The USA Soccer Ladder (September 2013)
USA clinched its spot in the 2014 World Cup with its victory over Mexico last night and other results going their way. That means its time once again to reassess which players are looking good to be on the plane to Brazil next year. Since the last time we ran this feature, USA ran off a historic 12-game winning streak that included all the matches at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and a fantastic 4-3 win over a terrific Bosnia-Herzegovina team in a friendly match in Sarajevo and a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has used 47 different players this year, and the run of success means that USA now has bench depth that it didn’t have four years ago. As before, the number in parentheses after the player’s name indicates where that player stood on the previous USA soccer ladder.
1. Michael Bradley (1)
USA definitely missed him in the loss to Costa Rica, but was able to cope without him against Mexico. His midfield play made him a rock during the Gold Cup.
2. Jozy Altidore (2)
The hat trick against Bosnia is maybe the most impressive performance he has ever put in in a USA uniform, and if he has figured out how to score on free kicks like he did in Bosnia, that gives USA an offensive threat it hasn’t had before. What was up with that yellow card against Costa Rica, though?
3. Landon Donovan (12)
Some USA fans thought he abandoned the team when he took some time off for some crucial qualifiers, but it’s now clear to everyone that he just needed to clear his head. His performances with USA’s second team at the Gold Cup proved that he’s still the engine that powers USA’s offense. Maybe more elite athletes should take a vacation now and then.
4. Clint Dempsey (3)
The captain of Team USA scored from the penalty spot against Costa Rica and really looks best playing behind a striker. In addition, he engineered a move away from Tottenham Hotspur and avoided being coached by Ted Lasso.
5. Tim Howard (4)
Kept Mexico from scoring during their opening (and, it turned out, only) flurry of shots. USA will need his experience organizing that young defense when the pressure is on.
6. Omar Gonzalez (7)
The L.A. Galaxy man held firm against Mexico, and made no major mistakes in the loss to Costa Rica.
7. Jermaine Jones (5)
Looked shell-shocked against Costa Rica in the wake of Michael Bradley’s injury during the warm-ups, but recovered nicely against Mexico. Jones switched his nationality from German to American to play in the 2010 World Cup, but wound up missing the tournament with injury. Now he’ll get his chance.
8. Matt Besler (6)
His performances in the Gold Cup solidified his starting place, making up for missing the Mexico qualifier thanks to a yellow card on a phantom foul during the Costa Rica game.
9. DaMarcus Beasley (11)
Despite some defensive wobbles, he now looks to have a firm grip on that left back slot, a position that USA (and many other countries) has historically struggled to fill. I remember the horrible game he had back in the 2009 Confederations Cup against Brazil. He has come a long way back.
10. Graham Zusi (8)
Looked like the best player in the Costa Rica loss. Had a cameo against Mexico, but didn’t feature much in the Gold Cup or the friendly matches. Still, Klinsmann seems to trust in him. Besides Alex Morgan, he’s the most dangerous American soccer player who wears a hairband.
11. Geoff Cameron (9)
Despite a poor showing in the Costa Rica game, he has pretty much lapped his Stoke City teammate Maurice Edu as Team USA’s right back/central midfielder/central defender. Without playing time, it’s hard to see how Edu gets on as this team’s defensive role player.
12. Brad Guzan (14)
Probably won’t dislodge Howard from goal unless there’s an injury. At least Aston Villa will keep him busy stopping shots.
13. Eddie Johnson (15)
He bitched about his salary with the Seattle Sounders, but he made a case for getting paid by filling in for Altidore and scoring a headed goal against Mexico. We’ll see how that apparent concussion he sustained late in that game will affect him and the magical season Seattle is having.
14. Fabian Johnson (10)
Unusually for a left-footed player, he managed to fill in at right back before getting hurt against Mexico. Probably the best left-footed attacking option USA has right now.
15. Clarence Goodson (20)
It’s funny, he took himself out of the World Cup qualifier in Mexico City last March because he was hurt. Last night he filled in for Besler in the return game against Mexico, and his performance may have just bought him a World Cup ticket as the backup central defender.
16. Joe Corona (22)
Scored two goals in the Gold Cup and looked composed either playing on the wing or in the middle of the field.
17. Kyle Beckerman (24)
Yeah, you cringe every time he decides to shoot from outside the penalty box, but the guy knows how to break up the other team’s offense in the middle of the field. He does that one thing very well, and it’s a useful skill against World Cup-level competition. He did it terrifically against Mexico on short notice. Would be a useful central midfielder to hold in reserve.
18. Mikkel Diskerud (35)
Got outclassed by Bosnia’s midfield, but he adds an element of guile and finesse that USA’s midfield doesn’t otherwise possess, and he acquitted himself well against El Salvador and Honduras in the Gold Cup. He also set up Donovan’s goal against Mexico that sealed the victory.
19. Brek Shea (25)
Had a terrific Gold Cup tournament (including the game-winner in the final), then got hurt in a preseason friendly against the Philadelphia Union. Thanks a lot, Matt Kassel. Both Klinsmann and Shea’s coach at Stoke City are hoping that he gets better soon.
20. Alejandro Bedoya (42)
Assisted on the game winner in the Gold Cup final, and then played well in the Mexico qualifier. But in addition to being stacked in the middle of the field as usual, USA is now lousy with wingers/attacking midfielders, too.
21. Michael Parkhurst (N/A)
The undersized central defender made a capable right back during the Gold Cup and in the Mexico game’s second half after Fabian Johnson got injured.
22. Nick Rimando (N/A)
Stood tall in the Gold Cup, and probably staked a claim to being the third goalkeeper on the squad.
23. Brad Evans (13)
Since his injury-time winner in the qualifying match in Jamaica, he only featured in the Bosnia game, where he held out against some serious offensive talent. With the right back position as wide open as it is, we can’t count him out.
24. Aron Jóhannsson (N/A)
The AZ Alkmaar striker was born in America to Icelandic parents and chose to play for the country of his birth. He showed some interesting flashes of talent during the Bosnia game. Klinsmann will want to see more.
25. José Francisco Torres (44)
The fact that he can play left back as well as central midfield is the slender thread on which his hopes for making USA’s squad currently hang.
26. Steve Cherundolo (27)
27. Timmy Chandler (17)
28. Stuart Holden (21)
Call these the injury boys. They’re all working their way back from their wounds, and they’re all in significant danger of being forgotten when it comes time to pick USA’s squad in Brazil. Spare a thought for poor Holden, who worked his way back from a severely broken leg only to tear his ACL in the Gold Cup final.
29. Michael Orozco-Fiscal (N/A)
Four years ago, he scored a game-winner against Mexico, but last week he had a gruesome showing against Costa Rica. With all the competition for the right back spot, that won’t help.
30. John Anthony Brooks (41)
Granted, he’s not the first defensive player to be torched by Edin Džeko, but he looked unready for the big time against Bosnia.
31. Maurice Edu (19)
32. Herculez Gomez (18)
33. Chris Wondolowski (36)
34. Edgar Castillo (30)
35. Terrence Boyd (28)
36. Sean Johnson (N/A)
37. Brad Davis (16)
38. Carlos Bocanegra (31)
39. Oguchi Onyewu (32)
40. Jack McInerney (33)
41. Sacha Kljestan (29)
42. Danny Williams (N/A)
43. Bill Hamid (N/A)
44. Juan Agudelo (N/A)
45. Tim Ream