U.S. men's national team 2014 report cards
There is more than one lens through which to view 2014 for the U.S. national team. The side got out of a very difficult World Cup group in Brazil and won plenty of fans along the way. Yet stylistically, the U.S. didn't veer too far from the approach of past sides, leaving one to wonder just how much progress has been made in the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
The same is true of the players. The extreme competition at the World Cup and elsewhere resulted in fluctuating form for more than a few performers. And as we saw in the cases of the Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Aron Johannsson, injury can take a toll as well.
With that in mind, here are the final report cards for 2014. (For field players, a minimum of five appearances is required.)
Tim Howard, A-plus: One shudders to think where the U.S. would have been without an in-form Howard at the World Cup. Simply put, he was outstanding from beginning to end. His return to international play next summer will make for an interesting goalkeeping battle with Brad Guzan.
Jermaine Jones, A: Went from being loathed to loved in a matter of weeks. That's what a World Cup goal will do for you. His overall play and energy were outstanding as well, although he did start to run out of gas as the World Cup progressed. His initial stints as a center-back have been impressive.
Brad Guzan, A: Klinsmann has said all the right things about there being a competition. But with Tim Howard taking a break from international play, the job is Guzan's to lose, so long as he continues to excel at club level, which he is at the moment.
Fabian Johnson, A-minus: He was outstanding at the World Cup, providing a massive attacking presence with his runs out of the back. His goal in a friendly against Turkey might go down as one of the best team goals the U.S. scored all year. His late-year regression represents a concern going forward.
Matt Besler, A-minus: His play at the World Cup was so steady -- the last 30 minutes against Belgium notwithstanding -- especially in terms of his distribution and decision-making. With Jones moving to center-back, Besler finds himself fighting for his spot.
Kyle Beckerman, A-minus: There was a time when it was thought Beckerman would go to Brazil just to provide cover. Instead, he became a mainstay with his savvy positioning and composed passing. He really should have been on the field against Belgium.
Nick Rimando, A-minus: Looks to be doing all he can to push Guzan, and he impressed in some of the latter friendly matches, especially against the Czech Republic. The only question is whether at age 35, can he last until 2018?
Omar Gonzalez, B-plus: Gonzalez put to rest questions about his form and health heading into the World Cup, and he was solid once he entered the lineup against Germany. He seemed always to be well placed to make interceptions and tackles, and his distribution -- not always his strong suit -- picked up considerably.
Clint Dempsey, B-plus: No player suffered more from Altidore's injury than Dempsey. He gamely took one for the team by playing as a lone striker, and struck for two goals despite being stranded for long stretches.
DaMarcus Beasley, B-plus: The ageless wonder proved to be the solution to the U.S. team's problems at left-back, both in terms of attack and defense. A remarkable turnaround for a player whose international career was thought to be over two years ago.
DeAndre Yedlin, B-plus: Another player who justified his spot on the World Cup roster with some impressive showings off the bench. His defending improved, although his distribution in his own half still needs work. The big question now is whether he will get the games at Tottenham he needs in order to progress.
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Greg Garza, B: No player helped himself more post-World Cup than Garza. He's getting steady time at club level, and his touch on the ball and solid tackling have put him in contention to have a banner 2015.
Julian Green, B: His goal against Belgium repaid Klinsmann's faith, but questions remain about his strength and durability. A loan to Hamburg hasn't worked out as hoped, but Klinsmann keeps calling him up.
Mix Diskerud, B-minus: Was tethered to the bench during the World Cup, and after being handed more responsibility for the rest of the year, he delivered -- dare I say -- mixed results, mostly ups, though.
Alejandro Bedoya, B-minus: His commitment to defense was never in question, but his World Cup performances lacked incisiveness in the attacking half. That said, he began to take on a more prominent role as the year progressed. His international career is by no means done.
John Brooks, C-plus: His game-winning goal against Ghana was one of the team's more-inspiring World Cup moments. Brooks has loads of ability both defensively and with the ball, but looking at his year in full, he needs to show more consistency, something that has plagued him at club level as well.
Michael Bradley, C-plus: His play in the attacking half at the World Cup wasn't as sharp as it was in the past. If only Klinsmann could have bottled the Bradley who excelled in an April friendly against Mexico and broken that out in Brazil. It's worth remembering that his work on the defensive side of the ball was as good as ever. A persistent foot injury does much to explain his struggles.
Jozy Altidore, C-plus: Oh, what might have been if not for his hamstring injury. It's quite possible -- even likely -- that he wouldn't have gotten the five goals Jurgen Klinsmann said he would if he had stayed healthy. He was still missed, and 2014 will always be tinged with disappointment.
Geoff Cameron, C: The inability of Klinsmann to decide upon a single position for Cameron has not helped the Stoke City player's international form. Long stretches of solid play have been undone by catastrophic breakdowns. He still has the ability to be a key player in the upcoming cycle.
Graham Zusi, C: He'll be remembered for his two assists at the World Cup, but also for the way he faded in and out of matches. It will be interesting to see how he fits into Klinsmann's plans.
Brad Davis, C: Displayed his usual array of decent touches and set-piece deliveries when given the chance to play -- which wasn't often -- but needed to get on the ball more.
Alfredo Morales, C: A player who is clearly a work in progress. His lovely pass to Bobby Wood against Colombia showed his ability to make an impact in the attacking third, but needs to find more consistency defensively.
Timmy Chandler, D-plus: The left-back spot was there for the taking, but Chandler didn't grab it. His athleticism and ability on the ball aren't in question, but his concentration goes missing too often.
Aron Johannsson, D-plus: Another player whose play was affected by an injury. The fact that he never got another game at the World Cup after attempting to replace Altidore said it all.
Chris Wondolowski, D-minus: He will forever be remembered for his miss against Belgium, which is a shame given the immense amount of work he put in to get on Klinsmann's radar, as well as his performances leading up to the tournament, especially in the April friendly against Mexico.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.