New tournament, new blood 

October, 17, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- With the U.S. on its way to the final, six-team "Hexagonal" round of regional qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, now is the perfect time to take stock of the program and highlight new faces who could be in play.

The just-completed semifinal stage was more difficult than anticipated, and it won't get any easier from here; the field for next year's tournament -- which also includes Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama and archrival Mexico -- is perhaps the strongest ever.

While one can argue that CONCACAF's penultimate round of preliminaries is trickier than the Hex itself, there is no question the Yanks will need to improve to defend the first-place finish they managed in 2009.

As much as fans and media want to talk about Jurgen Klinsmann's formations, the truth is the way the Americans line up isn't particularly important. The U.S. coach used several different looks since the qualifying campaign kicked off in June and seemed to settle on variations of the 4-4-2 as the round wore on.

That may or may not change. Much of it will depend on the players he has available.

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