U.S. MNT Hot List: Agudelo warming up, Ream's shaky match
Plenty of Americans were in action over the past seven days, but the biggest mover on the Hot List this week might be someone who hasn't played a minute since the New England Revolution were eliminated from the MLS playoff race by eventual champion Sporting Kansas City back in November.
On Sunday, the news came down that Juan Agudelo -- whose goal in an international friendly against South Africa in 2010 made the then-18-year-old the youngest U.S. scorer -- is headed to the nurturing, wide-open Dutch league -- the same circuit that helped fellow young American strikers Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson grow and improve significantly in recent seasons. Given Altidore's struggles with Sunderland in the Premier League this season, it's funny that Agudelo's failure to secure the British work permit that would have allowed him to join the Potters when his contract with the Revs expired last month could actually benefit his development, while potentially upping his chances of making U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's World Cup roster.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. With five months to go until Brazil 2014 kicks off and -- according to Klinsmann -- as many as nine roster spots still up for grabs, lots of things can still happen before those 23 golden tickets to Brazil are doled out. Besides, Agudelo's hardly the only player whose stock is rising (or falling) due to developments on the club front. Here's who's hot and not this week. Warming up
Juan Agudelo, F, Utrecht (Netherlands)
Why he's here: The 21-year-old officially signed with Premier League side Stoke City, which then loaned him to mid-table Eredivisie club Utrecht.
What this means: A hot start in Holland may not be enough to propel Agudelo onto the World Cup roster, but it would help him compete with Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez and others for the final forward spot. Aron Johannsson, F, AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)
Why he's here: In AZ's first match following the winter break, Johannsson picked up where he left off last year, notching his 19th goal in all competitions -- just 12 short of Altidore's record haul (for an American) of 31, set with the Cheese Farmers last season. What this means: The 23-year-old remains firmly behind Altidore on the national team's forward depth chart, but Johannsson's consistency is closing the gap as the World Cup approaches. If his development continues, the crafty Icelandic striker could get significant minutes in Brazil. Oguchi Onyewu, D, Sheffield Wednesday (England)
Why he's here: A week after signing as a free agent from fellow Championship side QPR, Onyewu went 90 minutes and assisted on the Owls’ goal in a 1-1 tie with Burnley.
What this means: With 20 games, minimum, left in Sheffield Wednesday's season, the oft-injured veteran could climb Klinsmann's depth chart quickly if he keeps his spot and stays healthy, especially among an extremely green group of center backs -- not one of whom has ever played a minute at a World Cup. Brek Shea, M, Barnsley (England)
Why he's here: Shea (who, like Agudelo, is also on loan from Stoke) was active Saturday in his home debut for second-tier Barnsley, going 77 minutes and creating three powerful shots for himself in a 2-0 win.
What this means: It's Shea's second consecutive league start for the Tykes, but Barnsley plays just one game -- Jan. 28 against Blackburn -- before the Texan is due back with the Potters. With Shea's prospects for playing time at Stoke still in doubt, extending the loan through season's end could make sense for all parties. Cooling down
Tim Ream, D, Bolton Wanderers (England)
Why he's here: It's a little unfair to include Ream here without noting how he won a starting spot this season after spending most of 2012-13 on Bolton's bench. Still, the ex-New York Red Bulls center back was on the wrong end of Wanderers' 7-1 shelling on Saturday -- with the Bolton News calling his first-half performance "an absolute disaster." What this means: After being overlooked for a pair of friendlies in November, Ream already faced long odds of an invite to the Yanks' March 5 friendly in Ukraine. Now, his World Cup hopes are even more faint. Jose Torres, M, Tigres (Mexico)
Why he's here: Scoring a sweet goal in midweek Copa MX action wasn't enough for Torres to earn back his starting spot; the 26-year-old came off the bench for Tigres in Friday's 2-0 loss at Moreila.
What this means: For Torres to have any chance of making a late run at a World Cup roster spot, the South Africa 2010 veteran needs to be starting -- and occasionally scoring (and assisting) -- regularly in Liga MX.