World Cup 2014: Part 2: USMNT Roster Breakdown + US-Azerbaijan Preview

Greetings, readers. Here I am, in my new location. Because I am not good friends with Warren Buffet, keeping up the self-hosting thing wasn’t much of an option. This is part 2 of my World Cup reports. Part 1 is also on here, but I couldn’t separate the time by that much. Sorry.

This will be two parts: first my roster analysis and then me trying to fill something worthy of a section on Azerbaijan, and why the heck the US is playing them. I’ll talk about the Donovan Double (getting left off the US team AND breaking the all-time MLS goal-scoring record) later. Too much to cover with too little time.

Roster Analysis

First of all, I want to tell you that Jürgen Klinsmann, the USMNT head coach, is a mad scientist. Second of all, I want to tell you that he’s mad. In both ways. He’s mad at Landon Donovan for existing, mad at Michael Parkhurst for not being German, and mad at the cruel world for sending Jozy Altidore to Sunderland. He’s also mad in that I would not be surprised if he comes out of retirement and starts himself as an inverted left-winger/ninja, all the time saying “take that, Cristiano!” while throwing stuff at people.

I’ve determined that of the 20 non-goalkeepers (FIFA rules mandate that you must have 3 goalkeepers in the 23-man roster) each of them have a main position on this team, and there are two players for each position. Sure, there’s rotation and players who can play at different positions, but it’s basically like this (age=age at start of World Cup, caps=US national team appearances):

–Strikers

Jozy Altidore
Club: Sunderland, Age: 24, Caps: 67, Goals: 21

He’s been in poor form, but he’s been at Sunderland. It was a hard situation for several reasons: hardest league in the world, relatively bad team, new club, harder league than before, et cetera.

He’s a hold-up play guy. He’s the only guy on the US team that can do “hold-up play” (Terrence Boyd was cut). Pass it to his feet, and he’ll lay it off to Dempsey or Jóhannsson or someone like that with his back to goal.

Chris Wondolowski
Club: San Jose Earthquakes, Age: 31, Caps: 19, Goals: 9

Wondo is a living club legend with the San Jose Earthquakes, and he’s been arguably the best goalscorer in MLS for the last four and a half years. Since his first national team goal last June, he’s led the team in scoring. He has a great story: from division two in college to reserve league in MLS to MVP to the World Cup. Make a documentary just so that I can see “Wondo” on my TV guide.

He’s a poacher. He can do other stuff, but mainly he just stands around and scores goals. He’s often criminally under-appreciated, but scoring goals is important last I checked and he’s really, really good at it.

–Second-Strikers

Clint Dempsey
Club: Seattle Sounders, Age: 31, Caps: 103, Goals: 36

The Sounders designated player (DP) was uneventful in his first half-season with Seattle, but this year he’s been elite, arguably the league MVP considering his somewhat limited minutes.

He can play as a winger or striker, but for most of the last round of North American (CONCACAF) World Cup Qualifying (aka the Hex) Clint Dempsey played as a second-striker/attacking midfielder behind Altidore, in my opinion his most effective position. This is almost surely where the US captain will start in Brazil.

Aron Jóhannsson
Club: AZ Alkmaar, Age: 23, Caps: 7, Goals: 1

The Alabama-born Jóhannsson grew up in Iceland, and now plays in the Netherlands. He chose to play for the US last year. Oh, and he looks like Kevin Bacon.

He plays as a striker in the Dutch league (the Eredivisie) but that’s mainly because they don’t really play defense there. He’s not as good at hold-up play as Altidore, so he can’t play as the lone striker. Any minutes he get will most likely be behind or in partnership with Altidore, and because that’s Dempsey’s role, he will most likely start on the bench. I think he’ll be the super-sub; the guy to call on when the team needs a goal with about 30 minutes left.

–Left Midfielders

Brad Davis
Club: Houston Dynamo, Age: 32, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

The Dynamo captain, MLS-veteran Davis has a similar story to his former teammate Wondolowski, in that he’s entering his first World Cup.

He’s left-footed, and I think that that got him the spot. Many people are saying that he took Landon Donovan’s spot, but I think that he didn’t. Klinsmann wanted a left-footer to play at left-midfield, so there was no way he was going to call up both Donovan and Green for the left-midfield spots, as they are both right-footed. Davis was competing with Brek Shea and Jose Torres, neither of whom made the 23-man roster. Davis is a set piece specialist, although many agree, including myself, that he isn’t good enough for the World Cup. I will gladly eat crow on this.

Julian Green
Club: Bayern Munich, Age: 19, Caps: 1, Goals: 0

Green hasn’t played a single game with Bayern Munich’s first team, outside of a small 5-minute cameo at the end of a meaningless Champions League game. His only play for the US was about 30 minutes in the friendly against Mexico. From what I judged, he did okay for an 18-year-old (his birthday is within a couple weeks) but he isn’t nearly ready for the World Cup.

Some people say that young Green, born in Tampa but raised in Germany, who plays in the 4th division of German soccer (which is, like, really bad), was bribed a World Cup spot, but I have my doubts. If he was, even if it was necessary to get him to play for the US (he was eligible for Germany before he filed his one-time switch), it’s scandalous. I think that Klinsmann just wanted to bring this kid to the World Cup, even if it’s at the expense of Landon Donovan, who as I said I’ll talk a lot about later.

Green has a good chance to become a star. But if he doesn’t, I’m declaring war on Germany.

–Right Midfielders

Graham Zusi
Club: Sporting Kansas City, Age: 27, Caps: 20, Goals: 3

Zusi scored the goal that ended up eliminating Panama from the World Cup, and allowed Mexico to qualify. See, Mexico, the US’s arch-Rivals, couldn’t qualify on their own. They needed an American to help them. De nada, Mexico.

When Zusi was first drafted to Kansas City, he moved into the home of Matt Besler’s family. Both are now going to a World Cup. This team has to lead the tournament in feel-good stories, right?
Zusi can play anywhere in the attacking midfield, but he does best for the US at right-midfield.

Alejandro Bedoya
Club: FC Nantes, Age: 27, Caps: 26, Goals: 1

Alejandro Bedoya, of Colombian descent, born in New Jersey, grew up in Miami. He previously played in Sweden, before making a move last summer to France’s Ligue 1.

Both he and Zusi are tremendously talented soccer players. I think Bedoya might actually be a better player, talent-wise. Bedoya normally plays right-midfield for the US, but he’s played all over the place at Nantes (left, right, center, underground) and I’d like to see him start at left-midfield. HEAR ME KLINSMANN!?!?!?

–Central Midfielders

Michael Bradley
Club: Toronto FC, Age: 26, Caps: 83, Goals: 12

The son of former USMNT coach Bob Bradley used to play at Roma before making the move to Toronto before this season, and now he’s prepared to enter his second World Cup, this time as one of the teams’ biggest stars.

Michael Bradley can do anything. He can play as a true defensive midfielder (he often needs to when paired with Jermaine Jones), as a box-to-box midfielder (his best position, in my opinion), as an attacking midfielder (he played at the tip of the diamond vs. Mexico–one goal, one assist), or as a Frank Lampard/Carli Loyd/Adam Moffat type third-run goalscorer (he bagged 15 one year in the Netherlands).

Michael Bradley is the best non-goalkeeper on the team.

Mix Diskerud
Club: Rosenborg, Age: 23, Caps: 17, Goals: 2

As he says, he’s half Norwegian, half American: a Mix! He chose to play for the US, and doesn’t regret the decision. He still plays in Norway, for one of their biggest clubs.

He’s a young talent who will be better with more experience, but he can still be effective right now. He can come off the bench, and play an attacking midfield role to try and use his creativity to break down the opponent. Benny Feilhaber had a similar role in 2010.

–Defensive Midfielders

Jermaine Jones
Club: Besiktas, Age: 32, Caps: 39, Goals: 2

The German-born Jones is on loan from Schalke to the Turkish club Besiktas. He’s a Klinsmann favorite, but he was recruited by Bob Bradley, unlike the other German-Americans who are Klinsmann recruits.

He’s a hard-tackling defensive midfielder. I think he’s a better individual player than Beckerman, but he goes forward too much, meaning that Michael Bradley needs to stay back. When Michael Bradley can’t go forward, bad things happen. Considering that Klinsmann probably won’t not start Jones, hopefully he can rein him in so that he plays a true #6 role.

Kyle Beckerman
Club: Real Salt Lake, Age: 32, Caps: 35, Goals: 1

The dreadlocked MLS veteran is making his first World Cup. Klinsmann kept playing him despite poor play early on, and it’s worked out; he was a key member of the Gold Cup winning team. And now he’s achieving his childhood dream when he thought he was never going to do so.

He’s a solid defensive midfielder. He’s a shield in front of the back four. He’s not nearly as athletic as Jones, but he’s a brilliant player; he doesn’t do the crazy amazing emergency defending stuff because he doesn’t need to; he’s already in the right place. He’s also a brilliant passer. And while some people (read: everyone including me) have some doubts that he will translate his MLS play to the World Cup, I think that the fact that he doesn’t bomb forward is good, as it gives Michael Bradley the freedom to do whatever he wants to, and have the team run through him.

Michael Bradley is better than everyone on this team sans Howard and probably Guzan, so I think that’s a good idea.

–Left Full-Backs

Fabian Johnson
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach, Age: 26, Caps: 19, Goals: 0

The German-American Johnson is a really good player. He just recently moves from Hoffenheim to ‘Gladbach.

He provides brilliant service with both feet, and is good defensively. He can play either wide midfield spot, and either fullback spot. He needs to start, in my opinion.

DaMarcus Beasley
Club: Puebla, Age: 32, Caps: 114, Goals: 17

Beasley has had a great career with the US, in MLS, in Europe, and now Mexico, and now he’s coming back for a fourth World Cup. The future US Soccer Hall-of-Famer was transfer listed by Puebla, so he could return to MLS, but for now his focus is on the World Cup.

For most of his career he’s played as a left midfielder, but in a career renaissance of sorts last year Jürgen Klinsmann played him as a left-back in most of the Hex games and in the Gold Cup, where he captained the team to victory (Landon Donovan was the tourney’s best player, but Beasley wore the armband).

–Right Full-Backs

Timothy Chandler
Club: Nuremburg, Age: 24, Caps: 10, Goals: 0

The German-born Chandler was put in the dog-house by Klinsmann for a lack of commitment issues, but now he’s back, and I think he’s the best right-back in the pool. His club team Nuremburg were relegated through no fault of his own, so he will most likely move to another Bundesliga club.

Chandler can play as an attacking full-back, mainly on the right side but also on the left. He’s a solid defender who can get forward. If he’s fully behind the team, he should be big for the US in Brazil.

DeAndre Yedlin
Club: Seattle Sounders, Age: 20, Caps: 2, Goals: 0

I don’t really get this one. He’s very young, a great prospect, but not ready yet. His hairdos should provide some interesting conversation, if anything.

I seriously doubt he’ll play. I would’ve preferred to see Michael Parkhurst, a solid defender who can play anywhere on the backline, or even Brad Evans, Yedlin’s club teammate who helped the US through the Hex. But no, we got Yedlin. See, Yedlin is fast, good in the attack, and a wonderful prospect. But he can’t defend. If he learns how to, he’ll be the next Cherundolo. But if he doesn’t, well, at least he probably inspired some hair stylists.

–Lefty Center-Backs

Matt Besler
Club: Sporting Kansas City, Age: 27, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

No matter what British people say, his name is pronounced “BEE-zler.” He’s the current captain of Sporting Kansas City, reigning MLS Cup champions.

He’s got a nice left foot, and is arguably the best defender in MLS. He and Omar Gonzalez were the centerback paring of choice in the Hex, and they did quite well. If Besler doesn’t start, I’ll bring the pitchforks.

John Brooks
Club: Hertha BSC, Age: 21, Caps: 3, Goals: 0

I’d MUCH rather see Tim Ream or (right-footed, like that matters) Clarence Goodson, but Brooks plays in the Bundesliga so whatever. In Brooks’ last cap, against Ukraine, he was bad. Like, open the windows bad.

He’s tall. He’s supposed to be fast (he’s young, so he’s fast, right?). He’s promising (I mean, he was in and out of a starting lineup in the Bundesliga, for crying out loud). He’s also undeveloped (again, remember, open the windows).
Unless he does well in the friendlies, I’m hoping he doesn’t see a minute. Too raw. He’ll be money in 2018, though.

–Righty Center-Backs

Geoff Cameron
Club: Stoke City, Age: 28, Caps: 24, Goals: 1

THIS IS AN AMERICAN WHO ISN’T A GOALKEEPER AND HE IS A STARTER IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE!?!?!?

Yes. Yes it is. MLS product (Houston Dynamo) who went to Stoke, and is so far the only American in this bizarre Americans Going to Stoke Revolution to get serious playing time (poor Maurice Edu and Brek Shea).

Cameron can play right-back (where he is at Stoke) or defensive-midfielder, but Jürgen Klinsmann sees him as a center-back. I think that in each position he’s the best the US has, but he can only play in one. Center-back is the right choice, I think.

Omar Gonzalez
Club: LA Galaxy, Age: 25, Caps: 18, Goals: 0

He was really good for the US in the Hex last year, and he’s been good for the Galaxy. But recently he’s been quite shaky.

He’s tall, talented, and a set-piece threat, but he’s also error-prone. I’d much rather see Besler-Cameron as the center-back paring, but Klinsmann might go with the paring that got the US there: Besler-Gonzalez. That would be stupid, unless Gonzalez plays well in the friendlies.

–Goalkeepers

Tim Howard
Club: Everton, Age: 35, Caps: 97, Goals: 0

Best US player in the world right now. He’s a starter and club legend to be at Everton, and he just logged an amazing season there at the blue side of Liverpool, even though the Toffees missed out on a Champions League spot.

He’s the guaranteed starter at goalkeeper.

Brad Guzan
Club: Aston Villa, Age: 29, Caps: 24, Goals: 0

In my opinion he’s the second best US player (#3 is Bradley, #4 is on-form Dempsey). And he won’t start. Because only one goalkeeper can play, as you know if you know anything about soccer. He’s one of the better players in the Birmingham team of Aston Villa, historically one of the best in England (“historically” as in like “pre-world-war-two”).

As I said, he’s a back-up. But he’ll most likely be the starter in 2018.

Nick Rimando
Club: Real Salt Lake, Age: 34, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

The FIFA-required #3 goalkeeper is in MLS, and probably European quality. He’s won two MLS Cups and almost won a third last year (they lost to SKC on penalties; he’s normally good on penalties, by the way). He’s good with his feet, and the best goalkeeper in MLS.

US-Azerbaijan Preview

Azerbaijan is a country located in the Caucasus region; it borders Russia, Georgia (the country, not the state), Armenia, Iran, and the Caspian Sea. Their tourism board sponsors Atletico Madrid, La Liga winners and UEFA Champions League runners-up. On the Atletico shirts, it says Azerbaijan: Land of Fire, which sounds like a movie I want to go watch right now!

So…why the heck is the US playing Azerbaijan, the 85th-ranked country in the World? Because their coach, Berti Vogts, is a friend of Jürgen Klinsmann and some kind of “special consultant.” See, with Vogts, we have intelligence on all possible US opponents:

Group stage opponents:

Ghana: the US has played Ghana in the last two World Cups. They also play Nigeria, who play a style similar to Ghana (I don’t quite buy that actually–just because they’re from the same continent doesn’t mean they play the same way; I mean, Scotland is nothing like Spain).

Portugal: Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan was in the same group as Portugal.

Germany: Klinsmann and Vogts are from Germany.

Likely Round of 16 Opponents:

Belgium: the US played a friendly against them last year, and will play another one against them June the 12th.

Russia: Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan was in the same group as Russia.

Does Azerbaijan have any chance of beating the US? No. Anything other than a multi-goal win is basically a loss. Predictions to come.

Players Under Pressure

These players all need to perform in this game:

–Omar Gonzalez
One could say that he has a starting job to lose based on the fact that the starting job was his during the Hex. You can sum up Omar Gonzalez in two games: his wonderful performance @ Mexico in the 0-0 draw last year, and his terrible performance against Mexico, where he was at fault, at least partially, for both goals. Whether he’s the starter or not, he’ll most definitely get some serious playing time in these friendlies.

–John Brooks
You want to see a bad defensive performance? Look no further than Brooks vs. Ukraine. He probably won’t start, but more bad performances will certainly make it where he’d need other players to get injured to see the field.

–Timothy Chandler
He apparently has commitment issues, and thus he’s been in exile from the US team since the beginning of the Hex early last year. If he can do well, the large contingent of people who still despise him might change their mind, or at least quiet down. It will certainly impress Klinsmann as well. Fabian Johnson can play right-back, so DaMarcus Beasley can play at left-back leaving Chandler on the bench. Chandler wants to start.

–Brad Davis
A lot of people are blaming Brad Davis for taking Landon Donovan’s spot. As I said, there was going to be at least one left-footed left-midfielder, meaning that the other people in contention for Davis’ spot were Brek Shea and Jose Torres. Outside of fan opinion, Davis can greatly improve his playing time if he can put in some good performances.

–Julian Green
Green in reality took Landon Donovan’s spot as right-footed left-midfielder. He probably won’t play much, but some good performances can get him playing time as well as respect. Basically, he needs to do more than fall down from a bizarre shoulder injury. I mean, I could do that. Not that I do. Not that often, anyways.

–Jozy Altidore
Altidore had a terrible season in the Premier League. As I said, the EPL is a very, very, very, very, very hard league to play in. Sorry for forgetting a few verys (veries? Spellcheck doesn’t recognize either. Whatever.) He did well for the US last year, and if he can keep doing that all doubts for the US would go away.

Prediction

US win 4-0.

Goals: Altidore, Dempsey with 2, Wondo

Assists: Altidore, Bedoya, Bradley, Zusi

Azerbaijan won’t get past Tim Howard.

 

After the game, I’ll give a recap along with match ratings and 5 or so takeaways. Stay tuned, and come back often to Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.

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