Road to 2014: The Brazil Board 5.0 

January, 19, 2012

With all due respect to the January campers, the first month of 2012 is something of a dead zone on the American soccer calendar. That means that any major changes to the Brazil board probably won't come until later this year, or at the very least until after the first-string visits Italy next month. Still, with the next World Cup now just more than two years away, there are some obvious trends taking shape.

Jurgen Klinsmann was brought in as head coach to revive a national team that had grown "stale," to use a favorite term of U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. But up front and in the back, the Yanks' outlook for 2014 has grown old.

Out from previous Brazil Boards are young central defender prospects such as Ike Opara, John Anthony Brooks and Gale Agbossoumonde.

We've used each as placeholders before, but it's obvious that they just aren't ready for prime time yet. None of the three are sure bets even for the Olympic squad, so they certainly don't seem like viable candidates to start in Brazil, given the experience that position demands. Suddenly, the calendar is filling with non-friendly qualifiers, and young players are running out of time to gain the savvy necessary to make the case for themselves ahead of the main event.

So who's in? In the heart of the back line, geezers rule. Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu, who've started in the previous two World Cups but appeared ready to sunset after the 2010 version, are playing well. A now-healthy Onyewu finally regained the steps he'd lost in 2009, and Bocanegra is the defensive MVP of the Klinsmann era. If they continue to perform, Klinsmann says he doesn't care how old they'll be in 2014.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.