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Apr 3, 2014

USMNT Brazil Board 13.0

Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi and Tim Howard are all key players for the U.S.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Wednesday’s 2-2 draw here against Mexico was fascinating on so many levels, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

There was Julian Green’s hyped-to-the-nines debut, for starters, in which the 18-year-old German-American prodigy showed skill but also the inexperience that makes his inclusion on the 23-man World Cup roster far from a sure thing, at least right now.

There was Landon Donovan sitting on the bench against the team he’s tormented so often throughout his unparalleled national team career, and the resulting hysteria on Twitter -- most of it diffused by Jurgen Klinsmann afterward when the U.S. coach revealed that Donovan had been slowed in training by a knee injury. And there were goals -- one that counted, one that didn’t -- from the two forwards who are probably competing with Green for the final attacking spots.

Let’s start there.

Less than two months before FIFA’s June 2 roster deadline, Chris Wondolowski is listed for the first time in this space following his third goal in his past two games with the Yanks. Slowly, the MLS scoring machine is quieting concerns about his ability to find the net at the highest level, and his timing couldn’t be better. Wondolowski brings intangibles, too -- his work ethic is legendary and he’s beloved in the locker room -- that could force Klinsmann not to leave him home.

The temperamental Johnson is a far riskier proposition in a team that will be sequestered for at least six weeks this summer, but he also tied DaMarcus Beasley for the most appearances on the team in 2013, and his late finish against Mexico after entering off the bench was a thing of beauty, even if it was nullified by one of the tightest offside calls you will ever see.

Where that leaves Green is anyone’s guess. His talent is unquestioned -- Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola isn’t in the habit of handing just any teenager Champions League minutes -- and Klinsmann will give him every opportunity to make the cut. But the fact remains that those 5 minutes against CSKA Moscow in November, three of which came in stoppage time of a game that had already been decided, represent the entirety of Green’s first-team professional career. For us, that’s simply not enough to vault him past either Wondolowski or Johnson right now. In May? Well, things could look different. Johnson still hasn’t scored for D.C. United this season. Maybe Wondolowski is peaking too soon. And maybe Green will get a few games in with Bayern’s top squad before May now that the Bundesliga champs have successfully defended their title, minutes that push him over the edge.

There are big unknowns on the back line, too. Omar Gonzalez struggled mightily against Mexico, but removing him from the lineup could create a domino effect that unsettles the rest of the defense. If Klinsmann does move Geoff Cameron into the middle from right back, will the three pre-World Cup games the Yanks are scheduled to play before flying to South America be enough to get Cameron comfortable for the main event?

And we still haven’t discussed the formation, which Klinsmann surprisingly switched from his longstanding 4-2-3-1 to an old-school 4-4-2 versus El Tri.

There’s so much to consider still, even with Brazil 2014 now clearly visible on the horizon. If Wednesday night was any indication, it’s going to be fascinating all the way to the end.

Here is the latest projected USMNT lineup (4-4-2) and roster for the 2014 World Cup:

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TEAM USA: 2014 WORLD CUP ROSTER

Roll over player names for scouting notes, analysis and a confidence ranking. All ages and experience are as of Thursday.

 

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