USMNT hot list: Besler up, Dempsey down

Posted by Doug McIntyre

There’s no shortage of competition within the U.S. squad these days, not with the current player pool as deep as it’s been at any point in national team history. Spots in the lineup (and on the bench) remain ready to be won -- particularly at right back, center back and in the midfield -- and with just seven months to go before coach Jurgen Klinsmann names his 23-man roster for Brazil 2014, any individual’s status can change in a hurry.

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All five of the players below have been U.S. regulars at one point or another, yet they all find themselves in very different places as 2013 draws to a close. Only two are actually on the roster Klinsmann released Sunday, ahead of the already-clinched Americans’ final two World Cup qualifiers, the first being against Jamaica on Friday in Kansas City, Kan. (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN/ESPN3) and then at Panama on Oct. 15 -- yet both still have plenty left to prove. In fact, the same can be said for every player in the pool. Here’s whose stock climbed (or fell) the most over the last week.

WARMING UP

Matt Besler, D, Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Why he’s here: After sitting out SKC's last two games, Besler returned to Peter Vermes’ lineup in Columbus on Saturday and helped lead his club to a shutout win on the road.
What this means: With Clarence Goodson left out (at least for the Jamaica game), Besler should return to the U.S. lineup alongside Los Angeles Galaxy star Omar Gonzalez. But while that pair has started five of the Yanks’ eight Hexagonal games, the spots at center back are far from settled, with Goodson, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron slated to remain in the mix all the way to Brazil.

Sacha Kljestan, M, Anderlecht (Belgium)
Why he’s here: Kljestan has four goals in eight games for Anderlecht and has been among the club’s few bright spots in Champions League play. And with Michael Bradley (ankle) still out, Kljestan could see some rare playing time over the Americans’ next two matches.
What this means: Kljestan’s success in Europe hasn't always translated to the national team, although to be fair, the 28-year-old has made just one start in two years under Klinsmann. If Kljestan can earn another in either upcoming game, he’ll need to make it count with a memorable, big-time performance.

Eric Lichaj, D, Nottingham Forest (England)
Why he's here: The long-forgotten Lichaj hasn't missed a minute this season for Forest, which is pushing for promotion to the Premier League. Lichaj, a starter under Bob Bradley but never called into camp by Klinsmann, was scouted in person by U.S. assistant coach Andi Herzog last week.
What this means: As solid as converted midfielder Brad Evans was over the summer, plenty of questions remain at right back. Time is running thin, but if Lichaj is ever going to get a look, it has to come during next month’s friendlies in Scotland and Austria.

COOLING DOWN

Clint Dempsey, M-F, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Why he’s here: Let’s face it: Luck hasn’t been Dempsey’s friend since he signed with Seattle in August. Seven games after arriving back in MLS, Deuce is still looking for his first goal, and a sore hamstring has caused him to miss the Sounders’ last three games (plus a spot on the latest U.S. roster).
What this means: Klinsmann shared his thoughts on Dempsey on U.S. Soccer’s website. “For Clint, it’s really important to pick up the rhythm, to get back into shape and play games,” the coach said. “He’s running behind.” To catch up, Dempsey must perform in the MLS playoffs, and while on loan in Europe in January, he must preserve what has long been an automatic starting spot.

Jose Torres, M, Tigres (Mexico)
Why he’s here: Torres received the second red card of his eight-year career Saturday, his harsh foul earning a second yellow halfway through UANL’s 2-1 home loss to Toluca. A day later, Torres, 25, was left off a U.S. roster for the second time in just more than two months.
What this means: Torres is a World Cup veteran, having played for the U.S. at South Africa 2010. But his chances of making the 2014 squad appear to be slipping away. Torres is rarely a difference-maker at club level (his recent goal for Tigres notwithstanding), which hasn't helped stop him tumbling down the Yanks' crowded midfield depth chart in recent months.

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