Jurgen Klinsmann’s preliminary choices for the United States’ 2014 FIFA World Cup team didn’t cause most observes to bat an eyelash on Monday afternoon because it seemed like everyone was on it. Almost everyone, that is.
The 30-man roster includes certain starters, reliable backups, bubble players and a few youngsters who are expected to form the nucleus of future national teams.
The names are familiar to anyone who followed the national team through the two-year World Cup qualifying cycle and the “race for the roster” which took place over the last sixth months. It’s hard to draw many conclusions from Klinsmann’s original 30. That’s okay because now isn’t the best time to do so.
The national team’s training camp at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., will help Klinsmann pick his final 23-man roster by June 2. Klinsmann’s decision to play the waiting game creates a scenario in which the training camp becomes an epic, two-and-a-half-week dogfight for seats on the plane to Brazil.
This is where anti-analysis comes into play.
The notable omissions from the preliminary roster reveal more about the current state of the national team than the names on the list, as they show areas of both strength and weakness.
Eddie Johnson is the most surprising omission. The experienced and versatile forward was an impact player during qualifying, but his current form with D.C. United and failure to lock down a position on the national team made him a victim of the numbers in Klinsmann’s first reckoning.
“It has to do a little bit with the fact that we take six forwards into the 30-man roster and in those forwards I also see Landon Donovan competing for one of those spots,” Klinsmann said, according to USSoccer.com.
Klinsmann’s comments suggest that he is happy with his attacking options. Barring injury, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi will make up three of the front four players in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Brad Davis, Joe Corona, Fabian Johnson and Julian Green will battle front-runner Donovan for that fourth spot. Aaron Johannsson looks to have the inside track as Altidore’s first backup. Donovan can play up front as well as behind the striker where Dempsey currently reigns.
Omissions Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, Herculez Gomez and Jose Torres suffered fates similar to Johnson’s. They wouldn’t be starters, and others were ahead them in the pecking order when the sands emptied to the bottom of the hourglass on Sunday.
Midfielder Danny Williams and central defender (slash midfielder) Tim Ream had good seasons in England’s Championship (second division), respectively, but the national team is fully stocked with starters, bubblers and futures at their positions.
The U.S. squad looks strong in the middle, while spots out wide — at the fullback and attacking midfield positions — are up for grabs.
These wide areas will see the most intense competition for places in the coming weeks, as there are the most opportunities for players to improve their stocks.
Klinsmann’s wait-and-see approach to team building could pay huge dividends in Brazil. The first 14 spots on the gameday squad are probably spoken for at this point, but the best last nine is where the U.S. has the most room for improvement. Klinsmann can emerge from training camp with better role players and better chemistry than he had coming into it, and this could be the difference between escaping the group of death or making an inglorious exit after three games.