21714_isi_williamsdanny_bpi_jt_qpr_reading_01836.2640846 Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.
Americans in Europe

Sacha, Terrence, and Danny All Had Big Weekends

Following a string of bad luck—and a few poor performances—the United States' European-based contingent bounced back with efforts that are sure to bring a smile to Jurgen Klinsmann's face.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 17, 2014
9:30 AM
THIS PAST WEEKEND will make Jurgen Klinsmann’s job harder, but in a good way. Ever since he was hired as United States coach, Klinsmann has wanted players to step up and earn their spot on the national team.

Over the past few days, several players on the fringe of the team who are battling for the final few tickets left for Brazil all played well and improved their stock. Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams, and Terrence Boyd are all in difficult positions but raised their games at a time when Klinsmann is trying to finalize his roster for the March 5 friendly against Ukraine—the final friendly before the World Cup that falls on a FIFA international date.

Klinsmann has repeatedly said that the door for players to make the World Cup team is open until May. If performances like these continue, it will be a compelling battle.

No. 5: Fabian Johnson

While other Americans played better in Europe this weekend, Fabian Johnson’s performance probably put the biggest smile on Jurgen Klinsmann’s face. Johnson is a likely starter for the U.S. at the World Cup but lately things have been difficult for the versatile German-American. Johnson suffered a broken hand last month and just a few weeks ago it was revealed that he would leave Hoffenheim after the season. It therefore seemed like an uphill climb for him to continue to earn minutes since the club seemingly had little motivation to play him.

Despite limited playing time of late, Johnson was back on the field on Saturday and went a full 90 in Hoffenheim’s 4-1 win over Stuttgart. It was a convincing win and Johnson looked good. While he played an unusual position, right back, he nevertheless was on the field and earning valuable minutes ahead of the World Cup.

No. 4: Terrence Boyd

On his 23rd birthday Terrence Boyd began Rapid Vienna’s game against Admira on the bench. He came on in the 82nd minute, and with Rapid trailing 2-0 in stoppage time, he scored on a well-taken goal with his left foot.

The goal proved to be too little too late for Rapid Vienna but it was an important strike for Boyd. First, he is trying to keep his name in the mix among an increasingly competitive group of U.S. national team forwards which includes Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson, Juan Agudelo, and Chris Wondolowski. Second, he is also trying to attract serious interest from outside of the Austrian Bundesliga so that he can take a step up in the level of play next season.

No. 3: Aron Johannsson

On Friday, Aron Johannsson picked up an ankle injury in training. After missing last weekend’s game with a strained thigh, it appeared as if the Icelandic-American would have to miss a second consecutive game. But it didn't turn out that way.

In the first half of AZ Alkmaar’s game against Utrecht, Aron Johannsson netted his 22nd goal in all competitions when he headed home a cross to put AZ up 1-0. AZ was unable to hold onto the lead and the game finished 1-1 but Johannsson was one of the best players in the game, again.

No. 2: Danny Williams

Despite a difficult span in the middle of the season due to injuries, Reading FC is still in contention for promotion to the Premier League. And central midfielder Danny Williams has been one of the team’s best players since his return from a foot injury in October.

On Sunday’s road contest against fellow promotion contenders Queens Park Rangers, Reading cruised to a 3-1 win and it was Williams who opened the scoring. Williams was also instrumental in the build-up as he sent Adam Le Fondre into the box in a dangerous position thanks to a cleaver side-footed pass. Williams then moved into the box and put himself in a position where Le Fondre was able to send in a cross which Williams was able to head home.

If the season were to end today, Reading would be in sixth place and in the promotional playoffs. There is still a ways to go but the club is playing well and Williams is one of the team’s true asset in defensive midfield.

No. 1: Sacha Kljestan

After falling out of Anderlecht’s starting lineup the last few games, Sacha Kljestan marked his return in triumphant fashion with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over Mons.

The Seton Hall product opened the scoring in the 37th minute when he headed home an Olivier Deschacht cross to give Anderlecht a 1-0 lead (at 0:34 of the video below). It was his 8th goal on the season.

In the 49th minute, Kljestan assisted on Ronald Vargas’ goal when his header pass sent the Venezuelan into the box alone on the keeper – an opportunity he would finish with class (at 1:08 of the video below). The solid performance kept Anderlecht within reach of second place Club Brugge.

For Kljestan, it was an important goal because he needed to make a statement that he belongs in Anderlecht’s starting lineup. In that regard, it is mission accomplished. For the U.S. national team, he is in very tight competition in central midfield. He is competing with Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, and Danny Williams for the final spots on the team. It doesn’t help Kljestan that everyone else is playing well, but he remains one of the few American players with Champions League experience and if he continues to play well, his experience could be a tie-breaking edge.

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

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