U.S. Hot List: Bobby Wood in scorching form; Tim Howard fading
With a new Major League Soccer season finally underway, we mark the return of the U.S. national team Hot List, which will become a weekly feature in this space right up until Jurgen Klinsmann names his squad for this summer's Copa America Centenario in May.
While that high-profile tournament looms on the horizon, there are more pressing matters at hand (foot?) for the Americans. After a four-month break, the U.S. resumes its qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia later this month with an important home-and-home series against Guatemala.
A number of players have put themselves in position to merit strong consideration for minutes in those games alongside lineup shoo-ins like Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson, based on strong recent club performances. Others are struggling in their day jobs, which is significantly reducing their chances of seeing the field. With less than two weeks to go before Klinsmann picks his next roster, here's a look at whose stock is rising and falling right now.
Matt Besler, D, Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Why he's here: The 2014 World Cup starter helped Sporting KC keep a clean sheet on the road in Sunday's 1-0 win over the 10-man Seattle Sounders.
What this means: Fellow left center back John Brooks remains ahead of Besler in the eyes of Klinsmann, who has suggested that with MLS players yet to hit full stride, he'll go with a Euro-heavy lineup in Guatemala City. Still, Besler has crucial experience playing in away CONCACAF qualifiers, while Brooks, despite his Bundesliga pedigree, does not. That should not be overlooked by the coach.
Geoff Cameron, D/M, Stoke City (England)
Why he's here: After missing almost two months with an ankle injury, the 30-year-old returned to Stoke's lineup on Feb. 27 and has gone the distance in the Potters' past three games -- twice in central defense and once at right-back.
What this means: Cameron's timing couldn't be better from a national team perspective. Where exactly he'll play isn't clear, but expect the Massachusetts native to reclaim the starting U.S. job he won at the end of 2015 later this month against Guatemala.
Brad Guzan, G, Aston Villa (England)
Why he's here: Guzan lost his starting job for relegation-bound Villa in early January but now appears to have won it back, playing in the last-place Premier League side's two most recent games.
What this means: With Tim Howard riding the bench at Everton (more on Howard below), Guzan will have the inside track for the U.S. job when World Cup qualifying resumes, if he keeps getting games at club level.
Omar Gonzalez, D, Pachuca (Mexico)
Why he's here: The big Texan has played all but 22 minutes of the nine games he's appeared in since transferring from the LA Galaxy in late December, helping the Tuzos concede just nine goals -- the fewest in Liga MX this season.
What this means: Gonzalez's instant success south of the border has not gone unnoticed by Klinsmann, who could use the 27-year-old in central defense if he opts to deploy Cameron at right back or defensive midfielder against the Guatemalans.
Bobby Wood, F, Union Berlin (Germany)
Why he's here: With seven goals in his past six 2.Bundesliga matches -- including two against FSV Frankfurt on Saturday -- no U.S. striker is hotter right now than Wood.
What this means: The 23-year-old Hawaiian could trade his super-sub role for a starting job against Guatemala if Jozy Altidore's hamstring hasn't recovered in time.
DeAndre Yedlin, D/M, Sunderland (England)
Why he's here: The 22-year-old Seattle native has started Sunderland's past four Premier League games at right-back, helping the Black Cats go 1-1-2 and climb out of the relegation zone during that span.
What this means: The trust that manager Sam Allardyce has shown in the Tottenham loanee has been rewarded, as Yedlin's sometimes suspect defensive game has improved substantially in recent weeks. Will it be enough to convince Klinsmann to play the speedster on the back line rather than the wing later this month? Maybe.
Jozy Altidore, F, Toronto FC (MLS)
Why he's here: Despite dropping weight and changing his training routine in an effort to avoid the hamstring injuries that have, uh, hamstrung him at three of the Americans' past four major international tournaments, the 26-year-old missed TFC 's season opener with a recurrence of the ailment.
What this means: While Altidore -- who scored in the national team's first two games of 2016 -- is expected to return to the Reds' lineup before the Americans' two qualifiers, the layoff is sure to cost him crucial match fitness ahead of the qualifiers.
Tim Howard, G, Everton (England)
Why he's here: After a decade as the Toffees' undisputed No. 1, Howard, who turned 37 on Sunday, lost his starting job to Spaniard Joel Robles last month.
What this means: Klinsmann had planned to rotate his keepers heading into this summer's Copa America Centenario, but it's hard to see Howard getting the nod for this month's games ahead of Guzan if the latter keeps on playing in the Premier League.
Jermaine Jones, M, Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Why he's here: Jones signed with the Rapids last week, officially beginning the six-game suspension that will rule him out of both March qualifiers.
What this means: While he won't be available for the U.S. this month, the 34-year-old German-American remains one of Klinsmann's most trusted veterans. As long as Jones can stay healthy and keep his hands off referees, he'll be on the Copa squad (and likely on the field).
Christian Pulisic, M, Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Why he's here: The 17-year-old captured the imagination of American fans when he appeared in four consecutive Bundesliga games (one start) in January and February. But Klinsmann is wisely preaching patience with the youngster, who has since been returned to the German power's under-19 squad.
What this means: Pulisic remains the brightest talent in the American youth ranks, but there's no need to rush him into the senior team right now. However, Pulisic could well be with the U.S. U-23s for their two-leg Olympic playoff against Colombia later this month if coach Andi Herzog receives Dortmund's blessing.
Tim Ream, D, Fulham (England)
Why he's here: The former New York Red Bull's run of 20 consecutive starts for Fulham ended in January. Since then, Ream has appeared in the Cottagers' lineup just once.
What this means: Ream started the Americans' final two matches of 2015 at left back, but it's hard to see him reprising that role this month given his lack of recent playing time. Look for Johnson to get the nod there instead.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.