Tuesday, May 22, 2012

USMNT Gearing Up For World Cup Qualifying

The USMNT is currently training for a grueling stretch of five matches in two and a half weeks that includes three friendlies and the first two matches of semifinal round qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. For the first time in Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as head coach of the squad, the roster is filled with most of the top American players. Below I look at the five upcoming matches, as well as my preferred starting lineup with this group.

Upcoming Schedule:
May 26 vs Scotland in Jacksonville, FL (8 p.m. eastern, NBC Sports Network, Galavision)
The first test for the Stars & Stripes is the 48th ranked squad in the world. Scotland has not qualified for the World Cup since 1998, but it boasts many players on the roster of top-flight teams and has a strong midfield, including captain Darren Fletcher (Manchester United) and Charlie Adam (Liverpool).

May 26 vs Brazil in Landover, MD (8 p.m. eastern, ESPN2, ESPN3, TeleFutura)
The biggest test for the Americans is likely to come from Brazil, which is ranked sixth in the world. Brazil has already qualified for the World Cup in 2014 as host and is the most successful team in the history of the World Cup with five trophies. Brazil is bringing a very talented squad to play in this match, so it should be a good barometer of where the U.S. is - and needs to be - in order to contend in 2014.

June 3 vs Canada in Toronto (7 p.m. eastern, NBC Sports Network, Univision Deportes)
The final tune-up before World Cup qualifying will be played against our friends from the north, currently ranked 74th in the world. Canada seems to be improving as a soccer nation, as evidenced by their win over the U.S. in Olympic qualifying, but this will be a big test for them on the senior national team level. The mapleleafs will be led by forward Dwayne De Rosario, a talented but enigmatic forward currently playing for D.C. United in MLS. De Rosario is tied atop the all-time scoring list in Canadian soccer history with 19 international goals.

June 8 vs Antigua & Barbuda in Tampa, FL (7 p.m. eastern, ESPN, ESPN3, Galavision)
The semifinal round of World Cup qualifying begins at home for the U.S. against Antigua & Barbuda, ranked 84th in the world. A&B has never qualified for the World Cup and does not have anyone on their roster playing in a top-flight league, so the U.S. will look to build confidence and start the round off strong here.

June 12 vs Guatemala in Guatemala City (10 p.m. eastern, pay-per-view)
The 89th ranked team in the world does not pose much of a challenge on paper, but it is always difficult to win a World Cup qualifier on the road. Guatemala has never qualified for the World Cup, but they have advanced to the final round of qualification four times. The most well known player for Guatemala is its captain and all-time leading scorer Carlos Ruiz, who was a successful forward in the MLS for years.

Below is the full U.S. roster called up for these matches as of today, with club teams in parentheses. Though I think many on this roster should be given significant playing time during this stretch of matches, I have bolded the 11 players I think Klinsmann should put in the starting line-up for the first WCQ match on June 8:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (7): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

The way this line-up would shake out is basically as a 4-3-3 with Donovan and Dempsey as playmakers in front of the midfield, and Altidore sometimes alone up front as a holding forward to allow those two some room to make something happen.

GK: Howard
LB: Bocanegra
CB: Onyewu, Goodson
RB: Cherundolo
MF: Bradley, Jones, Edu
F: Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan

What are your thoughts about these upcoming matches? Who would you like to see get a shot in the starting XI?

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