Stock rising: the United States men whose standing improved during two World Cup qualifiers

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Eddie Johnson:

Two weeks ago, in most minds, he was just a curiosity at national team level, someone that manager Jurgen Klinsmann should maybe think about. Now? If Klinsmann chose 23 to get on the plane bound for Brazil, the Seattle Sounders’ striker and his big “ups” would definitely have a seat. Two goals against Antigua and Barbuda were massive in getting the United States into next year’s final round.

Johnson also showed he can be serviceable in a wide role. Not great, perhaps, but adequate. That knowledge gives Klinsmann just little more tactical versatility, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Michael Bradley:

How much better did the U.S. midfield look with the unquestioned general returning to the center of the park? It was measurable, with Bradley consistently available, almost always making the right choices, always adding composure and wits to the linking effort.

Outside of Johnson, Bradley was the one man who rose above the conditions to have a big match in Antigua. Tactically, he never missed a beat Tuesday while playing in a more advanced role before the break, then sliding back one level to work alongside Danny Williams after intermission.

Meanwhile, the buzz keeps growing that as Carlos Bocanegra moves on in age, Bradley will assume the captain’s armband – so long as he can tame those occasional outbursts, like the one Friday. His anger was justified, but he simply has to keep his cool there.

Clint Dempsey:

Like Bradley, we knew he was eminently valuable, and yet he found a way to earn even more esteem. After a quiet and wandering Friday, the Texan reached in to find a big match on Tuesday, providing two goals and an assist in the money match, the win over Guatemala. In the end, Dempsey scored in four of the six semifinal round qualifiers; File that under “flat out getting it done.”

Graham Zusi:

Watching him chase on defense, move wisely off the ball and busily work the passing angles, it’s hard to imagine that Sporting Kansas City’s technically gifted attacker has just six international appearances. He has quickly established himself as go-to for Klinsmann, and a versatile one at that. While Zusi is likely to lose his place in the lineup when Landon Donovan returns, it’s fair to ask if he already has lapped Brek Shea in the pecking order of wide attackers.

(MORE: Stock holding steady)

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