Players who need to make an impact for the U.S. on Wednesday (and there are a lot of them)

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If Steve Davis’s rundown of the U.S. Men’s National Team landscape is anything close to correct, most of the seats on this summers’ plane to Brazil have been locked up. You might disagree with a name here or there, but the 19 players he’s tabbed as being locks for World Cup 2014 are strong bets to get the call, with a handful of Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya types already making strong claims to spots 20-23.

With only Wednesday’s game and a short window in May to impress head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the handful of players vying for those last few spots need to seize their opportunities. Eight of those men are in camp ahead of tomorrow’s kickoff against Ukraine:

Defense

John Brooks – Three central defenders are definitely going to Brazil: Matt Besler, Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez. With Geoff Cameron and (potentially) Michael Parkhurst also able to play in the middle, Klinsmann may not need to pick a fourth true central defender. If he does, however, he can afford to give a young guy experience, meaning the door is open for Hertha Berlin’s Brooks to show he can fit in this summer.

Edgar Castillo – With Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley on the plane, there may not be room for another left-sided defender/midfielder. But given the positional flexibility Klinsmann has at forward and central defense, the U.S. can afford to triple-up at one or two positions. Castillo can still make his case that left back should be one of those positions.

(MORE: Losing time at Sunderland, Jozy Altidore needs to impress for U.S.)

Midfield

Alejandro Bedoya – Opinions on Bedoya’s play were highly polarized during the Gold Cup. Some saw him as a revelation. Others wanted to see more. Regardless, Bedoya provides a true winger on a team were few exist. That’s an advantage he can build on with a strong camp.

Sacha Kljestan – Kljestan’s been on the fringe of a regular place since Bob Bradley was the boss, but he’s never given that one, convincing performance that put him over the top. With Mix Diserkud missing this week’s camp, the Anderlecht regular will likely see big minutes against Ukraine.

Brek Shea – In terms of World Cup hopes, Shea’s move to Stoke has been a disastrous. Though his ability to play as a true winger gives him the same advantages afforded Bedoya, he’s fallen behind the Nantes man in the pecking order. If Shea’s going to Brazil, he needs a strong performance on Wednesday, one that will keep him in the conversation come May.

Danny Williams – The former Hoffenheim, current Reading pivot man has the skill to be a valuable backup in Brazil, but like the other players who’ve lost traction over the last two years, he needs to impress from here on out. With Kyle Beckerman already on the plane, there may not be another spot for a deep midfielder who will backup Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.

(MORE: Fear not, U.S. Men’s National Team fans: Ukraine is on the ground in Cyprus)

Forwards

Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd – With Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan capable of augmenting Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, and Eddie Johnson, forward is another position where versatility can make up for more traditional depth. It’s up to Boyd and Agudelo to show the options they provide outweigh the benefits an extra midfielder or defender.

In that sense, Agudelo and Boyd are probably competing for one spot, at most. What each provides, however, is totally different. If Agudelo makes it, it will be as somebody who can score and create goals. If Klinsmann goes with Boyd, goals will be a part of a package that’s also provides size and a solid work ethic – the type of guy you’d put on late to help preserve a one-goal lead.

As a fourth forward, Boyd is a better fit. That doesn’t mean Agudelo can’t beat him out.

Bonus

Geoff Cameron – He’s a lock to go, but he’s far from a lock to start. Fans see him as the top choice at right back, but he’s not there, yet. Cameron, however, can start to seize that spot tomorrow, where he’s likely to start at fullback. A key will be for how he combines down the flank with Klinsmann’s midfielders, helping promote a possession game.

If Cameron starts anywhere else (central defense, midfield), we’ll have another hint at how Klinsmann sees the versatile Potter fitting into his squad. We’ll also have a few more fans wonder what Cameron has to do to win that job.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.