With U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann set to submit his 23-man squad for next month's Copa America Centenario this Friday, the final Hot List of the 2015-16 season has arrived. Who is trending up (or down) this week? Take a look below.
Steve Birnbaum, D, D.C. United (MLS)
Why he's here: The steady center back has helped D.C. United record an impressive defensive record this season; only six of MLS's 20 teams have conceded fewer goals.
What this means: The easy-going Californian doesn't...
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last time we attempted to decode U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's depth chart, it proved to be an impossible task. This was right after the Americans' dreadful showing at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and back then there were far more questions than answers. Klinsmann likes to keep people -- his own players included -- guessing. But back then, even simple queries were anything but. Now, we know a lot more.
Brad Guzan is the starter in goal, and Tim Howard is the No. 2. DaMarcus Beasley hasn't played his last game with the U.S. after all; in fact, Klinsmann says now that if the popular left back is healthy, he'll start against Mexico in next month's all-important Confederations Cup playoff in Pasadena, California.
We know Fabian Johnson is Klinsmann's preferred left back. We know that Jermaine Jones' experience is "needed" against El Tri. We also know that with the games that matter (the 2018 World Cup cycle begins a month after the Mexico game), the U.S. bench has gotten shorter, which is why we're going three-deep at every position and not four, as was the case five months ago.
Still, Tuesday's 4-1 spanking by Brazil did leave us with unknowns, particularly in the midfield, where there appears to be no obvious choice at defensive midfielder if all of Klinsmann's first-choice players are healthy and available. Given the number of players who are either still out injured or haven't reached full fitness yet after recovering from injury -- like Beasley and Johnson -- that's no guarantee, either.
Nonetheless, a snapshot of who fits in where heading into that Oct. 10 tilt has definitely emerged. "We have a clear picture about the Mexico game," Klinsmann said after Tuesday's defeat.
Here's an educated guess -- based on Klinsmann's words and actions over the national team's just-concluded September camp -- at what that snapshot looks like.
It is often a nebulous task to define progress within the United States men's national team, especially in non-World Cup years. The significance of the team's results varies based on the quality of opponent, the availability of the players and the overall notoriety of the tournaments the team plays in. However, there is little ambiguity for U.S. team progress in 2015, as manager Jurgen Klinsmann has clearly stated that his goal is for the team to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.
The team's Gold Cup semifinal loss to Jamaica means that the U.S. must now beat Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup playoff in October. This one-off game puts added pressure on U.S. players leading up to the CONCACAF Cup, and the team's Tuesday friendly against Brazil will be the last chance for certain players to prove that they can help lead the U.S. to a big victory.
As Klinsmann stated prior to last week's friendly versus Peru, these lead-up matches serve as proving grounds: "We want to see, in these next two games, them making a real clear statement that, 'I belong in that game. I'm the one for the big moments.'"
Here is a look at five U.S. players with the most to prove -- both on Tuesday versus Brazil and with their clubs over the next month -- in order to earn a starting spot or playing time against El Tri on Oct. 10.
FRISCO, Texas -- The Americans' new-look back line is here to stay. That was the message from U.S coach Jurgen Klinsmann following the team's 2-1 Gold Cup-opening victory over Honduras on Tuesday night, a win in which Klinsmann's young defense looked wobbly early but was victimized only by Catracho midfielder Carlos Discua's second-half strike.
Liga MX, Mexico's top professional league, is quickly becoming a more viable destination for U.S. players. In addition to the technical skill necessary to compete in the league, the split-season format between a summer/fall (Apertura) and winter/spring (Clausura) championship means that players are under constant pressure to perform in order to compete for trophies.
This intense competition has been helpful for a few of U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann's recent call-ups, and players such as Ventura Alvarado and Michael Orozco are beginning to reinforce the notion that they can be relied on in international competition. Meanwhile, other American players such as Greg Garza and William Yarbrough have shown in recent months that they require more consistent play in order to rise from the fringes of the player pool.
With the 2015 Clausura completed, we're handing out grades for Liga MX-based Americans who are in the national team mix. Similar to our grades for Americans in Europe, players on this list must have featured in at least half of their club's games in the Clausura season and made at least one appearance with the USMNT over the past 18 months.
Here are report cards for six Americans based in Liga MX, including analysis on their club performance during the 2015 Clausura and its impact on their USMNT standing, along with insight from ESPN FC Mexico reporter Tom Marshall.