With just one month between the U.S. Men’s National Team and a clash with arch-rivals Mexico, the upcoming pair of friendlies are of the utmost importance. Several new faces will look to stake their claim on the final spots on the Hexagonal squad, while first team regulars will look to fight off competition from up-and-comers, along with developing relationships with those around them.
The U.S. opens the October friendly slate on Friday with a visit to Cuba. The island nation is far from a soccer powerhouse, giving the U.S. a chance to mix and match options ahead of the Hexagonal. With that in mind, Jurgen Klinsmann has opted to bring a roster boasting a mix of veterans, prospects and players looking to return to the fold following absences.
Headlining the squad are a trio of young goalkeepers, each of whom will look to lock down a spot in the absence of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Newcomer Lynden Gooch is the lone completely new faces to the squad, while young star Christian Pulisic headlines a talented group of young wing options.
Here’s a closer look at a possible lineup the USMNT could use against Cuba:
Starting from the back, the USMNT obviously features a new trio of goalkeepers heading into the pair of friendlies: Ethan Horvath, Davind Bingham and William Yarbrough. One would expect each of the three to be given some form of game action, and Horvath remains likely to get an extended look. The young Molde goalkeeper has been with the program several times, but has yet to earn a much-deserved senior cap. Look for him to get some extended minutes throughout the two matches as Klinsmann and co. assess his jump from the youth teams to the senior squad.
In front of him, John Brooks is all but a certainty to start. The centerback is reportedly set to head back to Germany following the Cuba match, and Klinsmann wouldn’t have dragged him away from Hertha Berlin just to glue him to the bench. With that in mind, it makes sense to give Geoff Cameron the spot next to him, as the two look to reconnect for the first time since the Copa America. With Mexico looming, the USMNT would benefit from the two building together once again as the duo remains the first-choice central pairing. The U.S. can then leave Steve Birnbaum for a start in his home stadium in Tuesday’s match against New Zealand.
Out wide, one would expect Timmy Chandler to get some sort of look, but Klinsmann may want to take full advantage of his one chance at deploying his first-choice backline. With Brooks reportedly set to leave, placing DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson out wide gives the first team one final rep with one another before November’s qualifiers.
The midfield picture isn’t as straight forward. Regulars like Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones are out of the picture, opening the door for several new faces. Sacha Kljestan improved his stock in a major way last time out, and it will now be up to him to replicate it and lock down a permanent place. Playing him next to Michael Bradley makes sense, giving the two a chance to develop a rapport following Kljestan’s long-term absence. Both Danny Williams and Perry Kitchen remain in the mix for spots in the defensive midfield, so look for one of the two to replace Bradley at some point to give Klinsmann an idea of who should claim the role going forward.
Out wide lies a pair of youngsters in Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola. At this point, Pulisic should be penciled in as a starter for the Mexico match, and giving him a chance to work with Johnson behind him is a good idea. No matter how good he is, though, Pulisic is still adjusting to his USMNT teammates and the international game, and more minutes equal more comfort for the young star.
On the other side is Paul Arriola, who is looking to cement a more regular spot with the senior team. Arriola continuously cracks the Tijuana squad and has always shown well in his brief USMNT appearances. So far, Arriola has done nothing to show that he isn’t ready to make the leap, so one more big-time performance should all but solidify his spot heading towards the Hex.
If Klinsmann opts to go with Pulisic and Arriola, both Lynden Gooch and Julian Green remain as options off the bench. The two will almost certainly get game time as the coaching staff looks to see how far they’ve come since their most recent youth team appearances.
That leaves the forward position. The U.S. has gotten several looks at the partnership between Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood, a duo that likely remains first choice. However, Friday’s match may present a chance to reward a player like Jordan Morris for sterling club form. The Morris-Altidore partnership is still a very fresh one, one that could be beneficial entering the Hexagonal. Look for Klinsmann to shuffle the trio throughout the two games, giving his three top strikers a chance to duke it out for spots on the field against Mexico.