Facing a must-win game against Costa Rica in Denver on Friday night, followed by the Herculean task of an away match at Estadio Azteca on Tuesday, March 26, the United States has been hit by an unprecedented injury bug.
Already missing their best player, Landon Donovan, who is taking a break from the sport, the American side will also have to do without Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Edgar Castillo, Danny Williams, Jose Torres, and Jonathan Spector.
As a result, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has named a roster that includes just two pure outside backs, Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran and San Jose’s Justin Morrow, neither of whom has ever played a World Cup qualifier before.
Unless Klinsmann opts to start Puebla midfielder DaMarcus Beasley at left back—an experiment that famously failed at the 2009 Confederations Cup—the speedy Morrow, who earns $44,100 a year playing for the Earthquakes, will probably get the starting nod.
No matter whom Klinsmann chooses to start, it will be interesting to watch the patchwork, inexperienced squad respond to a high-pressure moment on Friday night (ESPN, 10:00 ET).
Here’s the complete roster (Club, World Cup qualifying caps/goals in parentheses):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa – 5/3 SO), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire – 0/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake – 0/0)
DEFENDERS (6): Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake – 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City – 0/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City – 6/0), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy – 1/0), Clarence Goodson (Brondby – 5/0), Justin Morrow (San Jose Earthquakes – 0/0)
MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla – 26/6), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake – 2/0), Michael Bradley (Roma – 20/5), 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)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar – 18/6), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna – 2/0), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur – 27/11), Herculez Gomez (Santos – 6/2), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC – 12/10)
Given the rash of injuries, there aren’t a lot of unexpected decisions here, but the omission of veteran defender Carlos Bocanegra qualifies as a mild surprise. Bocanegra, 33, has not been getting playing time with his club, Racing Santander of the Spanish second division, and Klinsmann opted not to call him and his considerable international experience. Here’s what the coach had to say about the decision:
“With Carlos, I have had several very good conversations over the past weeks. The reason he’s not here is because he’s simply not playing. He’s not getting any minutes with Racing Santander in the second division in Spain, so he has no flow, he has no rhythm, and he understands the situation. Carlos is still in our picture. This is not the end of his national-team career. He understands that right now he’s behind other players. He’s not in the starter picture and he understands that he gives other players a chance to show what they can prove. A very positive approach from Carlos, very professional. It really shows great character from him. We’ll play it by ear over the next couple of months, how his situation hopefully will improve. He’s on loan until the end of the season. That’s basically two more months and then he probably makes another switch in his career. This is definitely a situation where we re-evaluate it in a couple of weeks down the road.”
Here’s the coach on the outside back situation:
“It’s definitely a challenge, no doubt about it, but bringing in Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow—those are two guys that play that position day in and day out with their clubs. They’re doing very well. I had them both in the January camp so I absolutely think they have the quality to come to the next level now. But we also have other options maybe coming out of midfield. I’m comfortable that we are covered there.”
His comment about “options coming out of midfield” implies Beasley could slot in at outside back. He also suggested Maurice Edu could play in defensive midfield or at center back.
The options on the backline are either inexperienced or unused to playing with one another, or both.