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Five U.S. stars who’ve emerged during World Cup qualification

Sep 11, 2013, 11:15 AM EDT

Javier Hernandez, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez AP

After yet another “Dos a Cero” win against Mexico in Columbus on Tuesday night, the U.S. national team qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The USA’s qualification has been all but secured for quite some time now, but you never know until that fat lady starts flexing her vocal chords… Last night she sang loud and proud in Ohio.

So, now that the U.S. is officially heading to Brazil for the big dance next summer, let’s take a closer look at the qualifying campaign that got them over the line. One thing that popped straight into my mind is that plenty of USMNT players, who are now starters, weren’t even in the picture when WC qualifying began in 2011.

(MORE: Dos a Cero again! … United States qualifies for 2014 World Cup after 2-0 win over Mexico)

Let’s find out who which players have propelled themselves into the spotlight during the USA’s domineering display in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. There’s still two games left in October… but I think it’s safe to say that these guys have made a good impression.

And remember, these are five names who previously were out of the picture. But if we were looking for revival artists, Eddie Johnson, Kyle Beckerman and Clarence Goodson have all shone.

source: Getty ImagesMatt Besler

On January 29, 2013 Besler made his U.S. debut in a dour -0 draw with Canada in Toronto. And ever since then, the Sporting Kansas City defender has looked as solid as a rock as the starting left center back. Having dueled against Besler as a youngster at Notre Dame, I’ve always rated his ability to read the game and step in where necessary to stop plays developing. But the most impressive aspect of his play since being called up to the U.S. squad is that his physical presence and pace hasn’t been lacking. In the crucial 0-0 draw at the Azteca in March, Besler was incredible in keeping Javier Hernandez off the score-sheet and stepped in to help the USA bring home Gold Cup success during the knockout stages. He’s an old head on young shoulders and the partnership he has with Gonzalez has seen them both flourish as defenders of international caliber. One question mark surrounds his experience heading into the World Cup, after Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell tricked the referee into giving Besler a yellow card to leave him suspended for the Mexico clash. But Besler will pick that experience up over the coming years where he will surely be a regular for the USMNT.

source: APOmar Gonzalez

Klinsmann’s overhaul of the central defensive position continued with another young defender from MLS stepping in to excel; step forward Omar. The 24-year-old LA Galaxy center back has formed a formidable partnership with Besler at the heart of the USA’s defense. Gonzalez’ stock has risen considerably since being drafted out of Maryland and recently he was handed a Designated Player contract by LA to keep him in the league. The towering Mexican-American defender has flourished with the increased amount of pressure on his shoulders and has hardly put a foot wrong since starting alongside Besler against Canada back in January. That “Why not?” interview about possibly representing Mexico at national team level seems a long time ago as Gonzalez has solidified himself as one of the essential parts of the U.S. roster heading to Brazil.

source: Getty ImagesGeoff Cameron

In Major League Soccer circles we all knew exactly what Cameron was capable of after being solid and dependable for the Houston Dynamo. Yet his move to Premier League Stoke City last August really caught Klinsmann’s attention after not appearing for the U.S. once in 2011. Able to play in a variety of positions, Cameron is to the USMNT what Owen Hargreaves was to England; Mr. Versatile. However he’s really made the right back slot his own during this qualifying cycle and a calamitous fall from grace aside, Cameron will be play plenty of minutes in Brazil. Some pundits aren’t big on Cameron stepping into midfield as a backup holding midfielder, and he has been shaky in recent games playing in that role. The loss to Costa Rica last Friday saw Cameron have a poor game and give possession away cheaply but his role for the U.S. going forward will surely be at right back instead of in midfield. He has a fantastic engine and epitomizes the team spirit Klinsmann has engineered over the last 12 months.

source: Getty ImagesGraham Zusi

Okay, some of his sparkle may have vanished in recent qualifiers… but it’s still been a breakout few years for Graham Zusi. The 27-year-old Floridian ousted Landon Donovan out of Klinsmann’s plans for most of 2013, and that takes some doing. But apart from that Zusi has matured and adapted to the pace of playing at international level and proved to be a valuable asset for the USA. As I mentioned, the Sporting KC winger lost his starting spot to the more experienced internationals in the 2-0 win over Mexico but he’s still a regular in the squad and has gone from a U.S. maybe to important squad member in the space of six months. Zusi made his full national team debut in 2012 and has definitely used this World Cup campaign to springboard himself into the World Cup picture. Training stints in Europe over the offseason put his MLS future in doubt but the Maryland product has since signed a new deal with SKC. A bright future lies ahead for Zusi as his battle with Donovan for a starting spot intensifies.

source: ReutersFabian Johnson

We all knew the Hoffenheim man was available and impressing in Germany but he was hardly a regular in the U.S. setup before this qualifying campaign began. One of the much talked about German-Americans Klinsmann helped bring into the squad, Johnson has been the biggest success story out of the likes of Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, Danny Williams and others. 25-year-old Johnson made his debut against Guatemala on 12 June 2012 and has been around ever since switching his allegiances from Germany in 2011. Now he’s a starter and richly deserves the chance to play in the World Cup in Brazil after switching . Johnson has operated in a variety of positions during the Hex, twice filling in a right back against Mexico to varying degrees of success but mostly starring down the left-hand side as a defender or pacey winger. Not afraid to take on a full back or whip in an inviting cross, Johnson’s link up play with the U.S. forwards has been key throughout qualifying success. A shoe-in for the left hand side when the USA lineup in Brazil next year.

  1. player169 - Sep 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Zusi had the assist in the Costa Rica game with a heads up play. Bedoya has looked real sharp in France, so I get starting him. I think the lack of a good option at right back has really made the right side look terrible. Neither have looked great in their respective games, but I would blame that on Fabian Johnson and Orozco respectively. My guess is Zusi will be back in the starting lineup…

  2. bobinkc - Sep 11, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Joe, thank you for recognizing the caliber of players we have here in Kansas City. Matt Belser has played very well for SKC for several years now and has more left to give the MNT. One aspect of Besler that you WON’T see on the MNT is his ability to control Aurelien Collin in the back line and keep him from making too many stupid plays. Matt has that unusual ability to not only control his own play but to control and improve the play of those who are back there with him.

    As far as Graham Zusi goes, I just do not understand the reasoning behind not playing Zusi and Donovan at the same time. Donovan has the ability to move up front at will while Zusi has the ability to move from side to side as well as move forward as needed. With these two guys in the middle at the same time, USMNT would be absolutely unstoppable.

    • dreadpirate82 - Sep 11, 2013 at 3:38 PM

      I think Bedoya’s start yesterday had more to do with Zusi’s recent injury than anything. After missing a few matches, he’s not in peak form. Bedoya did what he needed to do. I love that there are more options now than in years past, even if it means one of my favorites takes a seat. I have a lot of favorites on this team.

      • bobinkc - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:18 PM

        Ummmm, Zusi has played all of several matches for SKC and is fully recovered from his injury, as was so “gently” pointed out to me by a poster on another article. I don’t think Peter Vermes would be playing him if he was still injured and not fully recovered. I still don’t see the problem with playing Donovan and Zusi together.

  3. wfjackson3 - Sep 11, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    “One question mark surrounds his experience heading into the World Cup, after Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell tricked the referee into giving Besler a yellow card to leave him suspended for the Mexico clash. But Besler will pick that experience up over the coming years where he will surely be a regular for the USMNT.”

    How would Besler’s level of experience impact that play? It was 100% embellishment.

    • braxtonrob - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      @wfjackson, LOL, yeah I don’t see how “experience” can help you avoid RIDICULOUS calls like that one was.

      • wfjackson3 - Sep 12, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        Are you being facetious or actually agreeing with me?

  4. drewvt6 - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Pretty sure Zusi’s star is only going to fade. He’s like a stock at its absolute peak. He’s pushing himself 110% at the international level to keep up with the speed of play and pace of defenders he needs to track. Bedoya and Mix have loads of potential and much more to offer physically. Zusi just doesn’t have that separation speed and this is in comparison to Costa Rica and Mexico, not to mention the UEFA CAF & South American teams we’ll face at a world cup. Sure he ads an element of tactical awareness, but bedoya can grow into that and mix may already be on par. This doesn’t even consider Fab Johnson who will also take minutes at the wide position.

    No matter, zusi will provide valuable minutes in the tournament. I just doubt he’ll become any greater of a contributor than what we’ve seen in concacaf qualifying.

  5. boscoesworld - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    I think that Mix and Bedoya need to be added to this list. It could go on but it is a testament to the depth of the current pool. I really want to see Mix have some time with the A listers!!

  6. dyd4 - Sep 13, 2013 at 5:22 AM

    fans from Nantes would be very happy if you can give us your opinion about our new player Alejandro Bedoya! will he be in the worldcup list? we hope!

  7. braxtonrob - Sep 13, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    @dyd4, ‘Yes’, he’s very good and he’ll make our final 23, thankfully.

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