As the USMNT moves on from its (cough) uninspiring 0-0 draw with Canada on Tuesday night, all eyes will now be focused on next Wednesday’s hexagonal clash with Honduras.
Here are three big questions facing Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT as the game approaches.
Question No. 1: Who starts at outside back if both Steve Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson stay injured?
Fabian Johnson missed Hoffenheim’s game last weekend with what has been reported as a knee bruise and a strained ligament.
Steve Cherundolo also missed his Bundesliga match last weekend for Hannover with a knee injury.
If both Johnson and Cherundolo – the U.S.’ obvious first-choice outside backs – are unavailable, how will the U.S. organize its back line?
Timmy Chandler, the part-time U.S. international who has in the past avoided international games that would have left him cap-tied, reportedly will accept a call-up for Honduras.
Although Chandler is right-footed, he has experience on both sides of defense and was used by former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley on the left on a number of occasions.
The other obvious choice is Michael Parkhurst, who also has experience on both sides of the back line and was recently used on the left side for the U.S. against Guatemala in October.
However, since moving to Augsburg, Parkhurst has not played competitively. In fact, his last competitive match was December 9. That’s 53 days without a competitive match—not exactly what you want to see headed into an away World Cup qualifier in the one of the most hostile environments in the Western Hemisphere.
Past Chandler and Parkhurst, things get pretty dicey.
Edgar Castillo is an option and has been playing regularly for Club Tijuana in the Liga MX. Michael Orozco Fiscal is another option, but not exactly an exciting one. Finally, Jurgen Klinsmann could call in someone unexpected like Jonathan Spector or Eric Lichaj.
Another option Klinsmann may explore is playing Geoff Cameron as an outside back. Cameron has played all but one of his games for Stoke City out wide and has played well. While it seems like the U.S. needs Cameron in the middle, Klinsmann could opt to go with a Carlos Bocanegra/Omar Gonzalez combination at center-back and push Cameron wide.
This is, of course, assuming Klinsmann doesn’t do the opposite and put out a Cameron/Gonzalez center-back pairing while pushing Bocanegra wide. Bocanegra proved in the Antigua and Barbuda game back in October that his best days as an outside back are well behind him.
Question No. 2: Who starts at forward along Clint Dempsey?
This is the type of question that should stir some solid debate among USMNT fans.
On the one hand, there is Herculez Gomez, the ever-dependable, hard-working striker from Santos Laguna. Gomez is getting regular time with Santos and chipping in the odd goal, as usual. With Gomez, what you see is what you get.
On the other hand is the riskier choice, Jozy Altidore. Altidore has been on absolute fire over the past few weeks in the Eredivisie scoring seven goals in AZ Alkmaar’s last five matches. On Tuesday, Jozy scored again against FC Den Bosch despite facing racist chants from the FC Den Bosch fans.
After the game, Jozy showed his increasing maturity saying that the fan behavior was “disappointing” and that he would “pray for them”.
The downside of playing Altidore, of course, is that he could put in another so-so performance. Jozy has become known for these type of lackluster performances with the U.S. all too often over the past year.
Question No. 3: Which January camp members make the roster for Honduras?
Considering the performance put on by the U.S. “B” team on Tuesday night, the first reaction of many USMNT fans might be “none of them.”
However, Jurgen Klinsmann has said that between six to nine players from the January camp will make the trip to Honduras.
So, who will those players be?
Assuming Klinsmann calls up the usual suspects from abroad—Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Parkhurst, Timmy Chandler, Edgar Castillo, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, Maurice Edu, Danny Williams, Joe Corona, Herculez Gomez, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd—there are five spots left (give or take). Of course, Klinsmann could leave Edu, Williams, Corona or Boyd off as well. He could also give a call-up to Jose Torres.
With only two center-backs in that group, Omar Gonzalez is a virtual lock. For the other center-back slot, Klinsmann could bring in Matt Besler, or make the call-up that would have many U.S. fans let out a collective sigh and give Oguchi Onyewu one last look.
For depth at outside-back, Klinsmann’s choices are fairly limited. Neither Justin Morrow nor Tony Beltran, Klinsmann’s choices for the Canada friendly were particularly impressive. And, one of Major League Soccer’s best outside backs, Sean Franklin, was left off the January roster completely. Brad Evans, who was not impressive as a center midfielder in the first half against Canada, did play okay as a right-back in the second half. Or, Klinsmann could decide Parkhurst, Chandler and Castillo are enough and just get on the plane without a fourth outside back.
The obvious choices in the midfield are Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi, both of whom played well for the U.S. in October. Despite less than impressive performances against Canada, Klinsmann is likely to opt for cohesion and familiarity against Honduras.
If Maurice Edu, who recently moved to Turkey in search of more playing time, is not called up, USMNT fans will have to endure yet another call-up for the dreaded (no pun intended) Kyle Beckerman.
Benny Feilhaber may have done enough in the Canada game to earn his way in, but he’d probably be the last of the January camp midfielders to make the roster.
Mix Diskerud did not even make the game-day roster for Canada and Josh Gatt tweetedtoday that he’s back in Norway. With the USMNT assembling in just a few days, it’s doubtful Gatt would have gone back had Klinsmann told Gatt he would be part of the Honduras squad.
The forward pool also presents an interesting choice. Juan Agudelo was one of the most impressive (yes, a relative term considering the team’s overall performance) performers from Tuesday’s match. With Dempsey, Gomez and Altidore basically automatic choices, the fourth forward spot is up for grabs.
Terrence Boyd has not played a competitive match since December 15 and considering the importance of this game against Honduras, it is doubtful Klinsmann will call him up.