When it comes to decoding Jurgen Klinsmann's national team depth chart, the only thing you can be sure of is that it will change, and change quickly. When we first attempted this exercise four months ago, who would have predicted, for instance, that Matt Besler -- the Sporting Kansas City defender who was still looking for his first U.S. appearance at the time -- would head into June's trio of World Cup qualifiers as a clear first-choice center back?
It's an important reminder that in international soccer nothing is ever set in stone.
As the U.S. squad prepares to reconvene in Cleveland next week ahead of a jam-packed summer schedule that includes friendlies against European powers Belgium and Germany and pivotal Brazil 2014 qualifiers at Jamaica and at home versus Panama and Honduras, things are certain to change again.
Will Besler build on his impressive performance against Mexico in March, or will he fall back to earth (or at least a notch or two down the pecking order)? What do we make of Brek Shea, who has barely played club soccer over most of the last calendar year but who still earned a recall for the upcoming camp?
Shea's talent and physical tools are undeniable, but it's hard to argue that he deserves to be ahead of Herculez Gomez, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley or even Eddie Johnson on the left side of midfield. At least right now. This time next month, who knows?
What we do know is that time is getting short. With World Cup rosters due exactly a year from now, this summer offers many members of the U.S. player pool their best -- and in some cases, last -- chance to impress the coaching staff.
• Last time around, we went four deep at every position and included a total of 34 players. With Brazil drawing ever nearer, we're naming three guys per spot and 25 in all. This means versatility matters more than before, as it will at the World Cup. And instead of a 4-3-3 formation, we're going with the 4-2-3-1 set that Klinsmann used in each of the three qualifiers the Yanks have played in 2013.
Who stands where in that setup? Our best guesses are below.
USMNT Depth Chart 2.0
Striker: Jozy Altidore
Even though the 23-year-old veteran hasn't scored for his country since 2011, Altidore's unmatched physical presence and ability to hold the ball opens up space for teammates, Clint Dempsey in particular. Since he'll join the U.S. squad May 26 (before fellow vets Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard), he's a safe bet to start most, if not all, of the Yanks' five upcoming matches.
2. Eddie Johnson
Johnson made three World Cup qualifying starts under Klinsmann on the left wing, but he's a natural forward. While he's not particularly adept with his back to goal, EJ has been in fine goal-scoring form lately for Seattle in MLS.
3. Terrence Boyd
The German-born Boyd, 22, is quietly coming off an excellent rookie season with Austrian club Rapid Vienna, where he managed to score 16 goals in all competitions.