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United States roster falling to pieces ahead of remaining 2014 World Cup qualifiers

Sep 30, 2013, 8:02 PM EDT

Jurgen Klinsmann has the likes of Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley to choose from. Reuters

It’s a little early to wonder if Jurgen Klinsmann has recently built a home on ancient burial ground and has been cursed for it – but you have to admit, the national team’s run of misfortune lately is a bit strange, eh?

Klinsmann was quite clear, and immediately so upon qualifying officially for the 2014 World Cup: he wanted his best players for those last two qualifiers. He seemed downright confused by any suggestion of doing anything else.

You may see them as meaningless, and it’s true that next week’s match against Jamaica in Kansas City and the final round closer four nights later in Panama won’t mean a thing for the United States in the official picture. (The U.S. schedule is here.) They are going to Brazil, and finishing atop the six-team group probably will not impact the United States’ ability to get a more favorable tournament draw in December.

But Klinsmann (pictured along with Clint Dempsey) will tell you that opportunities to fine tune and tweak between now and next summer are precious and few, and squandering these chances to reinforce all good tenets and to further fuse the combinations is wasteful.

Either way, he’s not going to have that chance over the next couple of weeks; his plan to use these upcoming qualifiers for further World Cup prep is unraveling, and quickly so.

Let’s look at the first-choice players who will not be available, or who will be limited in their fitness and abilities due to recent injuries:

Michael Bradley could return to the training field for Roma this week, but his ongoing ankle injury makes a trip to the United States seem less and less likely. Everybody should know by now that Bradley is the one absolutely indispensable piece to this U.S. puzzle, so any efforts at a top performance begins with their midfield glue.

Clint Dempsey’s hamstring issue (Where did he get this thing? No one seems to know.) has kept the U.S. attacker out of Seattle’s last two matches. Even if Dempsey’s condition improves, Seattle is likely to lobby for keeping him, for playoff positioning and Supporters Shield pursuits next week. Considering Dempsey is Major League Soccer’s top wage earner, it seems like a reasonable request.

(MORE: U.S. Soccer and Jones refute reports of injury)

Jermaine Jones’ status may be up in the air; reports out of Germany say surgery will have Jones on the shelf for a few weeks. But Jones and U.S. Soccer are refuting those reports, so stay tuned on this one. Either way, if Jones has a knee issue, it’s fair to wonder if Schalke will be excited about extra travel and matches that are, officially speaking, meaningless.

U.S. center back Clarence Goodson was a scratch from Sunday’s match at Chivas USA after suffering a bone bruise on the knee in the Earthquakes’ previous contest. Goodson, recall, was the starter alongside Omar Gonzalez as the United States clinched its spot earlier this month with the win over Mexico. Goodson may have slipped lately on the depth chart (blame young up-and-comer Anthony Brooks for that), but his steady night against El Tri reminded everyone that a tested, reliable veteran is great to have around.

Word came Monday that Fabian Johnson has an ankle injury and may not be available for Hoffenheim’s match Saturday at Mainz 05. If Johnson does not play there, expect some reluctance from Hoffenheim to release their left-sided defender-midfielder for international duty.

source: Getty ImagesLandon Donovan (pictured below) was back on the field for the Galaxy on Sunday in Seattle, so he is likely to be on Klinsmann’s list when the team gathers next week in Kansas City. But whether the Galaxy man will be at full-fitness (and therefor full effectiveness) is another matter.

There is one other element potentially destructive to Klinsmann’s plan: how will MLS teams feel about losing players for “meaningless” contests with significant implications in their one, league contests on the line? Think about Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, all locks to make the final 23-man roster for Brazil. If there isn’t some push back from Sporting Kansas City, the LA Galaxy and Seattle, I’ll be surprised.

(Goodson, too, for that matter, as San Jose’s playoff chances remain in the balance, and the Earthquakes are sure to want their best bunch whenever possible.)

There will still be plenty to work with in the U.S. camp. Jozy Altidore will likely relish some time away from the pit of despair that Sunderland has become. There will be mutual benefit of having Aron Johannsson, so fabulously in form at Alkmaar, in another U.S. camp, especially as the Icelandic American has been in so few sessions under Klinsmann so far. That’s just to name a couple.

And, of course, every absence is an opportunity for someone else to climb the food chain. For instance, if Johnson cannot play at right back, Geoff Cameron may get another look there – and wouldn’t it be nice to see what the Stoke City man can do at the position when the opposition isn’t high-flying Belgium?

  1. danielofthedale - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:41 PM

    I think you are writing off getting to the top 8 FIFA rankings far to easily. It’s possible that the US can move up to 8th with a two wins and results going our way in a handful of other games. Even if only a few of those results to our way with two very winnable friendlies in November that we could move into the top 8 after those games if a don’t after the World Cup qualifying is done. I think there is plenty to play for and we need as many of the best players as we can get.

    • tariencole - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:49 PM

      I’d say the chances of moving up to 8th went out the window when we scheduled Scotland. Their rating isn’t nearly high enough to give us the kind of favorable bump we’d need to jump the teams ahead of us. Especially since some of them have higher multipliers on their matches than we will.

  2. Steve Davis - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:45 PM

    Just going off history. FIFA typically decides who it wants seeded (and US usually not in the mix) and then walks it way back into the methodology needed to get there.

  3. dfstell - Sep 30, 2013 at 9:59 PM

    Heck….we’re not getting one of those top 8 seeds.

    That means we should just screw Mexico. Let’s cap tie a bunch of the promising kids. If they lose in Panama, so be it. If they kick ass in Panama. So be it. I would LOVE for Mexico to miss the WC.

  4. jocoolwu - Sep 30, 2013 at 10:27 PM

    I heard that Jones was being suspended by Schalke according to reports in Germany. And due to the suspension he was going to get the surgery. Maybe there was a miscommunication but who knows. I would love to see Altidore and Johannsson together up top to form real attacking threat for US. Also give Guzan more chances in goal as he has overtaken Howard in EPL

  5. talgrath - Sep 30, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    There’s no reason to pull punches now, sure the USMNT qualified, but why take your foot off the pedal? Even if the US doesn’t get that top 8 spot, it’s best to go into the tournament feeling confident and dangerous, the best way to do that is to win. The MLS coaches don’t like it? Tough, talk to the commissioner of MLS for not taking international breaks. Country comes before club.

    • bear06 - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:03 AM

      Well said!

    • braxtonrob - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:51 AM

      Ditto!

  6. midtec2005 - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:32 PM

    The beauty of what Klinnsman has done is that it seems like we have the depth now to absorb these losses and still perform at a reasonably good level. So while we can’t build chemistry among our starting core, the games should still go well. It will at least provide a small opportunity to experiment.

  7. soccerjrep - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:01 AM

    I have a question I was hoping someone could answer for me –

    in all of Klinsmann’s games with the U.S., how many times has Donovan, Dempsey, and Bradley been on the pitch at the same time?

    Thanks!

  8. rphillish - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    It’s Jamaica and Panama, I think we’ll be fine. Klinsmann showed in the Gold Cup that the largely MLS based “B-team” is more than enough to beat CONCACAF teams. The only problem could be playing down in South America, but Panama is no Costa Rica.
    There’s plans for a friendly against Austria I believe I read somewhere, and if the US can win the last qualifiers plus Scotland and Austria, we just might squeeze into the top 8. Regardless, it’s about confidence and turning around a mentality in US soccer that we can’t win in Europe.

  9. mknow406a - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:12 PM

    Let’s face it, the starting 11 determine your overall chance of getting out of the group, but with injuries and card, it is man 12-22 that REALLY determine a team’s success in a WC. Dempsey, Dovonan, Bradley, Jozy all have a ticket punched. We know what Eddie Johnson brings, so Klinsman should use this opportunity to create a dog fight for the remaining positions. Ultimately, it will be their ability to step off the bench that will determine the US progress… and they can do this with little impact to MLS:

    Johnsson – Boyd

    Torres – Williams – Diskerud – Corona

    Castillo – Brooks (if healthy… it will be close) – Cameron (if only to prove he is not top 4 quality) – Chandler

    Guzman

    Bench – Shea, Parkhurst (he ain’t playing much), Gomez, Beasley, Jones, Cropper, TBD

    • mknow406a - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:17 PM

      And that roster could still get 6 points!

    • braxtonrob - Oct 2, 2013 at 12:29 AM

      I think you mean ‘Guzan’.

      Also, I believer there are 23 on a WC roster.

      Also, I hate your team … LOL, j/k. But, I do have many different names in place of your choices.

      • mknow406a - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:54 AM

        Yes there are 23, but the 3rd keeper ain’t really making a difference. :)

    • bear06 - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:58 AM

      Shea? I highly doubt it.

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