USMNT hot list: Midfield competition heating up

Posted by Doug McIntyre

It's hard enough to know exactly why club managers make the personnel decisions they do without throwing into the mix the fatigue their players face from national team duty and the accompanying travel. That makes the weekends that follow international breaks particularly tricky to assess.

For instance, who besides Gus Poyet knows if Jozy Altidore was left out of Sunderland's lineup against Stoke because the Black Cats' coach wanted to stick with Steven Fletcher alone up top, or because of the 180 minutes Altidore played for the U.S. against Scotland and Austria? (Fletcher, for what it's worth, sat out Scotland's 1-0 win in Norway on Tuesday after playing against the Americans).

Same goes for young Bundesliga defender John Brooks, who didn't make Hertha Berlin's match day squad just days after starting for the Yanks in Vienna, as well as for Nantes midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, a usual starter this season who came off the bench Sunday in France.

Still, some of those who participated in the national team's recent friendlies did see significant action immediately upon returning to their day jobs. Aron Johannsson scored yet another slick goal for AZ Alkmaar. Jermaine Jones took up his usual midfield spot for Schalke, and keeper Tim Howard started his 17th consecutive Merseyside Derby for Everton. Elsewhere, Fabian Johnson went the distance for Hoffenheim at left midfield, less than two weeks after withdrawing from Jurgen Klinsmann's squad following a flare-up of his niggling ankle injury.

There was no shortage of notable performances, either -- even as the MLS, Mexican and Scandinavian seasons wind down. Here's who is particularly hot (and not) this week, and how their fortunes at club level could impact the national team picture moving forward.

Warming up

Geoff Cameron, RB, Stoke City (England)

Why he's here: Four days after impressing for the U.S. in a rare stint at right back against Austria, Cameron had perhaps his best game at the position for Stoke City in a 2-0 win over Altidore’s Sunderland.

What this means: In his first season as a full-time fullback, Cameron continues to improve, particularly in attack. It’s an upward trajectory that could force Cameron past idle incumbent Brad Evans, who won’t play another league game until the new MLS season kicks off in March.

Mix Diskerud, M, Rosenborg (Norway)

Why he's here: The crafty 23-year-old scored this wicked long-range goal in Rosenborg's 4-2 loss to Molde in the Norwegian Cup final on Sunday.

What this means: Diskerud's fine season upped his stock with the national team. He could boost it further while the Tippeligaen hibernates, as his availability for the month-long January camp could afford Diskerud -- a long shot for Brazil a year ago -- the opportunity to lock down one the 23 World Cup roster spots for good.

Danny Williams, M, Reading (England)

Why he's here: A regular during Klinsmann’s first year at the helm, Williams returned from a foot injury over the weekend. It was his first appearance for Reading in more than two months.

What this means: Williams remains firmly on the outside of the World Cup squad, but Klinsmann has kept in regular contact with the German-born defensive midfielder over the last 15 months. If the 24-year-old can squeeze his way into Reading's starting lineup and help the Royals inch toward the Premier League promotion playoffs, he could be one injury away from being back in the reckoning for Brazil.

Graham Zusi, M, Sporting Kansas City (MLS)

Why he’s here: The classy Zusi was everywhere in Saturday's Eastern Conference championship decider against Houston, and he helped set up SKC's series-clinching goal in the 2-1, second-leg win.

What this means: Zusi showed big-game mettle in the match, and he'll get another chance when Sporting hosts the MLS Cup against Real Salt Lake on Dec. 7. With right midfield still very much up for grabs for the U.S., his timing is good -- especially after Alejandro Bedoya struggled to make an impact for the Yanks in Scotland and Austria.

Cooling down

Jose Torres, M, UANL Tigres (Mexico)

Why he's here: Torres was left out of Tigres' starting lineup for the fourth straight game in Sunday's 2-2 home draw to Club America in the Liga MX playoffs. Torres did replace the injured Danilinho in the second half, only to watch Las Aguilas net a late equalizer.

What this means: Klinsmann figures to take one left-footed midfielder to Brazil, but Torres has fallen behind Brad Davis and Brek Shea in recent months. Even if the Texan gets the start against America on Sunday, it will likely take a Man of the Match-type performance to keep the 2010 World Cup veteran in contention into the new year.

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