Just one match stands between the U.S. Men’s National Team and the 2018 World Cup. A draw will most certainly be good enough but, if we’ve learned anything from CONCACAF play over the years, it is to expect the unexpected.
The U.S. heads to Trinidad & Tobago knowing a win would officially seal a ticket to Russia while a draw would force Panama and Honduras to combine for a major miracle. At the end of the day, T&T is a team that has amassed just three points all through qualifying, but the Soca Warriors have speed and countering ability that could give the U.S. problems on Tuesday night.
That means there’s a mentality to balance. The U.S. cannot afford to just sit back and relax, even if one point will likely take care of business. They also can’t go too gung-ho when it isn’t needed, especially against a T&T team that put a scare into Mexico on Friday before a trio of late goals.
With that in mind, here’s a look at one possible USMNT lineup for Tuesday’s match:
Let’s start with the shoo-ins. Christian Pulisic was dominant against Panama and was removed fairly early after several hard fouls, giving him an extra few minutes of rest heading into Tuesday. He’s in. Michael Bradley is always in, so you can lock that up, and you can also probably lock in Jozy Altidore and DeAndre Yedlin.
From there, pretty much everything else is open, starting at the goalkeeper position. Tim Howard has generally played home matches while Brad Guzan has handled the road trips. Given the short turnaround and ridiculous field conditions as of Monday, it’s probably best to continue the trend and give Guzan the nod in goal.
In front of him, Arena has options. The 4-1-2-1-2 looked great on Friday, but it may be a little too ambitious for a team that only needs a draw on Tuesday. The personnel is there for a 3-5-2, and that helps get Geoff Cameron back onto the field. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cameron rejoin the lineup and, after taking a blow to the head that left him looking like Rocky Balboa, Matt Besler could probably slide to the bench in favor of Tim Ream, who has experience in a three-at-the-back formation.
While Yedlin is all but certain to start on the right, left wing back is an interesting debate. Jorge Villafana could certainly return after going a full 90 on Friday as could Paul Arriola or DaMarcus Beasley. The D.C. United midfielder’s energy was vital on Friday, and his extended gas tank could help earn him the nod. If the U.S. opts for a switch mid game, Arriola could be pushed forward into a wide midfield position while Ream can slide over, offering the U.S. a chance at several different looks.
In that midfield, Bradley will need a partner after looking a bit too isolated at times last match. There are plenty of options, like Dax McCarty, Alejandro Bedoya or Kellyn Acosta. The latter’s energy could earn him the nod, and a chance to undo a disappointing summer.
Finally, there are the forwards. Bobby Wood put in a ridiculous shift on Friday, running all over the field while creating havoc for 90 minutes. Knowing that, it may be best to save him as a bench option, allowing a fresher Clint Dempsey to join Jozy Altidore against a T&T team he actually hasn’t scored against since 2008.
It’s a lineup that offers several looks. It has the ability to be defensive and the speed to get back on the counter. It also has the ability to throw numbers forward and score the goal or two needed to get the USMNT to Russia.