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Klinsmann must get defensive-minded in 2012-13

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, left, talks with

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, left, talks with defender Carlos Bocanegra during a press conference prior to a training session at the Genoa Luigi Ferraris stadium in Italy. (Feb. 28, 2012) Credit: AP

World Cup qualifying is less than three months away and although the tournament itself doesn't begin for another two years, the 23-man roster is always a topic for discussion.

When the United States defeated Italy for the first time last month, we got a peek at the "A" team for the first time in 2012. The front six that started that game -- aside from the insertion of Danny Williams for late-scratch Landon Donovan -- could look similar to the players we see leading the attack in Brazil.

Jozy Altidore up top. Clint Dempsey right behind him. Brek Shea on the left and Donovan on the right. Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu can play central, defensive roles -- with Jermaine Jones contending for playing time as well. The maturation of Juan Agudelo is, perhaps, another storyline that will unfold in the next two years, but nonetheless, the players already in place would make Uncle Sam's Army proud.

But what about the back?

Aside from Tim Howard between the pipes, the U.S. doesn't have a sure thing on defense at this point in the World Cup cycle. Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo have proven they aren't done lacing up the boots -- but they were both born in the (gasp!) 1970s. It's suffice to say, they could be outmatched by spry strikers a decade their younger by the time the World Cup is upon us. Bocanegra has been a stellar captain and Cherundolo may be the most undervalued U.S. player of all time. But, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to hope some youthful replacements walk into camp -- and impress enough to stick around -- in the next year.

Timmy Chandler, like Shea, is another promising young player who wasn't in the fold in South Africa but could near "lock" status once he is healthy for an extended period of time. Eric Lichaj, a solid contributor at the Gold Cup, is another player recovering from injury that could play himself into the mix. Options in the middle include Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez, who show promise, but aren't locks to make the team just yet. Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst and Fabian Johnson are other players further down the list, but on Klinsmann's list nonetheless.

It's doubtful the front six -- at least the starters -- will change all that much between now and Brazil. Finding the right back four, however, will be Jurgen Klinsmann's priority throughout qualifying. As it should.

New York Sports