Stoppage Time: Key players over the next two U.S. qualifiers

12:45 PM, Mar 21, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jurgen Klinsmann is not averse to adversity. He faced it as head coach of the German national team and once more as Bayern Munich manager.

His track record in dealing with said adversity is relatively dichotomous. Klinsmann was able to overcome the skeptics and lead Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup, but his time with Bayern, while not drastically unsuccessful, came to an abrupt end before the conclusion of the 2008-09 season due to difference in opinion with the club's board of directors.

Now, after opening the Hexagonal with a 2-1 loss in Honduras, the 48-year-old has his U.S. national team at a pivotal point in World Cup qualifiers.

The slow start has placed a tremendous level of importance on the country's next two fixtures, a home tilt with Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colo., on Friday before the heavyweight bout against Mexico at the Azteca on Tuesday.

To make matters worse for Klinsmann, he will be without many first-choice players for various reasons. Edgar Castillo (facial fractures), Timmy Chandler (hamstring), Steve Cherundolo (knee), Tim Howard (back), Fabian Johnson (hip), Jonathan Spector (ankle), Jose Torres (hamstring) and Danny Williams (illness) are set to miss the crucial games, while Landon Donovan's continued sabbatical leaves him unavailable for selection.

But despite the absences, Klinsmann remains confident in the players at his disposal.

"We have put a roster together that gives us confidence to approach both games very positively," Klinsmann said. "We have a roster that enables us to get the job done. We're totally comfortable with this roster."

In true Klinsmann fashion, he kept his cards close to his chest and failed to single out any specific players who he expects to break out over the next two matches. So, here are some to keep an eye on:

Brad Guzan, GK

An obvious selection. Filling Howard's gloves is no easy task and it certainly comes with a great deal of scrutiny. Guzan stands on his head for Aston Villa on a weekly basis, a level of form that is unrivaled by any other American player at the position. The key will be how the 28-year-old manages to translate his play to the national team, operating within a defensive unit that is foreign to him.

Omar Gonzalez, D

While the collective effort from the Americans wasn't good enough against Honduras, Gonzalez was made the scapegoat by many when he failed to track Jerry Bengston's run through the heart of the penalty area, allowing the New England Revolution striker to slot home the game-winner. Gonzalez will want to put that dismal moment in his wake as he continues his quest to live up to the massive expectations placed upon him.

Tony Beltran, D

Beltran looks certain to start on Friday against Costa Rica as he is the only natural right back included in Klinsmann's roster. His inclusion could be a masterstroke despite his lack of experience with the national team. Not only does Beltran earn regular time in MLS action, but playing for Real Salt Lake has afforded him experience in competing in high altitudes, something the U.S. team will have to contend with at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and the Azteca.

Kyle Beckerman, M

Like Beltran, Beckerman's time with Real Salt Lake gives him a strong familiarity in playing in high altitudes. Pair that with the fact Beckerman played the full 90 minutes in the 1-0 defeat of Mexico - America's first-ever victory at the Azteca - and the midfield stalwart could figure prominently into Klinsmann's plans.

Brek Shea, M

Shea once looked like Klinsmann's favorite toy upon his arrival to the U.S. head coaching position. The winger turned out some inspired performances with the national team late in 2011, but injuries and psychological issues derailed the 23-year-old's form in 2012. But, rejuvenated by a move to Stoke City, Shea's pace could cause the opposition problems at the Azteca, like it did in August when the former FC Dallas attacker set up the lone goal in Mexico's loss to the States.

Jozy Altidore, F

The Hex, as a whole, could be the defining moment for Altidore's U.S. career. He has shown glimpses of his high potential, but his wild inconsistency makes him difficult to trust in big spots. Altidore's been touted as the heir apparent to Brian McBride in the national team fold, but the 23-year-old will need to translate the club form that has made him the second-leading scorer in the Eredivisie this season into regular goals for the Stars and Stripes. Solid performances in these next two matches would provide Altidore with an excellent springboard to success, for the remainder of the Hex and beyond.

Herculez Gomez, F

Gomez seems to be a natural fit to lead the line over the next two U.S. matches. The 30-year-old bagged three goals in four appearances with the national team in 2012, two of which came in Word Cup qualifiers. Gomez has plied his trade in Mexico at the club level since 2009, making Tuesday's match at the Azteca somewhat familiar territory for the Mexican-American as far as atmosphere and "knowing your opponents" go.

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