The U.S. is through to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and hey, as J. Peterman once told Elaine Benes, “Congratulations on a job … done.”
Yes, there were some bumps and nervous moments along the way. But now, the team has a chance to regroup, get key players like Landon Donovan healthy, and most important, inject some youth into the ranks, especially on defense, where Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo are both 33.
Here are the five we’d like to see first, preferably starting with the Nov 14 friendly against Russia:
1. Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles Galaxy—The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year tore his ACL last year but has made a solid recovery and needs to be given a shot alongside Geoff Cameron at center back. Clarence Goodson doesn’t look like the answer there, Bocanegra will be 35 come Brazil 2014, and Tim Ream is struggling for playing time with second-tier Bolton right now. Let’s see the 24-year-old Gonzalez.
2. Josh Gatt, Molde FK (Norway)—He’s 21, he can play outside back or winger, and he’s got blazing speed. Cherundolo can’t be excellent forever, and would probably make a great mentor for Gatt.
3. Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City—Klinsmann called the 25-year-old Notre Dame graduate for the August friendly against Mexico, but Besler didn’t see the field. He’s been one of the best defenders in MLS this season and would provide a little more mobility at center back than Gonzalez.
4. Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa—The 23-year-old outside back has secured a starting spot in the Premier League. He’s ready for another try with the USMNT.
5. Justin Morrow, San Jose Earthquakes—Another speedster who can play on the left—a traditional problem area for the U.S.—the 25-year-old Morrow looked completely comfortable against Chelsea in the MLS All-Star Game. He’s not likely to knock Fabian Johnson out of the left back spot, but could provide depth.
Other possibilities include 19-year-old Charles Gyau of Hoffenheim, and Liverpool academy player Marc Pelosi, 18. Think of the 2002 U.S. team—the most successful U.S. World Cup team of the modern era—and how they benefitted from the inclusion of then 20-year-olds Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley.