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PST U.S. Men’s National Team Depth Chart: Forward

Oct 9, 2012, 1:58 PM EDT

Jamaica v United States - World Cup Qualifer Getty Images

This isn’t about who we think should be at the top of the pecking order. These lists are fun, but as we discovered yesterday, Jurgen Klinsmann’s actual pecking order can be just as entertaining.

That’s the premise behind ProSoccerTalk’s U.S. Men’s National Team depth charts, which we’ll be rolling out over the next few days. If you were able to break into his office in Carson, pop the lock on his file cabinet, and find the folder that says “DEPTH CHARTS” you’d (a) say “whoa, he keeps actual depth charts,” and (b) have something similar to what we’re doing here.

We’re not trying to say where players should be. We’re trying to give our views on where they are.

Given the Jozy-ness of the news cycle, we have to start with the forwards.

1. Clint Dempsey, 29, Tottenham Hotspur (England)

We saw Dempsey’s importance last break. Lacking form after missing action with Fulham, Dempsey wasn’t himself. That didn’t dissuade Jurgen Klinsmann from selecting him. Dempsey went right into the starting XI, assuming his normal, middle-of-everything role. At the end of the match in Kingston, when the U.S. needed a goal, it was Dempsey, rust and all, who was tasked with leading the charge.

2. Herculez Gomez, 30, Santos Laguna (Mexico)

Is Gomez’s emergence the worst thing that’s happened to Jozy Altidore? The veteran attacker doesn’t have Altidore’s physical gifts, yet he’s made the greater impact in the Klinsmann era, his movement and work rate examples of what the boss is asking of from all his forwards.

Gomex has one other key advantage over Altidore: versatility. He can play wide in an attacking three, any role in an attacking two, or he can play up top on his own.

And lest we forget: He was the key player on both U.S. goals last break.

3. Jozy Altidore, 22, AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)

The current controversy needs to play out before we drop Altidore. Klinsmann certainly wants Altidore to be back in the team as soon as possible. In the interim, coach and player need to get on the same page before Klinsmann can trust Altidore with a regular place. That may happen before the team leaves for Russia in November (if the friendly with Fabio Capello’s team gets confirmed). But if the divide between player and coach isn’t resolved by November, Altidore’s place outside the team may become the new status quo.

4. Terrence Boyd, 21, Rapid Wien (Austria)

The same logic we applied to Altidore holds here. We’re not set to drop Boyd based on one omission; at least, we won’t until another player steps up. Boyd’s been called in too many times to think he’s suddenly fallen out of favor. Unlike Altidore, he’s on the stand-by list. We should trust Klinsmann when he says the Johnson and Gordon callups are about matchups. Boyd should be back in November.

5. Eddie Johnson, 28, Seattle Sounders

Given how Johnson’s played for Seattle, it would be surprising if he wasn’t higher the next time we publish this list, even if he doesn’t score this week. Everything Jozy Altidore was not doing for Klinsmann, Johnson has been doing for Sigi Schmid. His hold up play has been excellent. His off the ball movement tests defenses when he’s not in possession. Over the last month, his work defensively has been as good as any forward in Major League Soccer, including on set pieces, where he’s valuable coming back to defend on corners. If Johnson brings those qualities to the national team, he’ll win a permanent spot.

6. Alan Gordon, 30, San Jose Earthquakes

If this was Gordon’s first callup, this ranking would be unjustifiable. But he was in camp for Mexico, and although he didn’t play at Azteca, Klinsmann must have liked what Gordon brought to the squad. His aerial ability has been much-discussed since yesterday’s announcement, but Gordon’s movement and work rate are also play into his favor. And if there are two themes to this international break, they’re movement and work rate.

7. Chris Wondolowski, 29, San Jose Earthquakes

Many fans are wondering why Gordon was called in and not Wondolowski. Wondolowski is clearly close, but as Klinsmann explained, his preference for a aerial presence led him to choose Gordon. Wondolowski is good in the air, but he’s good in the same way Clint Dempsey is good. Against the opposition’s third or fourth-best aerial defender, he can do some damage. Against one of the primary markers, he’s not going to win many battles.

What Klinsmann didn’t say on Monday: Because of the makeup of the national team, it’s hard to see where Wondolowski fits anytime soon. He’s most likely to be used off the bench when the States need a goal, but in those situations, his play would clash with Clint Dempsey’s.

Wondo as a starter – as the forward that plays highest – would be different, but that means he’d have to beat out Herculez Gomez. And Eddie Johnson. And Terrence Boyd, and even Jozy Altidore.

Wondo could very well be called in, especially in January, but it’s going to be difficult for him to earn a consistent role.

8. Chris Pontius, 25, D.C. United

This is where the field starts to even out a bit, but among the many candidates for these last three spots, Pontius has the most to offer. Work rate, positional flexibility and recent results are all in his favor.

9. C.J. Sapong, 23, Sporting Kansas City

Sapong’s up to eight goals this season (after scoring five as a rookie) and brings all the characteristics that don’t make the scoresheet: size, strength, hard work, and holdup play that’s progressing.

10. Juan Agudelo, 19, Chivas USA / Teal Bunbury, 21, Sporting Kansas City

Without his injury, Bunbury would have this spot. With it, we take a wait-and-see.

Agudelo’s stock has plummeted over the last year, but he had an injury issue of his own, hurting his knee during Olympic qualifying. Still only 19, Agudelo needs a better platform at club-level. Right now, the situation at Chivas USA is doing nothing to help his national team hopes.

Big changes are expected in Carson. They might get Agudelo’s young career back on track.

  1. wfjackson3 - Oct 9, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    How is Johnsons speed these days? The thing I think we still miss in the players up top from pre-car accident Davies is someone with a decent controlling touch and absolute blistering speed. I always thought if someone plays the ball out into space, Davies will be the first one there. I don’t see that on this list, but maybe it isn’t needed in the new system. Thoughts?

    • Richard Farley - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM

      Very good. He’ll be the fastest forward in camp.

    • ajas95 - Oct 11, 2012 at 5:51 AM

      If they ran NFL Combine drills at camp, EJ would win most of them… 40 yd, vertical leap, bench press reps, broad jump, etc. For a 2-footed player he’s a freak athlete.

      The question is– has his soccer brain evolved enough to see 10 new teammates on the field, and still score goals?

      Just watch his 2012 goals … it tells the whole story. Tons of talent, but also he gets some phenomenal service too. Actually that vid doesn’t even have his best two goals, both lefty.

      • Richard Farley - Oct 11, 2012 at 1:25 PM

        I think EJ’s soccer brain has evolved quite a bit, but we’ll have to see if he applies that with the national team. Just seeing his work tracking back into midfield to harass the opposition’s last man (something he’s done a lot of lot) is encouraging. It’s exactly the kind of effort Klinsmann wants out of all of his forwards.

  2. danielofthedale - Oct 9, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    I would take Pontius, Sapong, and even Andrew Wooten over Alan Gordon. Gordon is just a really poor mans version of Brian Ching who mostly played because there was no other options. But I mean if Jurgen blows this he goes back to his big house in Malibu, its no sweat off his back its the fans that will be left to suffer through the fact we miss the World Cup and become a laughing stock both at home and abroad.

    • Richard Farley - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      A few years ago, I think this might have been true, but I don’t agree with this characterization of Gordon now.

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