Not only is Bruce Arena expected to make changes to his starting XI, but the USMNT needs to change the way it performed on Saturday in the 1-1 draw with Panama.
It’s hard to argue that a game against one of the minnows of the North American region will be competitive and a perfect test for the USMNT. But a contest normally reserved for Chris Wondolowski padding his international goal total will serve a purpose for those who didn’t touch the field against Panama.
Only Kelyn Rowe, Brad Guzan and Dom Dwyer had notable showings in Nashville, while the central midfield pairing of Kellyn Acosta and Dax McCarty looked splintered for most of the match which led to open criticism from both players and the USMNT manager after the draw.
Arena has the potential to go with plenty different variations of his starting XI to gain the maximum amount of rest for Saturday’s starters and still be competitive enough to cruise to a victory. Wednesday would be a perfect time to see Cristian Roldan, Jordan Morris, Justin Morrow and others.
“Clearly we’ve thought about that,” Arena said. “We’ll make some changes on Wednesday. The number we don’t actually know but we have a number of players that can step in and play.
Roldan is perhaps the most intriguing prospect that could potentially put on the red, white and blue to start on Wednesday. While the Acosta hype train has plowed off the tracks due to the overbearing weight of passengers, Roldan’s is still puttering out of the station. The same could be said about Morris, who has lost some ground to the new shiny toy in the USMNT attack in Dwyer.
There are also players like Juan Agudelo and Eric Lichaj, who are hungry to finally get another chance in the USMNT starting XI. Lichaj, who was exiled from the USMNT during the Jurgen Klinsmann era, has found new life at the game’s highest stage with Arena in charge and he should be called upon after a rough fullback showing on Wednesday.
No matter what player you talk about, the message is the same: impress and you’ll continue to be in Arena’s sight as the competition continues and as the final four Hex matches approach. The hope driving some of the World Cup hopefuls is the 18 previous players who made the leap from Gold Cup to World Cup with less than 10 appearances, with Matt Besler, Mix Diskerud, Nick Rimando and Wondolowski being the last four to do it in 2013.
“We’re all ready to play and it’s about, when you get your opportunity, to make the most of it. When you’re in tournaments like this, it’s not about yourself,” Paul Arriola said. “You have to think about the team and understand the roles and Bruce has done a great job to make us understand it’s not about us individually. When we get the chance to play, we can make the difference but there’s a lot of rotation.
“Understanding your role, if you’re coming off the bench and just supporting the team, all of us have a really good understanding of how we need to help the team, on the field or off the field.”
As for Martinique, the Caribbean nation’s spot atop the Group B standings means something and nothing at the same time. Sure, it’s great that the island country sits atop a group with a pair of CONCACAF powers, but the win did come against Nicaragua, who appears to be the punching bag of the quartet.
Jordy Delem of the Seattle Sounders is one of the few familiar faces in the Martinique squad. In total, 19 members of the 23-man squad play their club soccer domestically. Anthony Argely plays in the lower divisions in France as does Anthony Jean-Baptiste, while Steeven Langil suits up for Legia Warsaw. Langil, who has five goals in nine international appearances, is the danger man in attack alongside Kevin Parsemain.
Despite the challenges the Martinique players may present over 90 minutes, the USMNT should have the power to dominate the unexpected Group B leader with relative ease, a result that would keep Arena and company on track with the goals set at the start of the tournament.
“We watched a little bit of film and they have some players,” Acosta said. “If you give them time and space, any team will hurt you. We need to be mindful of that and we need to take the game to them. It’s imperative we get the three points. We can’t settle for anything less. We’re going to go out there and battle and contend and get the result.”