Road to 2014: The Brazil Board 3.0 

July, 5, 2011

With seven games in 22 days last month, we have plenty to consider.

Mostly, it's difficult questions.

Like, is that midfield as deep as we thought? (Not without Stuart Holden in the mix.) Is there a forward who can find the net against top-level competition? (Umm...) Is Landon Donovan still going to be a full-time starter in 2014? (Yes. If for no other reason, see previous question.) Can defenders Carlos Bocanegra or Steve Cherundolo, both 35 by Brazil, stick as mentors to what should be a very young, revamped rearguard? (Probably not both.)

Speaking of which, the back line is as good a place to start as any, because it now poses the most immediate questions for the next cycle. Our latest Left Back of the Month is little-known 18-year-old Sean Cunningham. He's as good a choice as anyone. Eric Lichaj showed speed, toughness -- and on the attack, why it's important to be left-footed at left back.

Elsewhere among the starters, though, there are almost no new names. Clarence Goodson gets the benefit of the doubt after a serviceable Gold Cup, but there's still room for an Ike Opara or an Omar Gonzalez to rise up, or an Oguchi Onyewu to resurrect his career. At least fears that Timothy Chandler will ditch the U.S for Die Mannschaft have been alleviated.

Looking ahead, there are still questions galore.

Will Michael Bradley find a club in a top-four European League where he can play regularly? Can a newcomer like Premier League-bound center back Zak Whitbread earn himself a job over the next three years? Does Clint Dempsey get minutes at striker under new Fulham coach Martin Jol? And can Red Bulls youngsters Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream justify continued national team call-ups with their play in MLS?

Even the competition to be Tim Howard's backup just got semi-interesting, with David Yelldell's move to Champions League participant Bayer Leverkusen.

The point is, lots can and will happen over the next 35 months. Surprises are guaranteed (see: Freddy Adu). We wouldn't even be shocked if someone like midfield vet Ricardo Clark cracked the frighteningly thin backline (if he continues to get club minutes there) before the next World Cup.

And the next two friendlies, Sept. 2 and 6 against Costa Rica and at Belgium, aren't likely to produce a bunch of answers. Just look at recent history: After more than a half-dozen matches in just over three weeks, there are more uncertainties than ever.

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.