The United States' 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign is on the line this week. They are level with Jamaica and Guatemala on seven points and only two of the three can go through to the final round of qualifying. That means someone is going home and it could be the U.S. if they don't put together quality showings on Friday at Antigua and Barbuda and next Tuesday against Guatemala in Kansas City.
With two must-win matches coming, Jurgen Klinsmann has little room for error. Last cycle, the U.S. had qualified for the final round by now and Bob Bradley got to trot out a team of young and unproven players to get a look at them. That won't be the cast this time. Klinsmann has to go with his best players and get the best results.
Injuries have tossed a bit of a kink of Klinsmann's roster, especially in the midfield, but every team deals with injuries all the time. That is just the nature of the game and the U.S. will have to make do, just like everyone else does.
To be frank, this is the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying. The U.S. needs to qualify and should do so rather easily regardless of any injuries. If a missing player or two is the difference between the Americans qualifying for the hex or not qualifying than Klinsmann and Co. are in much bigger trouble than anyone could have possible imagined.
So who will Klinsmann call up? We take our best guess at a 23-man American roster before Klinsmann announces the squad today at 3 p.m. ET.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando
This one is pretty simple. Howard is the Americans' unquestioned number one goalkeeper and Guzan was the number two when he wasn't playing, so he sure is now that he is getting time with Aston Villa. It is possible that Klinsmann elected to give Bill Hamid or Sean Johnson some experience and brings one of them along, but there is no margin for error in these two matches and nobody -- not even Hamid and Johnson's mothers -- would be comfortable with either in goal if some weird series of circumstances forced one in.
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Geoff Cameron, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Fabian Johnson, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Michael Parkhurst
The starting central defenders will come from Cameron, Bocanegra and Goodson, which makes them easy picks. Orozco Fiscal will continue to get call-ups whether it drives fans crazy or not so it isn't worth pulling your hair out over. It is coming and to be honest, if the U.S. needs to call upon their fourth choice centerback it is going to get very, very ugly so it doesn't really matter who it is.
Johnson is the easy choice at at left back and Bocanegra can step in there if need be so a back up isn't necessary, although Edgar Castillo wouldn't be a shock pick. He has been in good form for Xolos, albeit as more of a wing back instead of a true left back. That actually makes him more valuable, though, because that makes him an option on the wing, where the U.S. could use another player to turn to in Brek Shea's absence.
Rounding things out are Cherundolo and Parkhurst. The ageless wonder is first choice at right back so long as he is healthy and Parkhurst's steady performance in Jamaica makes him second choice. With Eric Lichaj out of the starting XI at Aston Villa, there is no rush to bring him into the team right now anyways.
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Jose Francisco Torres, Danny Williams, Graham Zusi
Where have all the wide players gone? To the training table, which would be a much more impressive accomplishment if there were more than a few to chose from in the first place.
Shea is already confirmed out and Landon Donovan sounds unlikely to be fit after injuring his knee on Saturday. DaMarcus Beasley has some injured ribs and while Josh Gatt did play this weekend, he only went 45 minutes in his return so he is probably out of consideration too.
In their absence, the wide players will likely consist of Corona, Torres, Zusi and Williams, of which only Corona is actually a wide player. Zusi turned in a tremendous effort against Jamaica and the way he combined with Cherundolo down the right gives Klinsmann some hope for width so he's an easy choice. Neither Williams nor Torres should play outside of the middle, or at all depending on your view, but Klinsmann thinks they are viable options there. They will certainly be in the team, hopefully in the middle, but maybe not.
Elsewhere, it is the usual suspects with Beckerman, Bradley, Dempsey, Edu and Jones all sure bets to make the team. The only doubt in the group might have been Bradley, but playing 72 minutes for Roma yesterday proved that he is past his quadriceps injury.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez, Eddie Johnson
Gomez remains Klinsmann's first choice at striker and his versatility adds to his already-sure fire status in the team. Altidore is still the most talented striker and is in fine form for AZ Alkmaar so he is likely going to be in the team even if his work rate and fitness with the Yanks keeps him from being a Klinsmann favorite.
Johnson already leaked that he made the team on Twitter and he followed that news up with a goal on Sunday for the Sounders. He's a deadly threat in the air and if the U.S. ends up chasing the game and lumping balls into the box, or if they manage that elusive width, Johnson can turn back the clock and change a match for the U.S. again.
It is possible that Terrence Boyd also gets a call-up and Klinsmann goes with four strikers, but Dempsey is an option up top so it is hardly necessary and this roster is already at 23 players. Boyd did score on Sunday for Rapid Vienna, but he spent the past few matches on the bench so he isn't doing much to press Klinsmann into a call-up.