The U.S. Men’s National Team’s spot in the Hexagonal is all but sealed, but Jurgen Klinsmann faces several lineup decisions heading into the team’s final match of the current World Cup qualifying round.
Barring an epic collapse that would require the team to throw away a +12 goal differential, the U.S. will advance to the next stage of qualifying regardless of what happens against Trindad & Tobago on Tuesday. Given that knowledge, Jurgen Klinsmann does have a little bit of room to experiment, even if priority remains a spot atop the group.
Following Friday’s win over St. Vincent & The Grenadines, the U.S. lost Matt Besler and DeAndre Yedlin. Both players have returned to their respective clubs, while Michael Bradley and Michael Orozco have joined the squad following suspensions. Due to the absence of Besler and Yedlin, as well as the introduction of Tim Howard, the U.S. will feature at least three new starters, while several others could join the lineup if Klinsmann looks to make some changes.
Overall, Tuesday’s match is about balance. Despite having a spot in the Hex all but locked up, Klinsmann and co. still see a first place finish, and an early date with Mexico, as favorable. That makes Tuesday’s lineup selection all the more interesting. Does Klinsmann see Tuesday as a must-win heading into the Hex, or does he see Tuesday as a big-game launching pad for several younger stars?
Here’s a look at a potential USMNT starting XI we could see against Trinidad and Tobago:
Given the situation at hand, Tuesday’s match will be about the defense. Barring an epic collapse that results in a resounding multi-goal defeat, the USMNT should be just fine with their +12 goal differential over Guatemala. Any combination of defenders should be more than good enough to protect a margin that large, but given several notable absences, the USMNT backline remains a focal point.
DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Besler have left camp, leaving gaps at both fullback and central defense. Given the absence of John Brooks, the U.S. backline is in need of a mini-facelift Tuesday night, especially at the increasingly-shallow fullback position. Fortunately, the goalkeeper position has already been decided, as Tim Howard will be in net after deputizing for Brad Guzan on Saturday night.
Facing off with a T&T attack spearheaded by Kenwyne Jones, the U.S. will be tested. Geoff Cameron has started throughout the USMNT’s recent run, and should be in the lineup once again, although his position is up in the air. Following Yedlin’s suspension, right back remains an area of concern, and Cameron could be an option out wide. However, Klinsmann will likely be against shuffling central defenders more than he has to, making it logical to put Fabian Johnson at right back, a position he has shown he is more than capable of handling. That opens the door for Kellyn Acosta to earn another look at left back, while Michael Orozco remains an option anywhere across the backline after recently joining camp.
The big question remains who enters the lineup at centerback, and the competition would appear to be between Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez. The Pachuca defender has plenty of big game experience for both club and country which, in some ways, could be a drawback of starting him on Tuesday. Birnbuam is still asserting himself as a legitimate international defender, and a matchup with a forward like Jones could do wonders for his development going forward. If Klinsmann wants to play it safe, Gonzalez is as sturdy as they come, but playing Birnbaum could be the move looking towards the future.
The midfield sees the return of Michael Bradley, who joins the U.S. after serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation. One would expect Bradley to slide right into the starting lineup, although Klinsmann could be tempted to rest him following a summer plagued by a knee injury. Alejandro Bedoya should also be an option in the center of the field given his recent performances with the Philadelphia Union. If Klinsmann opts to go unconventional, Darlington Nagbe could certainly be in line for a start after sitting out over the weekend, while Sacha Kljestan justified his spot in the team in Friday’s win with a spectacular substitute performance. In terms of younger options, Caleb Stanko could earn his first senior cap if the game turns towards the USMNT’s favor.
On the wings, the U.S. is not as deep as usual given the absence of Gyasi Zardes, but Klinsmann still has some decisions to make. Christian Pulisic more than earned a starting nod with his two-goal, one assist performance over the weekend. However, there could be a worry about too much, too soon with regards to the 17-year-old star. Several other young options are up for consideration as well, including Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola. The latter was one of the more impressive players in a pre-Copa America friendly against Puerto Rico, and an appearance on Tuesday could serve as a good test at just how ready the Tijuana playmaker is when it comes to the senior game.
The forward positions were occupied by Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood over the weekend, and it would be beneficial to give both another run out against T&T. Against a significantly better opponent, the duo could continue to work on their partnership atop the field. The two as a unit very much remain a work in progress, but the only way to continue that process is playing next to one another and adjusting.
Overall, expect a bit of a mixed lineup for Tuesday’s match. Look for the USMNT’s spine to remain in tact, while young pieces around it step in to make their mark in what is certainly a big game.