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Mar 5, 2014

Key position battles on the USMNT

Altidore [576x324] - Copy
Has Jozy Altidore done enough of late to remain the starting target striker?

The World Cup is drawing closer, which means that there are 32 managers riddled with stress and anxiety over how to assemble their rosters for the world’s biggest tournament. Making this task more difficult is the fact that players are doing everything they can to impress these managers, and their form over the next few months could mean everything to their individual World Cup ambitions.

The United States men’s national team serves as an example of this systemic process, and manager Jurgen Klinsmann still has decisions to make about his starting 11 going into the team’s opening game against Ghana. These decisions are vital in establishing a game plan for the group stage of the tournament, and at every position Klinsmann will be looking for the player who not only is the best fit for his overall philosophy but also fits well with his 10 teammates on the field.

With that said, here are the four most intriguing competitions for a starting position on the U.S. team -- left back, right back, holding midfield and target striker -- along with the top contenders and a front-runner pick. These are based on the level of interest that Klinsmann has shown in these players along with their form for both club and country during this extensive scouting process.

Left back
Contenders: DaMarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson

Klinsmann requires a left back who can join the attack and become a wide option for the three attacking midfielders. This movement is standard within a 4-2-3-1 formation, and typically as the attack builds, the wide defenders push forward while the central defenders split further apart and one of the holding midfielders occupies that central area of defense. Veteran DaMarcus Beasley is the incumbent first choice at left back given his seven appearances in World Cup qualifying, and the fact that he is already averaging 56 percent of his touches in the attacking half for Puebla in the Liga MX Clausura this season is a testament to his attacking abilities.

Beasley’s primary competition for this role is Hoffenheim defen...