USMNT hot list: The right back position is up for grabs

Posted by Doug McIntyre

It might not always seem like it, but determining who's hot and who's not on any given week usually requires a fair amount of tealeaf-reading.

Sure, it's not hard to tell when a particular national-teamer is performing well (or poorly) at club level; when Aron Johannsson has yet another two-goal game for AZ Alkmaar, like he did this weekend, or when Jozy Altidore or Michael Bradley come off the bench for their respective teams, the immediate takeaway can seem fairly obvious.

But as always, the question is how what's happening with a particular player's day job relates to the specific needs of the U.S. squad. And most of the time, it’s difficult to know with any certainty exactly what coach Jurgen Klinsmann is thinking, even if we sometimes learn which teams and players he's sending his scouts to go see.

On days like this one, though, we get some more definitive answers to our many burning questions. Klinsmann released his roster on Monday for the Yanks' final two games of what has been a wildly successful 2013. And if you look closely, you will see that the list contains all sorts of intriguing clues -- particularly about where some peripheral members of the squad stand as the year draws to a close.

Here are six guys who are trending up (or down) heading into the friendly games in Scotland (Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN) and in Austria four days later.

Warming up

Eric Lichaj, RB, Nottingham Forest (England)
Why he's here: Lichaj played only the final 16 minutes of Forest's 2-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday, but his body of work this season (until Saturday, the Illinois native had gone 90 minutes in each of his team's first 13 league games) was enough to earn the 24-year-old full back his first call to the national team under Klinsmann.

What this means: With right back still very much up for grabs, Lichaj will get the opportunity to compete head-to-head with incumbent Brad Evans this week and next.

Fabian Johnson, D-M, Hoffenheim (Germany)
Why he's here: After missing more than a month with the ankle injury he sustained during September's World Cup berth-clinching win over Mexico, Johnson returned to the field on Saturday, entering in the second half.

What this means: Johnson is a surefire starter for the U.S. when he's healthy. But where does he play? With regular left back DaMarcus Beasley also on the latest roster, expect Johnson, who's listed as a midfielder this month, to line up on the left wing for both games.

Sacha Kljestan, M, Anderlecht (Belgium)
Why he's here: It's rare that any player makes the hot list two weeks running, but Kljestan was terrific in Anderlecht’s midweek, Champions League draw at Paris Saint-Germain -- a fact his late red card (Kljestan picked up a second yellow with less than 10 minutes remaining) doesn't change.

What this means: Although Klinsmann has been full of praise for him lately, Kljestan remains squarely on the bubble for Brazil. With time running short, his performances in these next two U.S. matches could be the most important of his international career.

Alejandro Bedoya, M, Nantes (France)

Why he's here: Bedoya, who recently reclaimed his starting job with the Ligue 1 side, picked up what turned out to be the game-winning assist in Nantes' 3-0 win at Bordeaux.

What this means: With Graham Zusi left off the roster against Scotland and Austria due to MLS playoff duty, Bedoya, 26, has a huge opportunity to stake his claim as Klinsmann's first choice on the right side of the U.S. midfield.

Cooling down

Edgar Castillo, LB, Club Tijuana (Mexico)
Why he's here: Castillo injured his hamstring in the Xolos' final game of the Liga MX regular season, ruling him out of the national team's next two matches.

What this means: The diminutive lefty has been a regular under Klinsmann, but he still hasn't locked down a spot on the World Cup roster. Now, with the jockeying for spots heating up, he'll likely have to wait until early March for his next U.S. call-up.

Timmy Chandler, RB, Nurnberg (Germany)
Why he's here: Chandler has played well in the Bundesliga this season, and even delivered a sweet assist -- with U.S. assistant coach Andi Herzog watching from the stands -- a few weeks back. Still, he was nowhere to be found on Klinsmann's latest roster.

What this means: At this point, with that lone March FIFA fixture date left before the coach names his 23-man World Cup squad, it's hard to see Chandler breaking back into the U.S. mix before Brazil.

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