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U.S. Men's National Team

6 Players to Watch in U.S. vs. New Zealand Friendly

Friday's friendly in Havana didn't tell us much about the U.S. squad, but today's game against New Zealand should prove more insightful. Here's what Brian Sciaretta will be looking for. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 11, 2016
3:00 AM

IN ITS FINAL WARMUP before the start of the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualification, the United States national team will host New Zealand at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. tonight (8pm ET; ESPN, UniMas). Jurgen Klinsmann will have a mostly North American-based squad after releasing many of his European-based players following Friday’s 2-0 win over Cuba.

This lineup Klinsmann has at his disposal is mostly younger and consists of several players trying to play their way into the core of the squad. Can these players make an impact? Here's what I will be looking for.

Juan Agudelo—One of the more intriguing players added to the roster, Agudelo is playing great soccer right now for New England. Talent, of course, has never been an issue for the Colombian-born, New Jersey-raised forward. Instead, it has been his consistency and career decision making (made evident when he took most of 2015 off after a failed Stoke transfer). But he is on his game and still just 23-years-old. Has he reached a point where he can break into Klinsmann’s top roster?

Lynden Gooch—The Californian will likely make his U.S. debut against New Zealand after earning Premier League minutes with Sunderland this season. He has played a wide variety of positions under David Moyes but where will Klinsmann play him? Given the abundance of central midfielders on this U.S. roster, Gooch will likely play either on the wing, forward, or attacking midfielder. Then, if he succeeds, will he be fast-tracked onto the top team to begin the Hexagonal?

Kellyn Acosta—Despite playing exclusively as a central midfielder for FC Dallas, Acosta has impressed Klinsmann at left back where he will likely start against New Zealand. Acosta, 21, is in a position where if he gains Klinsmann’s confidence at the position, he can perhaps push Fabian Johnson into the midfield.

Julian Green—The Bayern Munich product was one of the few American players who impressed against Cuba. He showed little rust despite not playing at all for his club. Consistency will be a test and it will be interesting to see how Green can do for an encore. Along with Paul Arriola and Lynden Gooch—and Christian Pulisic who returned to Borussia Dortmund following the Cuba game—there is tough competition among young wingers in the player pool.

Sacha Kljestan—The New York Red Bull midfielder had an off day against Cuba but that few Americans looked comfortable on the choppy pitch. If he starts against New Zealand, Kljestan will have a lot on the line. A strong performance could put him in line to start against Mexico next month. Unlike many in the player pool, he has Champions League experience, is in form, and has started against Mexico in the Hexagonal. But competition remains tight.

Perry Kitchen—The newly minted Hearts captain will make his return to RFK Stadium where he played with D.C. United from 2011-2015. Kitchen faces a tough battle for playing time in the U.S. squad but on Tuesday will be in a familiar setting and should be in a comfortable position to play well. The question is whether or not he will take advantage.

Can the Regulars Build Momentum?

This game is not just about the fringe players looking to make an impression. The established players all are facing important tests to try to set a winning and confident tone heading into the Hex.

This is the case primarily for captain Michael Bradley and his Toronto FC teammate Jozy Altidore. Alditore has had a very good two-month run for his club and Bradley is desperately trying to get back the form which he showed in early 2015. When Michael Bradley is playing well, the U.S. is difficult to beat. At times, part of his difficulty appeared to be a poor chemistry with Jermaine Jones. But with Jones not on the roster, Bradley needs to assert himself more and become the focal piece of the midfield—especially with younger players now breaking into the squad on the outside positions.

With John Brooks and Geoff Cameron both back with their clubs, Klinsmann has decisions to make as to who gets the start in central defense. Steve Birnbaum is one potential option and the D.C. United star would be playing in his home stadium. The likely bet, however, is that Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez get the nod due to their experience and chemistry together. Klinsmann’s pecking order after Cameron and Brooks is not as obvious at the moment and Tuesday’s game could reveal how Klinsmann sees that position.


I think the United States wins the game 3-1 and goes with this starting lineup.


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