LOS ANGELES – Who are the U.S. men's national team's best players?
That is what Jurgen Klinsmann has been working to figure out through his first five matches as U.S. head coach. He has the luxury of knowing the United States won't play meaningful matches until June, so Klinsmann doesn't have to pick his starters just yet.
That hasn't stopped him from developing some clear preferences. Players like Kyle Beckerman, Jose Ortiz and Brek Shea have impressed Klinsmann and have boosted their places in the national team pecking order.
After five matches under Klinsmann, we have seen some players step up and take clear-cut starting roles, while there are still definitely some positions up for grabs.
Klinsmann still has some time to sort out which players he turns to when World Cup qualifying comes around next summer, but for now we can take a look at what is the best squad he can put on the field right now.
Tim Howard will be hard to dislodge as US goalkeeper. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Here are the players who we see being the best bets to be U.S. national team starters based on what we've seen and learned through Klinsmann's first five matches in charge:
TIM HOWARD, Goalkeeper
He's the No. 1 goalkeeper and will be for a long time as long as he's healthy. Klinsmann annointed young D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid as the team's official No. 2, but don't be surprised if Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan finds a new club to earn some playing time and force himself back into the picture.
TIM CHANDLER, Left Back
He may be a naturally right-sided player, but Chandler has shown in three matches at left back that he is clearly the best option in the U.S. national team pool at the position. His crossing isn't as sharp on his weaker left foot, but he's more dangerous getting forward than any other potential left backs in the mix and he showed against Ecuador's Antonio Valencia that he can defend against elite wingers.
So who else is there? Eric Lichaj, another natural right back, is Chandler's best challenger for the spot, but he is currently injured. Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams have both been mentioned as potential options, but Klinsmann seems keen on using both of them in midfield roles. Klinsmann has suggested we haven't seen the last of Edgar Castillo, but he has yet to show much in previous appearances.
CARLOS BOCANEGRA, Central Defender
The 32-year-old centerback continues to be a stabilizing force in central defense, and while he wasn't at his best against Honduras, he showed against Ecuador that he's still a clear-cut starter.
The drop-off to the next left-footed centerback is a considerable one as Tim Ream showed yet again that his confidence is low and his ability to deal with international level strikers isn't where it needs to be. He isn't left-footed, but Clarence Goodson should still be considered the centerback most likely to start if Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu weren't available for an important match.
OGUCHI ONYEWU, Central Defender
Any questions about Onyewu being back to his old dominating self were answered against Ecuador. He looks completely healthy, without the hitch in his stride, and his confidence is unquestioned.
So who gets the nod if Onyewu can't play? Michael Orozco Fiscal was given a long look but struggled badly. He's not the answer. Klinsmann has yet to look at other quality candidates like Omar Gonzalez, George John and Geoff Cameron, but it's safe to say one of them will emerge in the coming months as a better option to back up Onyewu.
STEVE CHERUNDOLO, Right Back
Steve Cherundolo in action against Ecuador's Jefferson Montero. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Cherundolo had some trouble with the speedy Jefferson Montero for 45 minutes, but the reality is that as tough an assignment it was, Cherundolo didn't give up a goal or assist or even a truly dangerous pass. That's despite having just played 90 minutes three days earlier. In other words, he remains the best right back option, though Chandler looks well equipped to take over the right back position once Cherundolo's time is actually done.
With Chandler at left back, who is the next best right back option? Jonathan Spector was given a look, but he looks like a player who hasn't really played right back in some time. Danny Williams might actually wind up being the top option though he wasn't tried at the position in the recent friendlies.
BREK SHEA, Left Wing
Not since Damarcus Beasley was at his speedy best has the national team boasted a fast and dangerous left winger who is also naturally left-footed. Shea's size, speed and fearlessness make him one of the most exciting prospects of the new generation. He has done well enough to secure a starting role for the foreseeable future.
If Shea isn't available, the next best option on the left flank just might be Beasley, who is in good form in Mexico and looking as good as he has done in three years.
MICHAEL BRADLEY, Defensive Midfielder
Klinsmann might not consider him a starter yet, but there is little evidence to suggest Bradley shouldn't be starting for the national team. He came on in both recent friendlies as a substitute and outclassed the other players he's competing with for playing time. The real question is whether Klinsmann can see him in a deep-lying defensive-minded distributor role, which he is more than capable of handling.
Beckerman is clearly high on Klinsmann's depth chart, a starter at the moment according to Klinsmann. He has had some impressive matches, and very good moments, but he will have to work very hard to keep a starting role in a loaded central midfield pool.
JOSE TORRES, Central Midfielder
Before suffering an injury that kept him from playing in the October friendlies, Torres had impressed in Klinsmann's system, and while it still remains to be seen if he can excel against top international competition, he has flashed enough skill to make a potential partnership with Bradley a very intriguing one.
Maurice Edu impressed Klinsmann enough to earn starts in both October friendlies, but he didn't do enough to distinguish himself or put distance between himself and players like Bradley and Torres. If he keeps playing well for Rangers he will stay in the mix, but with Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson also promising to join the battle for central midfield minutes.
LANDON DONOVAN, Right Wing
He missed the October friendlies, but Donovan was still a topic of conversation as the speculation began about where he might line up once he joins this current group. Whether it's a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1, Donovan seems best suited to play on the right flank. He could also wind up starting at forward.
Danny Williams saw time in both October friendlies on the right wing but it was clear he wasn't a natural there. Unless Klinsmann is determined to keep trying Williams on the right he will have to consider taking a look at Alejandro Bedoya when November friendlies roll around.
CLINT DEMPSEY, Attacking Midfielder/Withdrawn Forward
Clint Dempsey is Klinsmann's first choice to lead the attack. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Whether playing in a playmaking role, or as a second forward, Dempsey has flourished as the fulcrum of Klinsmann's attack. His days of being a two-way winger for the national team are over. He is a much more effective attacking player given the freedom to focus on offense, without the defensive responsibilities.
The thing about replacing Dempsey is that there simply isn't another player quite like him. You could point to Landon Donovan as an option to try to plug into similar roles, which would create a void on the right flank. Fabian Johnson could wind up being an option as a playmaker, as could Freddy Adu at some point once he's healthy and playing regularly.
JOZY ALTIDORE, Striker
The competition at striker has become a one-horse race, with Altidore thriving at AZ Alkmaar and looking sharper than he ever has. The goals haven't come for him since Klinsmann took over, but he's certainly looked the part and has shown improvement in his passing, hold-up play and fitness.
Juan Agudelo has gotten plenty of looks, but is more of a long-term project than an answer as a starting forward. Edson Buddle has impressed Klinsmann during his time in camp and just might be in line to get a starting nod if Altidore were not available. With far more midfield options existing in the U.S. pool than forward options, you could see Dempsey and Donovan deployed at forward, with both of them capable of partnering Altidore.