U.S. Hot List: John Brooks in scorching form, Jozy Altidore still sidelined
The stakes are sky-high for members of the national team player pool these days, with less than a week to go until U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann names his roster for this month's important World Cup qualifying home-and-home against Guatemala.
Klinsmann is expected to name an experienced, mostly European-based squad for the two games which, it must be pointed out, might not be the formalities many expect them to be even if Los Chapines have regressed in recent years. But that's not to say that several MLS veterans who have been overlooked recently won't be recalled, as specific positional needs tend to trump other factors when it comes to selections.
In-form players who man less thin spots, such as Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi (who has been razor-sharp for SKC in the first two weeks of the new domestic season), might have to wait for another invite, however.
The same goes for youngsters jockeying for spots with the U.S. U-23s. Former U.S. U-20 standouts like Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse and Marky Delgado all raised eyebrows last weekend with impressive displays for Hoffenheim, Club Tijuana and Toronto FC respectively. But none have been part of Andi Herzog's plans in the lead-up to looming Olympic qualifying matches against Colombia and all of them might remain on the outside, although an injury to San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Fatai Alashe possibly opens up one spot.
Of course, this list focuses on the senior team first. With that in mind, here how a dozen candidates for the Guatemala series are faring as Klinsmann wrestles with his final decisions.
John Brooks, DF, Hertha Berlin (Germany)
Why he's here: The 23-year-old center back's career season continues; the Berlin-born Brooks has made 17 consecutive starts for his hometown club-which still occupies a Champions League spot-and he ranks eighth the Bundesliga in clearances.
What this means: Barring injury, and despite the fact that he's never played in a road qualifier, Brooks is a lock to start in Guatemala City.
Kyle Beckerman, MF, Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Why he's here: The dreadlocked destroyer turns 34 next month but Beckerman is off to a strong start in MLS and was terrific against Mexican club Tigres in CONCACAF Champions League play.
What this means: Jermaine Jones' suspension makes the inclusion of Beckerman -- a known quantity who has the coach's undying trust -- a no-brainer.
Clint Dempsey, FW, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Why he's here: Dempsey is goalless through his first two MLS games but he scored twice (including on an all-world free kick) against Club America last month and appears poised to make his first U.S. appearance since October.
What this means: With Jozy Altidore still nursing a hamstring injury, now is the perfect time for Klinsmann to bring Dempsey -- still the national team's most dangerous offensive threat -- back into the fold.
Brad Guzan, GK, Aston Villa (England)
Why he's here: Villa keeps losing but Guzan has been playing regularly for the relegation-bound club. After losing his place in January, the 31-year-old has now started three consecutive Premier League games.
What this means: Guzan is the front-runner to man the U.S. nets vs. Guatemala. That said, don't be surprised if Klinsmann sticks to his plan of rotating his top two keepers and giving Tim Howard the nod in second match at home.
Fabian Johnson, DF/MF, Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany)
Why he's here: Johnson's early season scoring binge has tailed off some but the German-American has still been the country's best player at club level this season.
What this means: Where does the U.S. need the 28-year-old the most? That's the big question facing Klinsmann. Although Johnson has been used mostly as a left winger this year for 'Gladbach, an absence of other suitable options could see him line up at left back against Guatemala.
Nick Rimando, GK, Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Why he's here: The popular longtime No. 3 keeper has RSL off to an undefeated start to the new MLS season.
What this means: He might be 36 but Rimando's performances haven't dropped off much, if at all. And his experience and team-first temperament still make him the ideal third-string behind Guzan and Howard in games that matter.
Danny Williams, MF, Reading (England)
Why he's here: Williams has made 27 league starts for the second-tier Royals, scoring a career-best five goals this season.
What this means: The 27-year-old defensive midfielder fell out of favor with Klinsmann toward the end of 2015 but Jones' absence, combined with Williams' consistent play, could be enough to earn him a recall.
Bobby Wood, FW, Union Berlin (Germany)
Why he's here: Wood's scorching form for the 2. Bundesliga club continues, as his weekend goal from the penalty spot gave the 23-year-old six in his last five games.
What this means: Wood's case to receive his first career World Cup qualifying start later this month is getting stronger every week.
Jozy Altidore, FW, Toronto FC (MLS)
Why he's here: Altidore remains sidelined with a sore hamstring and failed to make TFC's bench for the second consecutive game. He is questionable for next week's match at Kansas City.
What this means: The 26-year-old target man seems increasingly likely to remain in Canada when the U.S. squad is announced.
Sean Johnson, GK, Chicago Fire (MLS)
Why he's here: Johnson was added to Klinsmann's January/February roster after D.C. United's Bill Hamid (knee) withdrew, but he has since lost his starting job with the Fire to journeyman Matt Lampson.
What this means: Johnson must win back his place in Chicago to have any hope of eventually succeeding Rimando as Hamid, fellow MLS backstops David Bingham and Luis Robles and Mexico-based William Yarbrough all remain in the mix.
Alfredo Morales, MF, Ingolstadt (Germany)
Why he's here: An adductor injury has kept Morales (16 Bundesliga starts this season) idle for the past month.
What this means: The timing is terrible for the 25-year-old, who is still on the fringes of the national team despite his growing profile at club level.
Jordan Morris, FW, Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Why he's here: It's not just that Morris is scoreless through his first four professional games (two in MLS, two in the CONCACAF Champions League). It's also that he's struggled with his decision-making and the pace of play at times, too.
What this means: Growing pains are normal, and those expecting Morris to immediately light up MLS upon his arrival in the domestic league weren't being realistic. Still, few will be clamoring for the former Stanford University star to be with the senior team this month rather than the U-23s.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.