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Analysis

World Cup Hopes: Three Yanks Make Their Moves

Juan Agudelo, Oguchi Onyewu, and Michael Parkhurst changed clubs last week, and all three hope to catch Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Brian Sciaretta assesses the situation.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 21, 2014
11:17 AM
LAST WEEK SAW several American soccer players on the fringes of the United States national team change clubs. Juan Agudelo, Oguchi Onyewu, and Michael Parkhurst have all had good stretches with the Stars and Stripes, but these three aren’t likely to make Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man World Cup squad unless something changes—fast.

Here’s a look at how their transfers could change the national team picture.

Juan Agudelo to FC Utrecht

Of all the moves made during the January window, Juan Agudelo’s loan to Utrecht has the most potential to change the U.S. national team, Stoke City, and Utrecht. Agudelo is coming off a strong season in MLS with New England, where he made the squad much more dangerous and helped a young Revolution team qualify for the playoffs.

After his British work permit appeal to play for Stoke City was denied, Agudelo and the English club crafted a workaround that will send the 21-year-old forward to the Eredivisie to get games and build his case for a second work permit appeal attempt in the UK.

This move should be grounds for optimism, as Americans have historically done well in the Eredivisie. Current U.S. national team players Michael Bradley, Aron Johannsson, and Jozy Altidore all blossomed in the Netherlands. Years before them, John O’Brien and Ernie Stewart did the same. There is no reason to think that a physically gifted Juan Agudelo won’t be able to follow suit.

For FC Utrecht, Agudelo will be expected to produce some much-needed firepower. Ninth place Utrecht have scored just 28 goals in 19 games, placing them in the bottom half of the league in this category. The club’s leading scorers are midfielder Jens Toornstra, who has eight goals, and Belgian winger/forward Steve De Ridder, who has seven. No one else on the team has more than three in league play.

The opportunity will be there for Agudelo to earn minutes and contribute to a team that is aiming to get into the Europa League playoffs next season. In an offensive-minded league, Agudelo will be given a chance to pad his statistics and bolster his case for a UK work permit for next year.

Agudelo has his work cut out for him if he hopes to make the 2014 World Cup squad. Altidore and Johannsson are clearly ahead of him on the current depth chart, as is Eddie Johnson. There are also questions as to whether Klinsmann views Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey as forwards, wingers, or attacking midfielders. Terrence Boyd is also in the mix but has yet to score for the Yanks.

To make the World Cup team this summer, Agudelo will probably have to build a case to either overtake Johnson, Boyd, and other January camp forwards like Mike Magee and Chris Wondolowski. It is an uphill climb but one within reach. The move to Utrecht sets the stage well for a late push.

Oguchi Oneywu to Sheffield Wednesday

There is no question that the last two years have been difficult for Oguchi Onyewu who has hardly played for either of his clubs, Malaga and Queens Park Rangers. Making matters worse, he has struggled to grab a foothold under Klinsmann, and making a push through the Championship this late in the cycle is tough. Klinsmann so far has been reluctant to take players from the second tier of the English pyramid, as Tim Ream and Eric Lichaj have also failed to break into the team. For Onyewu to succeed where these other Americans have failed, he will need to dominate.

Onyewu’s recent move to Sheffield Wednesday got off to a promising start on Saturday as he was named Man of the Match in a 1-1 draw against a strong Burnley club.

His transfer is likely going to mean far more to Sheffield Wednesday than it to the U.S. national team. Sheffield Wednesday sit just two points clear of the relegation zone and Onyewu gives the club a strong physical defender who is experienced in high-pressure games.

The 31-year-old Onyewu is pretty far down the United States’ central defender pecking order. Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Clarence Goodson, and Michael Orozco are all ahead of the Maryland native. Shane O’Neill and Bolton’s Tim Ream, who is playing as a left back these days, are also trying to push their way into the squad.

For Onyewu to have any chance at all for Brazil, he is going to need play extraordinarily well and perhaps take advantage of an injury or two to the players ahead of him.

Regardless of his unlikely national team push, this move is a feel-good story for a player who had a chance to become one of the best American defenders of all time before suffering a serious knee injury in the final minutes of the last World Cup qualifier in 2009.

Michael Parkhurst to Columbus Crew

When Michael Parkhurst left Nordsjaelland in 2013, he was riding high. He had won a Danish Superliga title and had become one of the few Americans to have played in the Champions League group stage. But his subsequent move to Augsburg didn’t work out and he rarely even made the match day rosters.

Parkhurst will now return to MLS, where he was a standout for New England from 2005 to 2008. This time around Parkhurst will suit up for a rebuilding Columbus Crew tam that has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Parkhurst played in central defense during his first MLS stint, but it is likely he will play fullback, his regular position at Nordsjaelland, for the Crew.

Parkhurst needed to make this move in order to secure playing time, but he faces long odds of making it back into the national team. With Steve Cherundolo’s return to health and Geoff Cameron’s continued strong form with Stoke City, the right back position does not look as weak as it did last summer. Also noteworthy, Brad Evans, a Klinsmann favorite, has grown into the right back role in 2013 and promising youngster DeAndre Yedlin was called up to January camp.

Given all of this, Parkhurst’s best shot at making the World Cup squad could be at left back, where he played briefly in World Cup qualifying in 2012 during a crucial game against Guatemala. DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson have secured most of the left back minutes under Klinsmann but both are natural midfielders. Edgar Castillo has looked decent there at times but has yet to put in a strong 90 minutes under Klinsmann. Chris Klute was terrific in MLS in 2013 but Parkhurst offers more big-game experience, and this could give him an advantage as the final roster decision are made.

Do you see any of these three players finding their way to Brazil? Share your thoughts below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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