USMNT Hot List: Diskerud, Agudelo shine; Dempsey struggles
CARSON, Calif. -- Our weekly hot list is nominally about tracking club performances, but let's not let the letter of the law override its spirit: to determine where national team players -- in what U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann likes to call his "picture" of the squad -- stand based on their recent play. With that in mind, it only makes sense to include a few of the guys who participated in Saturday's 2-0 friendly win here against South Korea.
You already know about Chris Wondolowski's contribution in the match, and how his two goals could affect his chances of making the cut for this summer's World Cup in Brazil. For others, how they played -- and for how many minutes -- provided a telling glimpse at where Klinsmann sees them fitting in, and if he sees them fitting on his final 23-man roster at all.
Klinsmann's words provided additional insight. Speaking with reporters throughout the week, the coach was asked about a number of players, including a few Europe-based Americans who didn't participate in the January camp, and what he had to say was revealing in terms of who is trending up or down.
Here are six players whose stocks are on the move.
Mix Diskerud, M, Rosenborg (Norway) Why he's here: When asked about Diskerud after his solid 60-minute showing against South Korea, Klinsmann heaped praise on the 23-year-old. "In Mix I think we have a special talent," he said. "He can play one-touch football, he sees between people, he can pass between people." What this means: Diskerud may not be a starter when the U.S. is at full strength, but it's also hard to call him a bubble player after Klinsmann's comments -- and his play -- in California. The playmaker won't resume club play until Norway's season begins next month, but he should be in Brazil barring injury or a colossal dip in form.
Jozy Altidore, F, Sunderland (England) Why he's here: If there was any doubt about Altidore's status as the Yanks' top striker, Klinsmann dispelled them last week, saying that the 24-year-old "is our No. 1 center forward that we have," despite the dearth of goals. Plus, his past two games with the surging Black Cats have been among his best this season. What this means: Klinsmann, who noted that Altidore has remained in Sunderland's lineup for the most part, is hoping his striker's much-improved work rate will eventually pay off on the score sheet before season's end. But that would only be a bonus heading into Brazil.
Juan Agudelo, F, Utrecht (Netherlands) Why he's here: A week after his European debut, Agudelo made his first start for Utrecht and went the distance, recording an assist to help his team snap a four-game skid in a 1-1, come-from-behind tie against Dutch champions Ajax. What this means: We were remiss not to include the 21-year-old alongside Wondolowski and the other forwards competing for the U.S. team's final forward spot for Brazil, but Agudelo's chances are as good as anyone's if he can build on his promising start in the Eredivisie. Cooling down
Clint Dempsey, F, Fulham (England) Why he's here: After three consecutive Premier League starts, Dempsey came off the bench and was beaten in the buildup on one of Southampton's goals in a 3-0 loss. What this means: Dempsey's underwhelming form, combined with the arrival of former Spurs teammate Lewis Holtby, could limit Deuce's playing time for the Cottagers during the final few weeks of his loan from MLS's Seattle Sounders.
Sacha Kljestan, M, Anderlecht (Belgium) Why he's here: Kljestan was enjoying perhaps the best form of his career late last year, but he has played just 45 minutes in three games for his Brussels-based club in 2014. What this means: Unless there's an injury, Kljestan would probably have to beat out Diskerud for a spot on the World Cup roster. That won't be easy if he's playing. It will be nearly impossible if he's on the bench.
Benny Feilhaber, M, Sporting Kansas City (MLS) Why he's here: Like Kljestan, Feilhaber remains squarely behind Diskerud in the central midfield pecking order, as Klinsmann's lineup selection against South Korea showed. What this means: Unlike Kljestan, Feilhaber competed head-to-head with Diskerud at the January camp. The fact that he was unable to unseat him -- or at least give Klinsmann a reason to take a longer look -- probably signals the end of the Brazilian-born 2010 World Cup veteran's hopes of returning to his native country this summer.