The only games that separate the US from their World Cup opener with Ghana in Brazil are three international friendlies.
Jurgen Klinsmann will bring 30 players into camp before the game against Azerbaijan, and there are many questions as to who will fill these spots. So, here’s my attempt at trying to predict the 30, knowing everything we know after the Ukraine and Mexico friendlies.
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
Thankfully, this is one position for the US that is already safe and secure. Barring injury, these will be the three goalkeepers heading to Brazil.
Defenders: Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco, Michael Parkhurst, Brad Evans.
For the sake of clarity, I regard both Beasley and Johnson as defenders first so that’s why they are listed here. One of those two will likely start at left back, and Geoff Cameron should start on the other side. Despite Cameron’s ability to play almost anywhere, he is the best right back in the pool, and therefore should be the one starting there.
Parkhurst is the best pure defender in the pool, and should be able to deputize anywhere needed along the back 4, in place of Cameron. For the fourth centerback, Orozco is better than both Onyewu and Brooks, at this stage of the game, and his play for the national team has always been consistent enough to earn at least a trip to the May camp. I’ve never been a believer in the Brad Evans experiment, but he should at least get to camp barring further injury.
In terms of snubs, both Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj haven’t done enough on the national team stage to warrant inclusion, and DeAndre Yedlin is better served for the future as opposed to now.
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Landon Donovan, Brad Davis, Brek Shea, Julian Green, José Torres, Danny Williams.
Making up the numbers here was difficult, but this is the best approximation that I could make. The interesting players in here are Davis and Shea, but I highly doubt any of them make the 23. Even though José Torres hasn’t been called for national duty since September 2013, his play for Tigres, should it continue, might well get him a call into the May camp.
Danny Williams has an outside chance of making the team as well, but the numbers in central midfield are stacked against him. Kyle Beckerman’s recent form makes him one of the few stone cold locks in midfield, along with Bradley and Jones.
Zusi, Mix, Bedoya, and Donovan are all likely to make the team, but their places aren’t 100% assured yet.
In terms of snubs, Sasha Klejstan will have gripes about not being included in the team, as will Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannson, Chris Wondolowski, Terrence Boyd, Eddie Johnson.
Although Jozy’s had an awful year at Sunderland, he will be starting at the World Cup, no matter what happens. Clint Dempsey is playing more as forward lately than advanced midfield, so that’s why he’s listed under this category. Chris Wondolowski has probably gained the most in his recent call-ups to the national team, and may be ahead of the likes of Terrence Boyd in the discussion to make the 23-man-squad.
Out of the named forwards I personally believe Boyd is the best approximation of Jozy Altidore, but his recent lack of playing time has hurt his chances. Lastly, Eddie Johnson, in spite of his reputation and form should make the cut for friendly games, mainly because of his ability to score big goals.
Now that my list of 30 for the USMNT friendlies is settled, here is my best guess at the 23 heading to Brazil.
Goalkeepers: Howard, Guzan, Rimando.
Defenders: Cameron, Gonzalez, Besler, Goodson, Beasley, Parkhurst, Johnson.
Midfielders: Bradley, Jones, Beckerman, Donovan, Zusi, Bedoya, Diskerud, Green.
Forwards: Altidore, Johannson, Dempsey, Wondolowski, Boyd.