Injuries leave American defense shorthanded for next two Cup qualifiers.
By Robert Wagman
(Monday, March 18, 2013) -- The United States men will be dangerously shorthanded for upcoming CONCACAF World Cup final-round qualifiers Friday against Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., at 10 p.m. (ET) and March 26 against Mexico at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City at 10:30 p.m.
Both games will be broadcast by ESPN and Spanish-language Univision.
“We know we have a big task ahead of us, and we are confident our group will get the job done,” U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said. “Obviously there are many players out with injuries and that means the next person in line has a chance to step up. Getting points at home in World Cup qualifying is huge and we are looking forward to having an awesome crowd supporting us in Denver on Friday night.”
Eight players who likely would have been on the roster are injured and Klinsmann turned his back on a number of veterans who are not getting enough playing minutes with their club teams.
Most notable among the injured is goalkeeper Tim Howard, who suffered a back injury playing for Everton in the English Premier League.
Three other starters from the 2-1 road loss to Honduras to open the final round, but will miss the next two outings are right defender Timmy Chandler, who injured a hamstring playing Saturday for 1. FC Nürnberg; German-American left back Fabian Johnson, who has been out two weeks and missed TSG 1899 Hoffenheim Saturday match in Germany with a muscular problem in a hip; and German-American midfielder Danny Williams, Johnson’s teammate with Hoffenheim, who played 90 minutes Saturday, but then came down ill with a stomach virus.
Edgar Castillo, Johnson’s backup, recently suffered three facial fractures and is out. Right back Steve Cherundolo, who has 87 international appearances, has been recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Versatile defender Jonathan Spector was set to join the U.S. for the qualifiers before injuring ankle ligaments Saturday for Birmingham City of the second-tier English League Championship.
“We lost Jonathan with a tackle after 30 seconds so it will be a blow for him,” City manager Lee Clark told his club’s web site. “He was supposedly flying off to the States.”
Midfielder José Torres is sidelined with an ailing hamstring and Danny Williams.
Surprisingly, U.S. captain and defender Carlos Bocanegra, who has 110 caps, was not called in. Klinsmann pointed to the fact that Bocanegra has not played in a game since February 2 for his club, Racing Santander in Spain’s second division.
“He has no flow. He has no rhythm, and he understands that situation,” Klinsmann said in a Monday phone conference. “Carlos is still in our picture. This is not the end of his national-team career, but he understands that he is right now behind other players.”
Central defenders Michael Parkhurst and Oguchi Onyewu, and outside back Eric Lichaj, all have not been getting enough club minutes to satisfy Klinsmann.
Klinsmann is in a tough spot. Even recently, he might have expected to have Chandler, Johnson and Williams, as well as Spector. Instead, Klinsmann has called in several younger, inexperienced players including a Major League Soccer pair: the San Jose Earthquakes’ Justin Morrow and Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran.
“I had them both in the January (U.S. training camp) and I think they are ready,” Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann admitted the February 2 loss to Honduras has made Friday’s match against Costa Rica close to a must-win for the U.S. He dismissed the result as a unique situation, given the heat and humidity, plus having only two days to train. “Given the climate and the circumstances, we just played under our usual level and I think you’re going to see a completely different game on Friday night,” he said.
The Americans’ plight is what it is.” he said, but “this is a roster we have total confidence in.”
The U.S. back-line was shaky in squandering a 1-0 lead against Honduras. Given how thin it is now, several midfielders might be asked to bolster the rearguard. It would not be surprising to see Maurice Edu in the center of defense in one or both of the qualifiers, while DaMarcus Beasley might be employed as an outside back, especially in Mexico City, because playing in Puebla, 82 miles away, he is used to the heat and altitude, and he has the necessary pace.
The U.S. does have depth up front with red-hot Jozy Altidore, who has 25 goals for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, as well as Terrence Boyd (Germany) and Herculez Gomez (Mexico) being effective.
Clint Dempsey, who likely will play in a withdrawn position, scored a beautiful goal against Honduras, and he will be expected to lead the Americans. But Dempsey has been sidelined by a calf injury and his first action didn’t come until Saturday when he played the second half for Tottenham Hotspur in its 1-0 upset loss to Fulham.
Another key U.S. player will be steady central midfielder Michael Bradley, who himself has seen his recent playing time for AS Roma of Italy reduced. He only played 24 minutes Saturday after sitting out the prior game with a yellow-cards suspension.
“I’m just curious to hear (Bradley’s) side of it,” Klinsmann said. “But Michael is the kind of player, maybe if he is on the bench for one game or two, he finds his way back on the field again quickly. And we are confident he is doing that as well.”
The U.S. roster with club team and World Cup qualifying appearances in parentheses:
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England, 5), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire, Major League Soccer, 0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake, MLS, 0).
Defenders (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake, MLS, 0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS, 0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England, 6), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS, ), Clarence Goodson (Brøndby IF, MLS, 5), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes, MLS, 0).
Midfielders (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico, 26), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake, MLS, 0), Michael Bradley (AS Roma, Italy, 20), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana – 1/0), Maurice Edu (Bursaspor – 10/0), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04 – 6/0), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht – 13/0), Brek Shea (Stoke City – 2/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City – 4/0).
Forward (5): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands, 18), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Wien, Austria, 2), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur, England, 27), Herculez Gomez (Santos, Mexico, 6), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS, 12).
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.