revisiting “who is going to brazil?”

Predicting the 2014 World Cup USMNT RosterNot only has it been over seven months since the US qualified for the World Cup on yet another fateful night in Columbus, Ohio, but it’s also been about that long since I made my initial World Cup squad predictions shortly after. And with US Soccer revealing the 23-man squad that’s going to Brazil last night, it’s time to go back and see how accurate my predictions were — just as I did in 2010 for South Africa.

As for the squad as a whole, there were a number of surprises in the 23, and an even bigger surprise outside of it. The outrage pouring out of every corner of the internet with that particular big decision is palpable… if a little off base. With the US player pool far deeper than it’s ever been, Jurgen and his staff had a much harder job than any previous manager. And with many of the previous stars of the team getting on in years, the task became that much harder.

But let’s get on with the real reason behind my post, and see how poorly I did with those selections…

THE “BOOK YOUR TICKETS TODAY” GROUP (8 for 9)

1. CORRECT – Tim Howard (GK – Everton): I, along with others, thought Howard’s form had been slipping back in October. He hadn’t played that great for Everton, and had made some mistakes in a US shirt around that time too. But he really turned his season around, and along with Everton, soared to some pretty impeccable height. And if there was any question whether he was going to lose his #1 spot, nobody is questioning it now.

2. CORRECT – Brad Guzan (GK – Aston Villa): Guzan was a shoe-in for the squad, and was in tremendous form when I made my predictions in October. But while he hasn’t played poorly of late, the defense in front of him at Villa certainly did. However, if he’s pressed into service for the ‘Nats in Brazil, I’m sure he’ll be perfectly capable deputy.

3. CORRECT – Michael Bradley (M – Toronto FC): No need to beat on about Bradley’s selection. He’s our best (field) player, and will be the heartbeat of our side this summer, despite his “controversial” move back to MLS.

4. CORRECT – Jozy Altidore (F – Sunderland): Apparently an exclusion to Klinsmann’s “you must be in good form” requirement to make the squad, Altidore endured a miserable season back in England. Production wise, he hardly produced at all for the Black Cats. And he was clearly at odds at times with Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, which resulted in benchings and even being dropped from the side. But he was always going to make the team, and will most likely remain the main man up front.

5. CORRECT – Clint Dempsey (M – Seattle Sounders): Clint’s struggles upon returning to MLS last season now over, the Sounders attacker has been one of the hottest players in the league this year. And he’ll need to carry that good form into the World Cup if the US is to have any chances at all of advancing.

Landon Donovan
in the end, landon might have burned his bridges to brazil.

6. WRONG – Landon Donovan (F – Los Angeles Galaxy): Well, I’m being made to pay for this sentence from the prediction piece: “make no doubt about it… Landon will be in Brazil next summer”… pardon me as I take my foot out of my mouth. Landon’s exclusion has understandably been making loads of waves, inciting anger and outrage at Klinsmann, Sunil and anyone who has ever owned a US jersey. But his exclusion isn’t really that surprising either. It’s clear that Landon and Jurgen don’t get on with each other, he’s not been setting MLS ablaze this season, and he’s lost a step of pace — and that’s always been one of his linchpins. In a World Cup that’s going to be physically strenuous due to higher temperatures, his age means he’d be more susceptible to fatigue. On the other hand, I’m shocked that we’re leaving that kind of experience behind. Donovan would make for an excellent late game sub, and could still be a difference maker in that role. But I think there’s more to this story that meets the eye, and I suspect Klinsmann and Donovan’s relationship might be a big reason for him being left at home.

7. CORRECT – Jermaine Jones (M – Schalke 04): Much like Bradley, if Jones was fit enough to be included… he would be included. And he was. Look for his growing fro in the first XI against Ghana.

8. CORRECT – Geoff Cameron (D – Stoke City): Cameron had another great season for Stoke, and as such, is one of the best US defenders in the squad. But the question still remains, where will we see him play? He wants to be a center back, he’s played well as a holding mid protecting the back four, but he could well be tasked with marking Ronaldo in the Portugal game. We’ll find out the answer to that question soon enough.

9. CORRECT – DeMarcus Beasley (D – Puebla): I’m just going to leave exactly what I wrote in the preview here, as it’s still dead on. “If you had asked me four years ago if Beasley would be a shoe-in for this World Cup as a left back, I would have told you to lay off the crack pipe. But the Beas’ renaissance has been one of the stories of this qualification cycle.”

THE “I’M JUST GOING TO GO AHEAD AND PACK MY BAGS” GROUP (5 of 7)

10. CORRECT – Omar Gonzalez (D – Los Angeles Galaxy): Injuries and a questionable start to the season, coupled with a poor showing the last time out with the national team, have seen Omar slip down the pecking order a bit. I once thought he was a for-sure starter, but now I’m not so sure.

11. WRONG – Eddie Johnson (F – Seattle Sounders): The shock exclusion from the original 30-man shortlist, Johnson can likely blame his prima donna attitude for getting to watch the World Cup at home this summer. Oddly, Johnson not being included means that the man who scored the goal to get the USMNT to the World Cup won’t make it for the third World Cup in a row.

12. CORRECT – Matt Besler (D – Sporting Kansas City): Besler should start in the center of defense for the US, but he has a host of people nipping at his heels in Gonzalez, Brooks, Chandler and Cameron. He’s likely to pair one of that group, but he could lose out to one of them too.

13. CORRECT – Graham Zusi (M – Sporting Kansas City): No Landon in the team means that Zusi could very well be starting in Brazil. He’s been his usual productive self in MLS play this season, and seems to be ever-growing in confidence.

Kyle Beckerman
beckerman earned his spot probably more than any other player in the US pool.

14. CORRECT – Kyle Beckerman (M – Real Salt Lake): For some reason, I’m really happy for Beckerman. He’s put in his dues, has complained little, and through hard work and determination, he’s found his way to his first World Cup aged 32. And I’ve got this feeling that he’s going to be seeing some serious minutes, too.

15. WRONG – Brad Evans (D – Seattle Sounders): A long-term injury lay off, and the fact that he’s not really a right back, mean that Brad didn’t make the final cut. But his response to being left off the team on Twitter makes me wish they’d bring him along for comedic relief if nothing else.

16. CORRECT – Mix Diskerud (M – Rosenborg): Rumors circulated last week seemed to imply that Mix would be left off the final squad, but much to my joy, he did make it. There aren’t a whole lot of creative types in the US midfield, especially if Bradley were to pick up an injury. Diskerud could help to fill that void should it open up, but also can play the role of a late spark off the bench.

THE “I’M NOT TELLING MY PARENTS TO BUY TICKETS YET” GROUP (3 of 7)

17. WRONG – Edgar Castillo (D – Tijuana): Mexican-based players were not smiled upon this World Cup, and Castillo — always a bubble player — was one of those made to pay the price for that. 

18. CORRECT – Aron Jóhannsson (F – AZ): The most in-form striker in the US team, an argument could be made to make Aron the starter over Jozy this summer. But politics and seniority will probably rule that out. But despite that, I’d still be willing to put a fiver down on Jóhannsson being our leading scorer this tournament.

19. CORRECT – Fabian Johnson (M – Hoffenheim): Versatility is the reason Fabian will find himself in Brazil this summer, a valuable commodity when it comes to making World Cup rosters.

20. WRONG – Sacha Kljestan (M – Anderlecht): I’m delighted to have gotten this one wrong. Kljestan drives me insane, thanks in large part to his erratic appearances in a US shirt. Plus, that awful mustache.

21. WRONG – José Francisco Torres (M – Tigres): Another player I’m not that surprised didn’t make it, but at the time I wrote the prediction piece, he was logging some serious and influential minutes for the team.

22. WRONG – Sean Johnson (GK – Chicago Fire): At the time of prediction, I was confident I would get this one wrong, and I did. But with a really young team heading to Brazil, his inclusion would have made sense. Yes, Rimando is a better keeper right now, but not be that much. And I’d have liked to have given him the experience ahead of 2018.

23. CORRECT – Chris Wondolowski (F – San Jose Earthquakes): While there might be other strikers who offer more, Wondo made the flight simply because he offers something completely different to anyone else up top: a big target man who can poach.

THE “GUYS WHO MADE IT THAT I DIDN’T PICK” GROUP 
These inglorious bastards made the final cut for Jurgen’s 23 AND made me look like an idiot. Those with numbers were in my 30 man squad, at least.

26. Brad Davis (M – Houston Dynamo): Many were angry with Brad’s inclusion, but I am perfectly fine with it. Not only is the only traditional winger in the squad, but he’s also a guy who has been sprinting up and down the line in hot-as-hell Houston for the last seven years. And considering we’re going to be playing in hot-as-hell Brazil this summer, his fitness and ability could prove invaluable.

27. Alejandro Bedoya (M – Nantes): It’s not secret that Klinsmann fancies the Nantes attacker, and he had a great season in Ligue 1 this year. Frankly, I’m stupid for having not included him the first time around.

28. Timothy Chandler (D – Nürnburg): After repeatedly passing on call ups from Klinsmann over the course of this qualification cycle, I’m still a little surprised that he’s in the team. One for the future, for sure, there’s a good chance we could see Chandler handed Ronaldo-marking responsibilities if they aren’t handed to Chandler.

NP. Nick Rimando (G – Real Salt Lake): I knew he would make the team, and my original inclusion of Sean Johnson in his place was more wishful thinking than anything else. That said, Rimando is an unbelievable shot stopper and the clear third choice, even if a little shortsighted in the long run.

DeAndre Yedlin
sounders youngster yedlin is the only inclusion that really caught me off guard.

NP. John Anthony Brooks (D – Hertha Berlin): Brooks has been on the fringes of the national team for a minute now, but his limited appearances for the US have been far from convincing. But there’s no doubt that the big, brawny German is talented. And to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Klinsmann selects him for a starting spot at some point.

NP. DeAndre Yedlin (D – Seattle Sounders): I’m actually really, really surprised that Yedlin is in this squad, and he might just be the only guy who I think including was a mistake. Yes, I see Yedlin as the right back of the future for the team. But he’s still prone to poor defensive decisions,and relies on his speed to make up for them all too often.

NP. Julian Green (M/F – Bayern Munich): Well, the youngster’s inclusion certainly doesn’t quell any of the conspiracy theories about him being an offered a World Cup place if he committed to the US. And while his talent is undeniable, many will suspect that it was a “Green or Donovan” debate. I don’t think that’s the case, but Green’s inexperience at this level compared to Donovan’s is slightly concerning. That said, I’m glad he’s in the team and think this could a tremendous experience that he can use as a launching pad.

—————————————–

FINAL PREDICTION SCORE: 16 for 23
Some pundit I am. After accurately predicting 21 of the 23 for South Africa, I’m feeling a little stupid about some of my selections this time around. But those misses also illustrate just how much things can change in an 8-month time span when it comes to international football.

My overall thoughts on the roster? In short, I’m pleased. Donovan’s exclusion is the one sore point for me, but as I said earlier, I get why Jurgen might have passed him up. Many have pointed to the youth and inexperience in this team as a weak point, and I’ll hear those complaints. But with the team set to face high heat and humidity in Brazil, I think Klinsmann was wise to bring a youthful, fit group of players.

That said, I’m absolutely not siding with those who are claiming that the youthful team is a clear sign that we’re writing off 2014 in favor of 2018. Yeah we have a tough draw. And yes, we have some players included in the team (Brooks, Green and Yedlin) that are here with Russia in mind, at least partially. But with Beasley, Beckerman, Davis, Jones, and Wondolowski all well into their 30’s, that point starts to ring a little hollow.

This is a good squad with lots of potential. It’s not Germany-caliber, but then again, it was never going to be. You don’t have to be happy with all of the selections, but there’s no point in harping on about it now. Unless someone get’s injured, this is who we’re stuck with. So suck it up, and get behind the team… they’re going to need our support more than ever.

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