While some other national teams already have their starting lineups pretty much sorted out, trying to figure out the U.S. national team’s first-choice squad is a much trickier proposition.
Yes, there are star players who figure to be key figures in Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad, like Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, but trying to identify the rest of the starting lineup the Americans will trot out in Brazil is not so simple.
Part of the reason for that is the unprecedented depth the team has, particularly in midfield, but another reason for the uncertainty surrounding several positions is the lack of established options at some vulnerable positions.
Here is a rundown of how the U.S. national team starting lineup could shake out when the Americans face Ghana in the World Cup opening match (assuming everybody stays healthy):
Tim Howard will be in goal. The Everton standout is enjoying a stellar season and is the unquestioned first-choice option.
The defense in front of Howard is a bit more of a work in progress. Matt Besler is the only guaranteed starter in the back four in terms of player at a set position. Omar Gonzalez had long been considered the player most likely to partner with Besler in central defense, but his continued struggles make his hold on the position a bit shaky. Geoff Cameron should be the right back, while Fabian Johnson should edge out veteran left back DaMarcus Beasley at left back (unless Klinsmann decides to play Johnson in midfield).
The midfield is very tough to project, and will depend largely on what system Klinsmann chooses to go with. If he sticks with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, then Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey will likely form the triangle in either setup. Bradley’s ability to handle a more attack-minded role could open the door for Kyle Beckerman to start, with Dempsey shifting to forward.
The flank midfield spots will be manned by a combination chosen from among Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya and potentially Fabian Johnson. Donovan and Zusi seem like safe bets to be chosen, though Bedoya has enjoyed a strong season in Ligue 1 with Nantes.
Klinsmann could also choose to play impressive young forward Aron Johannsson in a wide forward/wide midfield role. Not strong enough to play as a target striker, but a dangerous scoring option, Johannsson could force his way into the starting lineup, or make Klinsmann consider a 4-4-2 formation to fit him in.
Jozy Altidore remains the team’s top target forward option, even with his awful struggles at English Premier League side Sunderland. Altidore showed his strength and finishing ability during World Cup qualifying, and should anchor whichever system Klinsmann settles on. If, however, Altidore’s club struggles carry over, then Klinsmann could go with a forward tandem of Johannsson and Dempsey.