It's fitting that our Brazil Board, a projection of the U.S. national team's roster for the 2014 World Cup, goes exactly two deep at every position.
From the moment he took over the U.S. program in July 2011, coach Jurgen Klinsmann's oft-repeated aim has been to raise his team's level of play by creating stiff competition at each of the 11 spots on the field. Two weeks ago, sitting next to veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard at a news conference before the U.S. played Jamaica in Kansas City, Kan., the coach was at it again.
"It helps Timmy to have Brad Guzan behind him, challenging him," Klinsmann said. "That's what we try to do at every position -- to double it and then hopefully triple it. It's an ongoing process, but I think we've done that pretty well over the last two years."• Melville: U.S. only needs two strikers
Don't believe him? Consider some of the names that aren't listed below. Forward Herculez Gomez, who started eight of the Americans' first nine qualifiers for 2014 before a knee injury set him back over the summer, is now on the outside looking in. So, too, are promising young attackers Terrence Boyd and Joe Corona, both regular call-ups during the Klinsmann era, and veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan, one of the two Americans competing in the UEFA Champions League this season (Jermaine Jones is the other).
Still, our two-deep format isn't perfect. There's nowhere to name the third keeper, for example -- apologies to ironclad No. 3 Nick Rimando -- and it doesn't adequately account for those who are in the running for more than one spot. Take Geoff Cameron, who we have behind Jones in defensive midfield. Come May, Cameron could easily be starting at right back, where he plays for Premier League team Stoke City, or in central defense, another unsettled spot where Klinsmann says the 28-year-old fits best.
"He's versatile," Klinsmann says of Cameron. "This is a plus."
Landon Donovan is versatile, too. In this projection, he's at left midfield, where he has played often during his legendary U.S. career. But the country's all-time scoring leader is also a first-stringer on the right wing, behind the forward(s) or up top.
There are always a few wild cards, of course. MLS midfielder Brad Evans has done an admirable job filling in at right back during the Hexagonal, but healthy-again vet Steve Cherundolo could make a serious run at his old job over the next seven months. There's also enough time for someone like Brek Shea, who hasn't played much for club or country since joining Stoke in January, to start a few games, score a few goals and start building a case, even if he goes to England's second tier to do it.
But the uncertainly isn't limited to the backups or bubble players.
The big five of Donovan, Howard, Jones, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey have long been undisputed starters. That's still the case, but it can't be overlooked that Donovan was yanked at halftime in his most recent U.S. appearance, Guzan keeps inching closer to Howard, Jones has an uncertain future at German club Schalke, Bradley is coming off injury on a team (Roma) that's been unstoppable without him and Dempsey has struggled mightily since returning to MLS. The smart money has all of them on the field in Brazil. But things can change quickly in international soccer, and there are no guarantees. Which is precisely why how the next seven months play out will be so fascinating to watch.
“In May, it’s down to us coaches to choose the 23 guys who have our belief and trust to play a really good tournament,” Klinsmann said in Kansas City. “Maybe there are still some surprises around the corner.”
TEAM USA: 2014 WORLD CUP ROSTER