World Cup Roster React

Submitted by Brian on May 23rd, 2014 at 1:03 PM

ALL RIGHT FINE IT STARTS NOW. If you weren't around four years ago or four years before that, when the World Cup rolls around I cover the USMNT like it is the subject of this blog. I'll be interested to see if the ratio of people pleased by this to people disgusted because 'Murica has gone up.

But whatever man. It's the offseason, and I like the World Cup a lot.




That's that for Landon Donovan, who didn't even make the 23. This made me a little EMOTIONAL last night, because I mean seriously.

This man was in a Mexican lottery commercial trying to sneak into Mexico wherein he says "it's easier to win in Mexico," which brings a threat of violence until he explains he's just talking about the awesomeness of Gana Gol. And then he gets kicked out because Mexicans hate Landon Donovan.

Before the existence of Donovan it was impossible to envision Mexican fans hating any specific USA player more than he hated whatever it was the jerseys stood for in their minds, because he killed them in a way no USA player was capable of before. Because Donovan was a little weird, a little effeminate he got saddled with unflattering nicknames like "Landycakes" as soon as anything went wrong with his career. And he may even have (momentarily) lived up to that nickname when he went a little stir-crazy last year. But never forget: Mexico feared Landon Donovan.

And then there's all this other stuff.

The Analytical Hat in re: Donovan

I still don't get it unless Klinsmann's doing it for You Must Step Up purposes. Brad Davis's inclusion is solely because he can play Tiny Beckerman on set pieces and the (very) occasional cross a high-level opponent will let him swing in. He's a legit A in that department; Donovan is at worst a B+ and is also Landon Donovan.

The only thing that makes sense other than hand-waving motivational stuff is that Donovan's performance on the infamous "beep test" was so bad that they couldn't look the rest of the team in the eye and bring him. I don't mind dragging Green along since player #23 is never going to play, so locking that guy down and prepping him for 2018 is worthwhile.

Brad Davis, though? I look at this roster and see no way he's getting in a game. Might as well bring Landon.

The unquestioned man, then

Michael Bradley of USA

Not that there was much of a question before, but minus Donovan and coming off this display of Keyser Soze-level will…

…Michael Bradley is the engine the team is built around. I mean.

"This will be a World Cup where teams that do well will suffer. We want to be the team that can suffer the most."

This is a man with an armband whether he has it or not.

I've expressed my opinion on this repeatedly elsewhere, but to reiterate: the USMNT looks its best when Bradley is paired with an outright holder and allowed to range upfield as far as he wants. With someone else maintaining a screen to help prevent breaks, Bradley has the fitness to recover when the US is caught out. When Bradley can become part of the rushes upfield on the regular, his passing, vision, and late runs into the box give the US attack verve it lacks otherwise. Bradley also does excellent work providing the kind of high pressure that leads to dangerous turnovers and central backs hoofing it upfield. There is no substitute.

Unfortunately, Klinsmann fave-rave Jermaine Jones is around and likely to start despite his inability to be that player. When paired together it's Jones flying up the pitch more often than not, and generally to little effect other than taking a long shot. Bradley stays back and plays well, but has much less impact on the game. And at this point it's clear that Klinsmann either can't or doesn't want to rein Jones in.

I would prefer Cameron or Beckerman, but with Goodson cut and Gonzalez shaky Cameron is at least the #3 center back and will compete to be #2. Meanwhile Beckerman struggles mightily against speed. The thing he has going for him is that the US has clearly focused on having quick outside backs, which may allow for Beckerman to do his positioning and passing thing as others cover for his lack of range.

Outside backs: fast


Yedlin also brings hair to the table, so much hair that GIS asks you if you'd like to search for not just "Yedlin hair" but "Yedlin hair 2013."

The US cut Parkhurst and Evans to include DeAndre Yedlin, a 20-year-old with one cap to his name, and Timmy Chandler, who hasn't been on the team in six months. And, yeah. Had to do it. Evans and Parkhurst were consistently exploited by low-level players because they simply could not keep up with them, and since they were no less likely to get skinned by the likes of Ronaldo you might as well roll with the guys who can catch up to him after.

Pair with DaMarcus Beasley and you've got a set of gentlemen who can keep up when pressed. Are things going to go spectacularly well there? No. But Evans seemed like a disaster waiting to happen at the World Cup level and I'm saying there's a chance things are okay with Chandler and Yedlin.

Again, I would prefer Fabian Johnson at right back but with the cut of Donovan he is the most obvious choice for left wing. In fact, he is about the only choice.

Who's on the left?

Johnson and Beasley have played a lot on the left side of the US formation. Nobody else on the roster has. And nobody else on the roster seems like a natural fit there. Bedoya and Zusi are right-sided players, Johannsson and Green are striker types, Diskerud is a central player… what happens if injury or cards knock out either one of the presumptive left sided starters?

A: the other one plays left back and the US tries something along the lines of what it was doing with Eddie Johnson playing "left wing" as an in-cutting player trying to get a shot off with his stronger right foot. That could be Dempsey if the US is in a two-striker formation with Bradley its defacto attacking mid; it is most likely to be Johannsson, who has a combination of speed and deftness on the ball that no one else on the roster does except possibly Green, who is… wait for it… really green.

Johannsson does have experience on both wings, and while he says he wants to play closer to the box, in-cutting wingers opposite crossing specialists (hi, also hi) are very close to strikers anyway.

The only thing about that in-cutting formation is that it does place demands on your left back to be a high-placed defacto winger… and demands on your right back to be quite good defensively. (Like the 4-3 under is halfway between a 4-3 even and a 3-4, a setup like this is kind of halfway between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1.) In the event that Johannsson ends up as a left winger that might be a spot where you play Cameron at right back.

Chance to start against Ghana rankings

  1. Michael Bradley
  2. Tim Howard
  3. Clint Dempsey
  4. Fabian Johnson
  5. DaMarcus Beasley
  6. Matt Besler
  7. Jozy Altidore
  8. Jermaine Jones
  9. Graham Zusi
  10. Geoff Cameron
  11. Timmy Chandler
  12. Omar Gonzalez
  13. DeAndre Yedlin
  14. Aron Johannson
  15. Kyle Beckerman
  16. Alejandro Bedoya
  17. Mix Diskerud
  18. Julian Green
  19. Brad Guzan
  20. Chris Wondolowski
  21. John Brooks
  22. Brad Davis
  23. Nick Rimando

WAG at what it looks like

Don't take this bit too seriously, as Klinsmann has shown a penchant for changing things based on opponent. Bob Bradley would settle on a thing and roll it out over and over; Klinsmann has been experimenting.

But the most likely things is the 4-2-3-1 he's been rolling out on and off since his arrival:


Johnson                       Dempsey                          Zusi

                            Jones           Bradley

Beasley               Besler            Cameron              Chandler

I would prefer something like the 4-4-2 diamond they tried out in a recent friendly, with Bradley dropping back when faced with opponent possession and  Dempsey moving under Altidore to provide an outlet and link to Altidore up top.


                              Altidore          Dempsey


Johnson                                                              Zusi


Beasley                Besler          Cameron             Chandler




Johnson                                                                Zusi

                            Beckerman       Bradley

Beasley                Besler               Cameron            Chandler

I do think the Johannson-as-left wing scenario is in the mix, in which case Johnson would likely bump Beasley at left back and Cameron may flip to RB and allow Gonzalez to enter.

How I'm feeling

Nervous, man. This was supposed to be the last hurrah for this generation of players, but there are only five guys on the whole team who were at the last World Cup. This is uncharted territory for everyone save Dempsey, Bradley, Beasley, and Howard. I mean:

But I guess I'd be nervous anyway.



May 26th, 2014 at 7:26 PM ^

But you said the list is the same in every World Cup - which would imply that the Nertherlands didn''t merit serious consideration in the 70s or in 2010 if they don't now. But that's not true. My point is just that the list is mostly the same every year, but there is some variation year-to-year, enough to keep it interesting (to me, at least).


May 26th, 2014 at 11:38 PM ^

I would never have included the Netherlands. Maybe I was wrong about that in the 70s, but they were never in the set of teams that I thought had a chance. I probably should have added Platini's France though.

The only change in that list since I've been watching, which I guess means '74, was adding Spain. What they've done the last couple of tournaments was no surprise.

I think what I'm really trying to say is that you don't win a cup with your best 11--it takes a deep roster, which means a huge player pool. There always seems to be a smaller country having its golden generation that looks great early in the tournament but gets into trouble later in the knockout rounds when the injuries and fatigue and suspensions pile up.  It's a long way down from Ronaldo to whoever replaces him. It's not such a drop from Schweinsteiger to Sammy Khedira. Brazil could toss 50 names into a hat and get a competitive roster.

So I'm interested to see which small country might crack its way into the semis, but I don't expect the eventual winner to be anyone but the usual suspects. Good as they are, I'd write that 15:1 bet on Belgium without any doubts.

Anyway, however far you dilute the list I doubt their collective rosters include any MLS players at all, much less someone that's been struggling at MLS level.


May 24th, 2014 at 11:05 PM ^

Because they can't all do everything? Big as they are, their player pool is always going to be smaller than a somewhat smaller country's pool in their national sport. The US has more basketball and baseball players than China. Brazil (and probably Germany and England and Italy) has more soccer players than China.

In the sports that are truly popular in China, like table tennis and badminton, they're pretty spectacularly successful.

Kilgore Trout

May 23rd, 2014 at 1:35 PM ^

I am happy to see this back. My soccer fandom has been evolving lately, and it's nice to get info in a familiar place. 

It seems that popular opinion out there is that leaving Donovan off makes sense, but I just can't buy it. I know this is overly simplistic and will probably be slammed by soccer purists, but regardless of your form and commitment or whatever, you win soccer games by scoring goals and Donovan has proven he can score goals.

If the ball is on the spot in the 88th minute of a tie game, who do you want taking that kick? Donovan seems like the obvious choice to me.


May 23rd, 2014 at 6:25 PM ^

You're absolutely correct, I just can't understand this move beyond Klinsmann and Donovan never seeing eye to eye.  Grant Wahl also thinks it goes back to Donovan's failed loan at Bayern Munich and how that made Klinsmann never really trust him again.

The Pope

May 24th, 2014 at 2:07 AM ^

I love Donovan and if I were the coach I probably put him on the team for leadership and chemistry purposes, but let's be real, he wasn't going to play in any games. In the heat and tough conditions of Brazil an out of shape Donovan is worthless. He can't even score in MLS, much less against Germany in the World Cup. An in shape and in form Donovan, he'll yeah he is playing, but that's not what we have.

Generic MGoBlogger

May 23rd, 2014 at 1:43 PM ^

I don't necessarily agree with keeping Donovan off the Cup roster, but then again, I don't disagree... The dude just came back from a two year trip away from soccer and claimed his heart wasn't with soccer anymore... Now I highly doubt this was a deal where Klinsman is trying to make an example out of him (you can't just expect to be given a spot) because he did attempt to make a comeback.  I see this plain and simple as Landon not being one of the best 23 on the roster.  He has not been impressive in his return and simply isn't in the form he used to be.

However, I think his leadership could have been helpful beause as Brian mentioned, this is an incredibly different team with only five players on this roster that played in 2010.  Should be interesting to see how the young ones fare... I don't see this team getting out of the group, but its the Cup and overjoyed that it's back... Won't miss a game.

Wolverine In Exile

May 23rd, 2014 at 1:45 PM ^

And I'm having a hard figuring out why he was left off the roster as he:

1) Does still have value in VERY limited minutes when you're looking to go all out offense

2) Was still seen by active players as respected

and (3) made no bones about the willingness to come off thebench and not be a head case.

You would think that for team unity, JK would have found a ceremonial sit-on-the-bench 23rd spot for him like England tried to do for Beckham. That said, the piece on SI by Grant Wuhl that talked about Klinnsman's penchant for guys that go all out (see the quotes from Jurgen about Wondo) may just speak that JK's going for a culture change of guys who would run through a brick wall for the national team. Donovan's sabbatical and his somewhat reluctant desire to get back to national team competition didn't speak for the intensity that JK has been looking for.  I gotta think that either in body language or how he was preparing, Donovan just wasn't showing the balls to the wall despiration that  JK was seeking. Remember Eddie Johnson was left off the invited 30 for the training camp too. Message should be received now by Altidore, Dempsey, et al that any slack will not be tolerated.


May 23rd, 2014 at 2:01 PM ^

If that is the case, what on earth is Timmy Chandler doing on the team? The guy has turned down numerous call-ups due to "injuries". Didn't even feature for the U.S. in the lead up to the WC, but there he is, in the final 23. 

For that matter, if that is your criteria, why include Julian Green, whose only playing for the U.S. because he doesn't have a shot at playing for Germany? 


May 23rd, 2014 at 6:21 PM ^

Perhaps. Chandler is so crucial at right back that he hasn't been seen there since February 6th 2013 on the USMNT. And I was merely pointing out he doesn't seem to be a guy who would "run through a brick wall" for the U.S. 

1/5 of the team is German-American. Or in other words, guys who happen to have an American parent and have spent most of their lives in Germany but aren't good enough to play for Germany but happen to speak the same language as the U.S. head coach, so he overrates them and now here they are, on their way to the WC. That's how you end up with fables like the United States was fighting with Germany over Julian Green, he of 1 goal in 11 U-xx competitions. Germany will be kicking themselves for losing out on the next Lionel Messi. 

Then again, it makes sense. Klinsmann himself got the plaudits, but its become apparent Joachim Low was the mastermind behind the German resurgance as a world power. So the U.S. ended up with their B coach and now gets their C players. 


Wolverine In Exile

May 23rd, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

Is there a taxi squad or injury replacement allowance for rosters leading up to the WC or is this 23 it come hell or high water? US still has a couple friendlies before Brazil and should someone on the lower half of the 23 get hurt, is Donovan a possible late addition? He's taking this well in the media so I'm wondering if he thinks there's still a shot to make on the final plane as long as he plays good soldier..


May 23rd, 2014 at 1:55 PM ^

I love the fact that if you search "Landon Donovan Algeria" on youtube, you get all these amazing reaction videos (people at home, people in the crowd, people at bars) all going ape-shit.  One of my favorite sports memories, honestly.


May 23rd, 2014 at 1:58 PM ^

Sucks that Landon Donovan was left off the roster. I named my first born after him (not a big soccer fan but loved his name) who is now 11 years old. He's been doing great things for soccer for a long time, you dont just leave someone like him off the roster. He's an freakin icon.

CRISPed in the DIAG

May 23rd, 2014 at 2:01 PM ^

Hijack:  Can you imagine an alternate universe where we somehow allocated our elite athletic abiity from other sports into soccer?  In other words, picture Lebron as a Allen Iverson as a striker...Ray Lewis as a center back?  

I love this game, I wish our country was better at it.


May 23rd, 2014 at 2:26 PM ^

I can't imagine Megatron, or anyone as tall as he is, on the flank. I doubt he'd have the cutback ability and the close control that you need wingers to have at 6'5 . There's generally a reason you don't see many outfield players, besides central defenders, that are above 6'2. (And guys that height that play in the middle of the field, like Yaya Toure, look really big). 

MI Expat NY

May 23rd, 2014 at 2:26 PM ^

The better argument isn't with the guys that make to the NBA/NFL, those guys are mostly physical ideals for their sport and position, its with the the thousands and thousands of guys who are excellent athletes who chase fooball and basketball dreams despite not being the physical ideal for those sports and thus never really having a chance to accomplish anything beyond non big-time college athletics.  If soccer was the number one sport for these thousands of great athletes who are 6'2" and under and weigh less than 200 pounds, it's hard to figure that we wouldn't have a better national soccer team.  

CRISPed in the DIAG

May 23rd, 2014 at 2:46 PM ^

Great point.  But our athletes have size AND athleticism.  Lebron isn't an *ideal* size for the type of game he plays - that's what makes guys of his ilk (Majic, Bird) such a difficult matchup.  As a country, we seem to have more of these anomolies than other countries.  But they're playing 'Murican sports.  


May 23rd, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

its with the the thousands and thousands of guys who are excellent athletes who chase fooball and basketball dreams despite not being the physical ideal for those sports and thus never really having a chance to accomplish anything beyond non big-time college athletics.

Meh. Frankly, the sooner most guys figure out that they probably aren't going to make a living playing sports, the better off they'll be in the long run. Even those who make it to the pros end up broke half the time.

MI Expat NY

May 23rd, 2014 at 4:30 PM ^

I didn't mean to imply that all those thousands chasing football and basketball dreams are chasing pro contracts.  Some are chasing friday night lights glory.  Some just really like their chosen sports.  The point is that there are over a million high school football players, many of whom have been playing since they were in elementary school.  Can you honestly say that we wouldn't have a better collection of the country's 23 best soccer players if even half of those kids had instead chosen to throw their passion into soccer rather than football?  Same thing for basketball and baseball.  


May 23rd, 2014 at 3:48 PM ^

The only way is If those athletes start playing soccer at a young age instead of playing other sports.

On top of athleticism, soccer also requires you to be technically proficient. Arsene Wenger said that if a player doesn't show the technical proficiency by age 14, he/she will probably never be an elite soccer player.