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From the Championship to the World Cup?

Can the Americans in the English Championship force their way into Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup thoughts? In his ASN debut, Tim Simon tackles the topic and finds some surprising results.
BY Tim Simon Posted
November 25, 2013
5:41 PM
THE SKY BET CHAMPIONSHIP is a step below the Premier League but it remains one of European football’s most competitive leagues.

The cutthroat nature of the league means that Americans playing there get brilliant experience and exposure to physical, competitive soccer. This year, eight Americans are contracted to Championship clubs. Let’s take a look at how they have been getting on and see if they have a chance of making the American squad for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

First, the bad news: Stuart Holden and Oguchi Onyewu are two of the eight. Holden suffered the third serious knee injury of his career in July but has vowed to try and force his way into the American squad for the World Cup. Meanwhile Onyewu, who has 68 caps for the Americans, has failed to appear for promotion-chasing Queens Park Rangers so far this season.

Tim Ream—Bolton Wanderers
Holden’s teammate at Bolton Wanderers, Tim Ream, has been on the uptick but the central defender still didn't break into Klinsmann’s squad for the friendlies against Scotland (despite playing just 200 miles away) and Austria. Ream has made 11 appearances in the Championship this season and forged a decent partnership with Matt Mills despite the Trotters’ poor start to the season.

The American has made 16 tackles this season (1.5 per game) and 18 interceptions (1.6 per game), showing that he has a good proficiency for reading the game. Ream’s dominance in aerial battles is a particular highlight of his season so far, making 74 clearances at an average of a hefty 6.7 per game. Center backs aren’t normally associated with being creative, but he has managed two assists this season too. Only Bolton winger Lee Chung-Yong (3) has more.

The sort of form Ream is in could see him force his way back into the national team picture ahead of the World Cup—even if Klinsmann currently prefers Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and Omar Gonzalez.

Jonathan Spector—Birmingham City
Spector has 34 U.S. caps to his name but has failed to turn out for his nation since February 2012. He will be hoping his form for Birmingham can help him force his way back into Klinsmann’s plans. The former Manchester United player is extremely versatile, being able to play at center back, right back, and central midfield, and he has played in all three positions this season.

In his eight starts, Spector has made 269 passes at an accuracy of 77.3 percent. He has also intercepted the ball 12 times and won eight tackles. A player with such versatility is always crucial to any national squad because if the Americans were to pick up any unfortunate injuries, Spector could fill in in a number of different positions, meaning the Birmingham man would be a valuable player to take to Brazil. That said, he does seem like a bit of a longshot at this point.

Eric Lichaj—Nottingham Forest
Lichaj is the only Championship player currently in the U.S. squad after some fine displays for Nottingham Forest. The fullback has been dominant in the tackle, winning 26 already this season. But it is ability to support attacks that has been the most surprising and impressive aspect of his game. He has completed 15 accurate crosses and 460 passes in total with 10 of those being key passes (passes that create a goal-scoring opportunity). The drop to the lower division is benefiting him.

Duane Holmes—Huddersfield Town
The 19-year-old doesn’t have much hope of making the World Cup. He is a bright talent, but Holmes has only made four appearances for Huddersfield this season, with just one start. The midfielder, however, has still managed to show glimpses of his talent. Holmes has completed three key passes and turned one of those into an assist while also attempting five shots on goal.

In the sporadic appearances he has made for Huddersfield, he has shown the ability to beat a man, shoot on sight, and use both feet. He is undoubtedly a future star and despite it being unlikely that he will make the 2014 World Cup, he will be hoping to develop his talents and make the next World Cup in Russia in 2018. The Championship will be a great league for Holmes to showcase his talents as there will be less pressure on his shoulders and he will be much more likely to secure regular soccer at a club like Huddersfield.

Danny Williams—Reading
Williams signed with Reading from Hoffenheim in the summer but hasn’t appeared in an American squad since making the move. He has 12 caps for his country with his first coming in 2011 but has only appeared sporadically for the Londoners this season. In his seven appearances, Williams has only been dribbled past by an opponent once and has made nine tackles. His discipline and youthful exuberance could be needed in Brazil next summer, but he will have to force his way into Reading manager Nigel Adkins’ plans quickly if he is to secure his national team recall.

Zak Whitbread—Derby County (on loan from Leicester)
Whitbread has never got a look-in at international level after winning the last of his five USA Under-20 caps in 2003. Despite making just three appearances this season, he remains an option for Klinsmann should he face injury problems. Whitbread has an impressive passing accuracy of 80 percent and has one goal assist to his name. He has also managed 22 clearances in his three appearances (7.3 per game).

Tim Simon is an Opta analyst and a freelance writer. This is his first article for ASN. Follow him on Twitter.

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