With CONCACAF qualification going on hiatus for the next several months, the American National Soccer team will have some time to determine who will take part in the next set of important qualification matches for the 2014 World Cup. With a rather sketchy progression in the 3rd round, the margins will be slimmer for the USA in the final round where America will need to play at their best to beat the likes of Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Here are in my opinion the five most important players for the team heading into these games ranked in order:
5. Eddie Johnson – It is a bit of an odd choice given that he has been largely absent from the squad the past few years, but when given a chance this month in the matches against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala, Johnson came through in amazing fashion scoring two goals and one assist in the games. His 90th minute winner in the first match was simply clutch. This is the type of player that Jurgen Klinsmann will want in his side in Brazil, and I fully expect him to be in the squad for the remainder of qualification and could become one of the team’s best scoring threats.
4. Michael Bradley – The central midfield player provides physical stability in the middle of the park and dominates the opposition. He has excellent scoring capabilities as well, evidenced by his 10 goals for the USA team. Playing for Roma in Italy, Bradley now has an opportunity to learn from some of the world’s best midfield players like Daniele de Rossi and Miralem Pjanic. At just 25 years of age, the best is likely to come from Michael Bradley and he should become a key figure for the national team by 2014.
3. Tim Howard – The goalie is often the most important player on a team, especially for those considered underdogs when they play against the major soccer nations like Germany and Argentina. Tim Howard has the ability to keep America in games in which they struggle, and that is a vital weapon for the team going forward. Especially considering the defensive deficiencies of this team (Notice how not one defender made this list!), the Everton star goalkeeper is vital to American success, and at age 33 is the veteran leader that the nation needs at the back.
2. Landon Donovan – After having been the most exciting player in America for a full decade and featuring in three World Cups, its incredible to realize that Donovan is just 30 years old. His drive and quick work-rate make him one of the team’s most dangerous weapons, and I attribute much of the struggles that the USA has dealt with in recent qualification games to his absence from the team due to injury. Although he has been quoted to be contemplating retirement after next year, I think that those words come from frustrations of a player who has been injured for more than a few crucial games this season. Once he recovers, he will probably start loving life again and be a key ingredient in leading America to glory.
1. Clint Dempsey –Far and away the most vital player to this team, Dempsey has been the creative force and leader of the offense for America. One of the few players to enjoy sustained success in the English Premier League, Dempsey now plays for Tottenham where he recently scored a game-winning goal against Manchester United. Playing against the world’s best week in and week out should keep Dempsey producing for the American team, and he will be the vital player in American soccer in the final qualification round of CONCACAF.