U.S. face questions on defence for World Cup qualifying
(Reuters) - The United States advanced to the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup finals with coach Juergen Klinsmann having discovered several new faces to add to his expanding list of options.
But a lack of quality in his defence will surely be the top priority the German will need to address in the coming year as he looks to secure a place in Brazil.
A 3-1 win over Guatemala on Tuesday in Kansas City, with two goals from Clint Dempsey yet another reminder of his quality, was enough to secure passage to the 'final six' last round of qualifiers without much trouble.
An away loss in Jamaica and a draw on the road in Guatemala were the only blemishes for the U.S. team during a qualifying campaign where the outcome was never truly at risk.
While former Germany coach Klinsmann, who took over from Bob Bradley in July 2011, has achieved his first aim, he has also enjoyed a first ever win in the Azteca Stadium over Mexico and a triumph away to Italy in friendly games.
At times some fans and pundits have been surprised by the former Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Tottenham striker and coach's willingness to bring in previously untried players and at times play them in unfamiliar roles.
But he has managed to experiment while still qualifying without too much of a worry.
"We expected a very difficult qualifying campaign and that's what it is. We didn't necessarily get it down to the wire in the first stage, but that's how football works. If you give away a game like we did in Jamaica then you have to pay the price for it a little while and you have to correct it," Klinsmann said after Tuesday's game.
The U.S. now face home and away games against Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica next year with the best three teams from the round-robin fixtures heading to Brazil for the World Cup finals.
"The next round will be even tougher. You have very good teams in there, every game will be a battle, every game will be a fight and we are ready for that," said Klinsmann.
For the final two games Klinsmann raised eyebrows by leaving out Netherlands-based striker Jozy Altidore, who has been scoring freely at club level but less so in internationals, and recalling Eddie Johnson, who had been absent from the national team since 2010.
Johnson responded with both goals in a scrappy 2-1 win on an awful pitch in Antigua and then was a threat throughout against Guatemala while being used in an unfamiliar wide role.
"It's a great option now to have with Eddie. He can play wide but he can also play up front. It's exciting to see that," said Klinsmann, who has also been pleased by the emergence of wide midfielder Graham Zusi.
"I think Graham Zusi brings an element to this group. He's technically so gifted, he keeps the ball and his passing is accurate."
With Landon Donovan only featuring in two of the six qualifiers, Klinsmann has had a chance to play with his options in attack with Brek Shea having his moments out wide and Herculez Gomez forming a promising partnership with Dempsey.
German-born Danny Williams and Jermaine Jones are competing with Kyle Beckerman for the defensive midfield slot alongside AS Roma's Michael Bradley, now the first name on the team sheet in midfield.
But it is at the back where the concern must be for Klinsmann who must search in the ranks of Major League football (MLS) for some solutions.
Geoff Cameron of Stoke City has had some solid games at the back but has yet to be really tested against top opponents and playing right-back for his club and central defence for his country could be a challenge.
While veteran right-back Steve Cherundolo remains a first choice, Carlos Bocanegra is not getting any quicker although his experience is hard to ignore, especially in the absence of any viable alternatives yet.
Oguchi Onyewu needs to find form at club level while 32-year-old Jay DeMerit remains an outside bet for a recall, although he has proven his gritty approach many times in the past.
Expect Klinsmann to use friendlies and next year's regional Gold Cup to try out some younger alternatives such as L.A Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza, San Jose's Steven Beitashour and other promising defenders from MLS.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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