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:
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