U.S. World Cup 2014 roster outlook: FORWARDS

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We’ve already walked you through the back and the middle, giving you our read on how the U.S. Men’s National Team depth chart sits ahead of next month’s pre-World Cup camp in Palto Alto, Calif. Now comes arguably the most contentious part of the team, even if debate doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of clarity.

Three players are locks. Two others can solidify their places in the squad next month, while a second, younger pair look like long shots make the 23-man team. They’re just hoping to get called out to California, a trip that would give them a chance to make their final, desperate case to Jurgen Klinsmann.

Here’s how we see the U.S.’s potential World Cup 2014 forwards:

FORWARDS

We talked about this with regard to the team’s fullbacks, but it bares mentioning here, too: The only evaluation that really matters is Jurgen Klinsmann’s. You may not like a player, I may not like a player, but this is an exercise in reading tea leaves, not a thought experiment on how we’d construct a squad. We’re trying to determine who’s most likely to make the final team.

With that in mind, Jozy Altidore’s a lock. Just two months ago, Klinsmann noted the Sunderland striker was part of the core he’s built the team around. While he can’t be thrilled with Altidore’s lack of playing time, he’s probably come to grips with what he’s been handed. In lieu of other obvious options, Altidore is the team’s number nine.

For some, Aron Jóhannsson is that obvious option, though there’s no evidence to suggest the young AZ striker has claimed that spot. Given how Altidore performed in the Eredivisie, we need to be guarded about what Jóhansson’s production says about his ability beyond Dutch borders. Regardless, Jóhannsson has  a place in this squad.

Add in the team’s captain, Clint Dempsey, and that leaves one or two spots in doubt. The exact number depends on what Klinsmann wants to do in midfield, but was we discussed while working our way forward, the U.S.’s positional versatility allows Klinsmann to take five forwards. Particularly if Eddie Johnson is seem as more valuable in wide midfield than at forward, it becomes a easier to justify taking Chris Wondolowski.

As for Johnson, given how he’s been used by Klinsmann, he has always projected as more of a late game or injury alternative. Yet whereas just under a year ago Johnson was being brought into the Gold Cup to move Wondolowski to the bench, now he can’t claim a starting spot for an Altidore-less friendly against Mexico. Something’s changed.

If it’s Wondolowski impressing the staff (which is the story we’ve been told), it’s more likely the San Jose captain will take a spot from a midfielder. If, however, Wondolowski’s emergence also causes Klinsmann to start scrutinizing Johnson’s slow start with D.C. United, an eighth midfielder could make his way to Brazil.

  • Going to Brazil: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Jóhannsson
  • On the bubble (one-to-two spots open): Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski

MORE: Goalkeepers and defenders | Midfielders | Forwards

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.

AFC and Oceania wrap: Iran, New Zealand take next steps

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With CONMEBOL and CONCACAF serving as the main course later Tuesday, the morning and afternoon saw big World Cup qualifiers on the other side of the world.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Asian qualifying

Iran is on the verge of qualification for Russia 2018 after Persepolis star Mehdi Taremi bagged his ninth international goal in a 1-0 home win over China.

Iran leads Group A by four points, but second-place South Korea and third-place Uzbekistan kept pace with 1-0 home wins of their own. Hong Jeong-ho scored in South Korea’s win over Syria, while Odil Ahmendov’s 65th minute free kick was enough to push Uzbekistan past Qatar.

The goalkeeping was… less than ideal.

Over in Group B, shutouts were the name of the game for high-powered hosts as well.

Japan stayed atop the group with a 4-0 win over Thailand, as a trio of players with Premier League experience — Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki — joined Gent’s Yuya Kubo on the scoreboard.

Saudi Arabia is level with Japan on points thanks to Yahya Al-Shehri’s post-halftime goal in a 1-0 win over Iraq, while Australia saw off United Arab Emirates thanks to goals from Burton Albion’s Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt’s Mathew Leckie.

That leaves Australia three points behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in the race for two of three automatic spots. The Socceroos hosts the Green Falcons in June before an August trip to Saitama in a pair of matches which will decide who goes directly to Russia and who has to win a pair of playoffs: One against the Group A’s third-place team and another against CONCACAF’s fourth place side.

Oceania qualifying

New Zealand took the next step in collecting Oceania’s berth in the intercontinental playoff with a 2-0 win over Fiji in Wellington. PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas bagged a brace for the All Whites.

New Zealand will next face either Tahiti, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea over two legs in late August and early September for the right to battle the fifth place CONMEBOL team for a World Cup berth. That could be Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, or even Colombia.

Tahiti hosts Papua New Guinea at 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday, and will be the odds-on favorite to face New Zealand with a win.

After further tests, Lletget to miss 4-6 months

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So much for initial reports.

Less than 24 hours after the LA Galaxy announced that Sebastian Lletget had come through his injury on USMNT duty with no structural damage, a specialist found something worse.

Lletget has a Lisfranc injury and requires surgery, meaning the Galaxy and the U.S. will be without the midfielder for four to six months.

[ MORE: Spurs eager for U.S. return ]

Lletget, 24, spent a half-decade with West Ham but couldn’t break into the squad before returning to the U.S. last summer. He became a mainstay for the Galaxy, earning a call-up to the national team.

He scored his first USMNT goal on Friday to open the World Cup qualifier against Honduras, but was injured after a hard sliding tackle from Ever Alvarado.

Galaxy has depth beyond Lletget and Jermaine Jones, with Rafael Garcia, Joao Pedro, and Baggio Husidic able to fill a similar role, but this one stings for the Galaxy. Get well, Sebastian.

Scouting report: Everton target Orlando’s Cyle Larin

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Reports have been suggesting the Orlando City’s star striker Cyle Larin is attracting some serious interest from Premier League side Everton.

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Larin, 21, has started the MLS season off in red-hot form and the report suggests the Toffees have bid $4 million for his talents. They’ll likely have to up that offer for the Canadian national team star.

What is Larin all about?

With Romelu Lukaku seeming to be heading towards the exit door this summer as his contract saga rumbles on, it’s not outlandish to state that Larin has a very similar style to the prolific Belgian international. Of course, he has yet to test himself in the PL and Lukaku’s boots would be a big pair to fill if Larin did arrive at Goodison Park as some kind of replacement in the coming months, yet when you watch Larin play there are so many similarities between the pair.

Ronald Koeman is always eager to give youth a chance and with Tom Davies, Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all getting regular minutes this season, so Larin would get chances to impress if he ended up on Merseyside.

Here are some key stats Toffees fans will want to know too:

  • 17 – Number of goals Larin scored in his debut MLS season, the most-ever by a Rookie
  • Larin has scored all three of Orlando’s goals so far in the 2017 MLS season
  • He has scored 39 goals in 68 appearances for Orlando since arriving in 2015
  • For Canada, he has five goals in 19 appearances after making his debut as a teenager
  • Larin became the first-ever Canadian to be selected as the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft when he joined Orlando in 2015

Click play on the video above to see Larin’s best moments so far in MLS, as he continues his impressive development.