Michelle Kaufman: U.S. soccer roster jells at the right time

09/01/2013 12:10 AM

09/01/2013 12:40 AM

It’s getting to be crunch time, and as usual, the U.S. national team’s road to the World Cup goes through Miami.

The U.S. national team gathers in Miami on Sunday for a two-day camp to prepare for upcoming World Cup qualifiers at Costa Rica on Friday, Sept. 6 and against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 10.

Barring an unforeseen result, the Americans — riding an unprecedented 12-match win streak — are expected to clinch a spot in the 2014 World Cup with their result against Mexico, but could do it with a win at Costa Rica if Mexico ties Honduras and Panama fails to beat Jamaica.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann called in a team that looks more than capable of getting the job done. In fact, scrolling down the roster would make any U.S. fan hopeful for next summer in Brazil. The forwards alone look like quite the handful: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson and lesser-known Iceland dual citizen Aron Johannsson, who has been on Klinsmann’s radar for quite some time.

The best news is the return of Donovan. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise that he’s back in the fold when it matters most, but there was some doubt heading into this summer. He had fallen out of favor with Klinsmann after taking a self-imposed four-month sabbatical he said he needed to get his priorities in order and rediscover his passion for the game.

Clearly, he did and said the right things.

Donovan was Most Valuable Player in the Gold Cup, scoring five goals and playing with a joy and energy that wasn’t always there last year. After missing 10 World Cup qualifiers since June 2012, Donovan will again be able to bring the creativity, field vision, speed, soccer I.Q. and leadership that made him the best-known American player in the world. Brazil would be his fourth World Cup, and that experience is invaluable.

He is listed as a forward, but also could play midfield on the wings. Klinsmann has options on offense, a commodity his U.S. predecessors often lacked.

“Landon got himself back into the team during the Gold Cup and he did a wonderful job there,” Klinsmann said. “Now it’s all about putting pieces together. We’ll find the best way possible for everyone involved. The key element is to get results down in Costa Rica and against Mexico. Therefore, once we have them in camp we’ll see how they are doing and how the pieces will fit. Having Landon back in the picture is another really good option for us, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Klinsmann left forward Chris Wondolowski off the roster even though he scored a first-half hat trick against Belize in the Gold Cup. He said “Wondo” is on the cusp of the team, and could be called upon later, but he wanted to get a better look at Johansson.

“It was his dream to play for the United States one day,” Klinsmann said. “He’s a player that can surprise a lot of opponents. He’s unpredictable, he’s confident, and he’s seeing the game really well ahead so he slips where the ball will go. When he came in for the Bosnia game, we didn’t even know if he could play there because of the FIFA eligibility case. He became available only one day before the game. I think he already showed in that half-an-hour that he has a lot of special tools in his game.

“Therefore, we want to push that further with him. We want to make him a real part of this roster, and make him grow with the U.S. team.”

The coach also was complimentary of Alejandro Bedoya, who grew up in Weston and played at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High. Bedoya, a midfielder, was one of the final players cut by 2010 World Cup coach Bob Bradley. He recently moved from the Swedish league to the French first division, where he is playing for Nantes.

“Alejandro Bedoya made a huge jump over the last seven, eight months,” Klinsmann said. “He came pretty late into my picture, and compared to where he was in the January camp to where he is now is really wonderful to see. He became a lot more confident. He became a lot more mature. He proved that during the Gold Cup and he proved that in Bosnia. He proved it is his first game with Nantes versus Paris Saint Germain. It was very impressive how he played there for a very good club in the French First Division. I think he deserves absolutely to be a part of that roster going into Costa Rica and that gives us another option. With him and Graham [Zusi] on the right flank, I think we’re looking really good.”

One of the biggest question marks on the team is right back. It appears to be a battle between Geoff Cameron, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco and 20-year-old John Brooks.

“With the impression we got from John Brooks against Bosnia, and not only in that game but the past several years of observing him, watching him gives us the feeling that there’s a very special player coming through the ranks,” Klinsmann said.

It all sounds good. Of course, the true test is next summer. But at this point in the journey, the U.S. team looks promising. Very promising.

U.S. roster

•  Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
•  Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Michael Orozco (Puebla).
•  Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes), Michael Bradley (Roma), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
•  Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar).

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