploit the out-of-position player, you couldn’t help but think how much more secure things will be when Steve Cheurndolo or Timmy Chandler returns.
No evaluation of Evans would be fair without mentioning he’s answered the call. Does he consider himself a right back? No. Does he think he’s been without fault? Of course not. But if Jurgen Klinsmann thinks he can play the position, is he supposed to argue?
Evans made great strides toward winning a spot for 2014, so his stock is probably up, in the bigger picture. But for all the good he’s done during three qualifiers at right back, it’s pretty scary to imagine him starting there in Brazil.
Landon Donovan – It’s another unfair conversation, with Donovan having done all the right things to make sure he eventually gets another look with the full national team, yet if the argument for fast tracking his integration was his indispensability, that’s since been dispelled. Klinsmann’s U.S. doesn’t need Landon Donovan.
If Donovan works his way back into the team via the Gold Cup, it will be interesting to see what role he assumes. In the wake of South Africa, there’d been growing concern about Donovan’s form at international level, and with the type of all-around performances we’re seeing for Graham Zusi, the question becomes more difficult to answer: If and when he fully returns, is Landon Donovan still a starter?
Increasingly, that answer is no, and although it’s unfair to look down on Donovan merely because Zusi and the team are improving, the former focal point’s stock undoubtedly drops as the team proves they can win without him.