USMNT hot list: Herculez Gomez's return raises striker competition

Posted by Doug McIntyre

Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesHerculez Gomez's return from injury along with Aron Johannsson's strong form gives Jurgen Klinsmann some depth on offense.

With European leagues in full swing, the MLS and Mexican seasons heading into their respective stretch runs before the playoffs and continental competitions on both sides of the Atlantic heating up, it was a busy week of club play for U.S. national teamers.

So without delay, let's take a look at who’s trending up (and down) with just a week to go before American coach Jurgen Klinsmann convenes his already-qualified Yanks for October's still-important World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica and Panama.

Warming up

Herculez Gomez, F, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
Why he's here:
Gomez, now recovered from a pair of minor knee surgeries, made his first Liga MX appearance for Tijuana in Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Puebla. Three days earlier, he marked his Xolos debut with a second half hat trick in CONCACAF Champions League play.

What this means: When healthy, the hard-working 31-year-old has been a regular in Klinsmann’s lineup during qualifying. Gomez's injury, combined with youngster Aron Johannsson's emergence, had some questioning his chances of making the U.S. roster for Brazil. But Gomez is versatile, and he’s been a consistent scorer in Mexico. As long as that doesn't change, he’ll be on the plane next June.

Aron Johannsson, F, AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)
Why he's here:
The young striker’s red-hot scoring streak continued on Saturday, when his spectacular goal was the winner in AZ's upset of league-leading PSV Eindhoven. It was Johannsson's 10th Eredivise strike this season, and his 13th in all competitions.

What this means: If Johannsson’s first U.S. start doesn't come in October, expect him to compete for serious minutes in the November friendlies. Either way, he could have a new club address come the new year, with regular UEFA Champions League qualifier Celtic one rumored destination.

Joe Corona, M, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
Why he's here:
After being left out of coach Jorge Almiron's lineup for five straight Liga MX games, Corona started for the Xolos against Puebla. And although he was subbed at halftime (in favor of 18-year-old U.S. prospect Paul Arriola), the San Diego native was active and involved during his 45 minutes on the field.

What this means: Regular central midfielder Javier Guemez is suspended for Tuesday’s tilt against Club America, so Corona could get the call again. With Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan -- Corona’s main competition for a roster spot with the U.S. -- playing regularly in Europe, the 23-year-old Mexican-American must prove that he deserves to be a starter with his club whenever his next chance comes.

Cooling down

Michael Bradley, M, AS Roma (Italy)
Why he’s here:
A week ago, ESPN colleague Taylor Twellman explained why the still-sidelined Bradley (ankle) might find it difficult to win back his starting job with Serie A-leading Roma. Since then, the task may have become even tougher: The surging Giallorossi picked up two more league wins, including Sunday’s 5-0 demolition of Bologna, in the last five days.

What this means: By all accounts, Bradley is well-regarded at Roma, and it's still only September. But Roma's lights-out form could well make the American expendable this winter, especially when you consider that in August the future U.S. captain came closer to leaving the Eternal City than many realize.

Jermaine Jones, M, Schalke (Germany)
Why he’s here: On Sunday, German outlet SportBild reported that Jones was to undergo meniscus surgery that would rule him out for six weeks. On Monday, Jones took to Twitter to deny that he was going under the knife. Either way, he won’t be on the field when Schalke face Swiss club Basel in Champions League group play on Tuesday, having been suspended by Schalke following a costly error in Saturday’s 3-3 tie with Hoffenheim.

What this means: How this strange story shakes out remains to be seen, but if Jones is healthy and available, he’ll start both October matches for the U.S. If not, it could give Klinsmann the rare opportunity to start two different defensive central midfielders (if Bradley isn’t recovered in time) against Jamaica and Panama, or to veer from the 4-2-3-1 formation he’s favored in 2013.

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