(KMOV) -- Embarking on one of their most important stretches in recent memory, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team takes the field this week for the first time after their two-game run of “improbable” results back in March.
In a summer full of international soccer around the globe, there might not be a team that needs a positive outcome more than the United States, as they battle against world football powers in friendlies, look for supremacy in North America (Gold Cup) and vie for a spot among the world’s best next summer at the World Cup in Brazil.
The year couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the national team. After a lifeless scoreless draw in January against their subpar neighbors to the north, Canada, the U.S. fell 2-1 in Honduras to open up their World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) Final Round campaign. It was too early to tell at that point, but it seemed like a seventh straight World Cup bid was starting to look questionable.
Two qualifying games and three months later, that bid is still up in the air. Since then, luck, more than talent has been on the side of the U.S. First they took on and beat Costa Rica in a snowstorm in Denver. Los Ticos were the better team, but the referees refused to halt play even though no one could see the lines, and the Costa Ricans protested the game too late. Then, the U.S. went south to Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, where every American team fears to tread. With a makeshift lineup, the U.S. was heavily outplayed and outshot, but played just enough defense to come up with the draw.
All of a sudden, the U.S., which has played subpar soccer, is in second place tied with Costa Rica and Honduras with seven games left. Still, the battle is far from over, especially in a deep and parity-stricken group. Three qualifiers come in June…June 7 at Jamaica, June 11 vs. Panama and June 18 again vs. Honduras. It’s obviously a ‘make it, or break it’ month for the U.S., who cannot continue to depend on luck to get good results.
Just last week, Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced his squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifying matches. Since Klinsmann took charge back in the summer of 2011 replacing Bob Bradley, there has been a revolving door national team, as the former German striker looks for the right formula. He has taken centerpieces from past years in former captain Carlos Bocanegra and left them off the roster again and again, and has added experienced, but forgotten players like DaMarcus Beasley. While half-retired Landon Donovan and oft injured Steve Cherundolo are still missing, this squad seems to be the one that will most likely resemble the one at Brazil next summer if the Americans qualify.
It is going to be interesting to see how Klinsmann uses his players. His hardest decision might be at the most important position, goalkeeper. Tim Howard has been a force in the back for the Americans for years now, but his injury in February opened the door for Brad Guzan—in March it was who Guzan filled in brilliantly for Howard, pitching two shutouts with an inept team in front of him in those qualifiers. In great form coming off another magnificent club season in England, Guzan has given Klinsmann much to think about.
The normal stalwarts for Klinsmann are all returning to the squad, so expect Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to hold the center of the midfield down for the Americans. Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez seem to be the logical choices to play out wide, while Jozy Altidore will figure to be the lone striker again. Altidore had a record-setting season for his Dutch club in 2012-2013, but he has yet to find his form for the national team. Klinsmann has not used Eddie Johnson and Altidore together, but don’t be surprised to see a two-striker combination at some point if Altidore can’t get the support he needs at the top.
The busy summer will continue for the United States as they vie for the Gold Cup in July. Paired in a group with Belize, Cuba and Costa Rica, the U.S. will play host throughout July. While to many the Gold Cup isn’t as significant as the World Cup, on the North American football stage it is comparable to what the European Championships are to Europe. Take into account that the Americans were plowed over by Mexico in the final of the 2011 Gold Cup 4-2, and it makes it that much more important for the United States to regain their stronghold on North American soccer.
With a full slate of games throughout the summer, the time is now for Jurgen Klinsmann and his players to show what was expected when the German was brought in. Good results for the United States this summer become critical for the vitality of U.S. Soccer.
Here is the full roster for the World Cup Qualifying games to be played June 7, 11 and 18:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tally Hall, Bill Hamid, Tim Howard, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Edgar Castillo, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Fabian Johnson, Michael Parkhurst
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Maurice Edu, Stuart Holden, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Danny Williams, Graham Zusi
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd, Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson