Just one game stands between the U.S. Men’s National Team and the Copa America, giving Jurgen Klinsmann one final chance to piece his team together ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Following Wednesday’s late win over Ecuador, the USMNT faces off with another CONMEBOL side, Bolivia. While La Verde are far from the quality of Wednesday’s opponent, Bolivia does provide the USMNT with South American opposition as the days dwindle before the Copa America kicks off.
After a strong showing from several substitutes, Klinsmann could be tempted to include the likes of Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic among the starting XI. Add in the potential return of Geoff Cameron, and the USMNT lineup could easily feature several changes from the one that took down Ecuador.
Here’s a look at one possible USMNT lineup for Saturday’s match:
Given the six-day break between Bolivia and the tournament opener against Colombia, Klinsmann should have no qualms with using a strong starting lineup, even for a limited time. Saturday presents one final chance to put the pieces together and, following a massive performance by the substitutes against Ecuador, Klinsmann should mix several deserving players in against Bolivia.
So far, Brad Guzan is the only player to officially claim his place in the lineup, and the Aston Villa goalkeeper looked strong enough against Ecuador to justify the starting gig. In front of him, both DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks picked up their performances on Wednesday, while Fabian Johnson returned to the fold after battling an injury. Add in the previously injured Geoff Cameron, and Klinsmann could have his first-choice backline ready to go for the first time this year.
If the decision is made to rest Cameron due to his injury issues, Steve Birnbaum should be an option to step in and hold down the fort. Birnbaum did well enough against Ecuador, despite some shaky moments, while Matt Besler could join the fray for Brooks as Klinsmann looks to separate left and right-footed centerbacks.
The midfield picture became a bit clearer on Wednesday, as Michael Bradley all but announced to the world that he should be a No. 6. The Toronto FC midfielder was immense in the second half, pulling the strings from a deeper role while helping the U.S. maintain a much higher rate of possession in the second stanza.
Darlington Nagbe should be penciled in alongside him after a Man of the Match performance on Wednesday night. The Portland Timbers midfielder provides the technique and composure on the ball to help the U.S. make the leap from bunker unit to possession team. Going forward, Nagbe should certainly be in contention to start against Colombia, especially with another strong performance on Saturday.
With Bradley lying deeper, Jermaine Jones is also given free reign to attack, something he has done well with as a member of the Colorado Rapids. A loose Jones is the best Jones, and unleashing the veteran midfielder to roam will create havoc for even the most organized of teams. Alejandro Bedoya also deserves another run out after justifying a spot with a decent performance on Wednesday night.
That leaves room for two more, and the spots should go to a pair of younger players still looking to stake their claim in the starting XI. Bobby Wood notched the assist on Nagbe’s winner to continue his run as the USMNT’s most in-form player. Although he did create with several passes in the first half. Clint Dempsey just wasn’t as active as Wood was on Saturday night, making a run-out with the first team a deserved one for the Hamburg forward.
Finally, there’s Christian Pulisic, who shined once again in another cameo appearance. The Borussia Dortmund prospect looked entirely comfortable, and showed both attacking and defensive instincts in abundance on Wednesday. His strip and dribble past several Ecuador defenders served as a highlight, and it is time to see what the 17-year-old could do with increased minutes.
With the players selected, the USMNT has some options in terms of formation. The U.S. could opt for a traditional 4-3-3 with Bradley remaining deep or even more of a 4-2-3-1 with Bedoya, Nagbe and Pulisic making up the advanced midfield group. In addition, Pulisic could tuck inside as more of a second striker, opening the door for Nagbe and either Bedoya or Jones to assume roles as shuttlers in more of a diamond formation. Against Bolivia, the U.S. should be on the front foot through the majority of the game, giving the team a chance to maintain possession and find some attacking flow ahead of the Copa America.
With one final test before the Copa America, Klinsmann should give his A-Team a run out, even if it’s brief. The USMNT has one more match to get it right and, while Bolivia may not be the toughest opponent, the South American nation provides Klinsmann with a chance to put the pieces together before Colombia next week.