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Jan 28, 2013

Defense a concern for U.S. in qualifiers

HOUSTON -- With injuries to Steve Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson, and Danny Williams' lack of playing time, the U.S. has defensive worries heading into next week's World Cup qualifier at Honduras, the opener in the final round to get to next year's tournament in Brazil.

The Americans play an exhibition against Canada on Tuesday night, their only tuneup this year before the Feb. 6 qualifier in San Pedro Sula.

Regulars such as Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley remained with their European clubs for games this weekend and will meet up with the national team on Sunday in Miami.

Cherundolo and Johnson both sat out games with their German clubs last weekend, and defender Steven Beitashour left the team's three-week training camp in California following surgery to repair a sports hernia. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he'll consider "all the alternatives" at outside backs.

"If there are some players with problems, players with injuries, players who can't make it, or whatever," Klinsmann said Monday, "we have all the alternatives. We have a little pool where the next in line is ready to go."

One possible replacement is Timmy Chandler, recommitted to playing for the U.S. late last year and started at right back in an exhibition match with Russia. Born in Germany, Chandler, who plays for Nuremburg, would become tied to the American national team if he plays in a qualifier.

The outside backs in the January camp included Tony Beltran, A.J. DeLaGarza, Connor Lade, Alfredo Morales and Justin Morrow.

"We monitor closely what the players are doing in Europe, what rhythm of games they have, what goes on with injuries," Klinsmann said. "At the same time, every training session that we do here, every scrimmage that we play here has an impact on their position the big picture."

A total of 23 players went through Klinsmann's January camp and 18 will suit up against Canada, already eliminated from qualifying. Klinsmann is encouraged by the growing depth he sees in the American player pool.

"We have a lot of good, quality players coming through there," he said. "Their job is to challenge whoever is in front of them, if there is any (player) in front of them. We want to see that they're going to show that on Tuesday night, so we're excited about finishing off this camp in a very positive way."

Landon Donovan is not part of the U.S. team's immediate plans. The 30-year-old midfielder, the American career leader in goals and assists, said before the MLS Cup he would take an indefinite break from soccer.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said last week that he expects Donovan to return to the MLS this season, and Klinsmann wants to see how Donovan looks before the U.S. team recalls him.

"Once he's back in training with the Galaxy, he will kind of go back into his rhythm and work on getting his game back to the highest level," Klinsmann said. "Once he's there and he's playing consistently, we'll look at it on our end."

Among the players in the January camp, forward Eddie Johnson and midfielder Graham Zusi would seem likely to make the roster for Honduras after starting the last two qualifiers in 2012. Zusi caught Klinsmann's attention in January camp after a strong 2011 with Sporting Kansas City and he ended up with national team appearances in 2012, including three starts in World Cup qualifiers.

"Graham became a very consistent element in our group," Klinsmann said. "He took it already last January and started to implement it and played a very consistent, very good season with Kansas City and broke into the team and became a very important element to us."

Klinsmann became the U.S. coach in July 2011 and the Americans went 9-2-3 in 2012, including landmark wins in exhibitions at Italy and Mexico. With World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup on the schedule this season, Johnson said he sensed a high level of intensity during the January practices.

"This crunch time," Johnson said. "It's time to get focused, time to get serious. All of us had good seasons last year and we put the work in for three weeks in L.A. Now, hopefully, we can let the hard work speak for itself."

Canada, fielding its youngest roster since 2006, is coming off a 4-0 loss to Denmark in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday.

"The main thing is the experience, getting these guys understanding what it takes to play at the international level," said midfielder Dwayne DeRosario, a member of Canadian team since 1998. "The cost of making mistakes, at this level, will punish you."

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