With the USMNT win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the United States has all but locked up qualification to the final Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. In order for the US to not advance they would need to lose to Trinidad & Tobago at home while Guatemala would have to defeat St. Vincent and make up a 12 goal difference. In other words, it’s safe to say the US are through.
With the US essentially through, many USMNT fans would love to see Jurgen Klinsmann change things up and give some new guys the experience of playing in games that matter. After all, it still is a competitive game and the US can overtake T&T to finish first in the group with a win.
Klinsmann did as I wanted in their match against St. Vincent by starting 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta at left back, allowing Fabian Johnson to move to his more effective left wing position. But against Trinidad and Tobago I, along with many other fans, would like to see him take things a step further.
That starts with 17-year-old Christian Pulisic. While fans have been screaming from the rooftops for Pulisic to start for months now, Klinsmann has gone with a “take it slow approach.” I’ve had no problem with this as Pulisic is just 17, you don’t want to throw too much at him too quick. However, every time Pulisic steps on the field it becomes more and more obvious that he is the team’s best player and at a certain point you have to take the reigns off of him.
Klinsmann does make a good point when he says that the US doesn’t know if Pulisic will be able to go the full 90 minutes. Pulisic has only gone the full 90 minutes at the senior level once in his career, which came in a Bundesliga match against Hamburg back in April. He hasn’t even gone 90 minutes in any of Borussia Dortmund’s friendlies this summer. Still there’s probably no better match then this one to give him his first international start.
Up top, the strike pair of Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood had a good game. Each player contributed with a goal albeit with Altidore’s coming on a penalty won by Wood. Nevertheless it’s still frustrating to see Altidore automatically get the call whenever he’s healthy. At this point Wood is a better player then Altidore, while Clint Dempsey remains the team’s most consistent goalscorer. If the US is at full strength, any combination of those three players that includes Altidore simply weakens the US.
With Altidore also being a major injury liability – he hasn’t played a full tournament since the 2011 World Cup – it’s time for the US to look towards the future, at life will be like after Clint Dempsey. That’s why it’s finally time to give Jordan Morris his first start alongside Wood. That’s the strike pair of the future.
So what will Klinsmann do in this game? Klinsmann has already said that finishing in first place in the group is a priority for the United States and he plans to field the “strongest possible lineup” available to him. To translate that, Klinsmann considers this a must win game (which he should since he knows how fast the media and fans will turn on him if the US were to get anything but a win against a team like Trinidad & Tobago). That means that Klinsmann will once again go with a veteran heavy lineup.
He will have to make two changes to the back four that started against St. Vincent. DeAndre Yedlin is suspended for yellow card accumulation while Matt Besler left the team to be with his wife who just gave birth to the couple’s first child. Expect Kellyn Acosta and Geoff Cameron to retain their places and Steve Birnbaum to slot for Besler while Michael Orozco will likely get the call at right back.
In the midfield, Christian Pulisic will likely start again on the bench, leaving room for Fabian Johnson and Klinsmann favorite Ale Bedoya to start on the wings. Michael Bradley will start in the middle and it wouldn’t shock me to see Sacha Kljestan start alongside as a reward for his great play off the bench against St. Vincent. Up front I wouldn’t expect any changes.
Should Klinsmann decide to start Pulisic, Fabian Johnson would likely shift over to right back so that Bedoya could stay in the lineup.
It’s not the lineup US fans want to see, but remember for two years fans called for Klinsmann’s head because of results in friendlies, as well as an away match to Guatemala not going the US’ way. It’s almost created an atmosphere where Klinsmann needs to win every game just to avoid fan backlash, therefore if there’s anyone to blame for Klinsmann not taking risks, it’s ourselves.
Predicted lineup: Howard, Acosta, Birnbaum, Cameron, Orozco, Johnson, Kljestan, Bradley, Bedoya, Wood, Altidore