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Match Analysis

Increased Competition Should Bode Well for Yanks

Battles for starting spots are heating up within the U.S. men's national team, and Jurgen Klinsmann will have to make some hard choices as the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying gets underway.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 07, 2016
7:00 AM

JURGEN KLINSMANN now has two months to prepare his team for the Hexagonal opener against Mexico on November 11, and last night's semifinal round finale was an important learning exercise.

Players who were not regular starters for the U.S. team stepped up, and it would appear that there is more competition within the team for playing time as some established veterans are now being pushed. Here are the top things I took away from the U.S. team’s 4-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago.

Christian Pulisic is ready

Following the win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann expressed some concern with starting 17-year-old Christian Pulisic in a World Cup qualifier. In the end, however, Klinsmann decided to go with the Pennsylvania prouct and it was a great decision.

Pulisic was dangerous with every touch and he helped elevate everyone around him. He is not just ready for occasional minutes but rather he should be able see significant minutes in the Hexagonal.

Yes, he does need to earn at least some playing time for Dortmund and not ride the bench. But he is a special talent—the sort of player the U.S has not seen in a long time. Klinsmann has said he wants to see young players push the veterans off the team and on Tuesday night he tested Pulisic. Needless to say the youngster responded.

Sacha Kljestan helps his case

New York Red Bull midfielder Sacha Kljestan has been in first-rate form in MLS the past two years but only made this U.S. roster due to an injury to John Brooks. After impressing off the bench on Friday, Kljestan played a huge role in the win over Trinidad & Tobago and made a case for inclusion in the Hexagonal.

Yes, he scored the opening goal on a heads-up play but he was a force in the midfield, linking others into the attack. Most importantly, his chemistry with Pulisic was noticeable as the two combined well—most noticeably on the build-up to Altidore’s second goal, which gave the Yanks a 3-0 lead.

Kljestan will turn 31 at the end of the week so he doesn't exactly represent the new guard. But at a time when the U.S. must produce immediate results, Kljestan showed that he needs to be considered for the team as he can press Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, and Darlington Nagbe.

Jozy Altidore is surging

With two goals and consistently dangerous play, Altidore looked in classic form and is at a level right now he hasn’t been at since when he was dominating the Eredivisie. The New Jersey-born Altidore is among the streakiest players you will find. The good news is that it is usually obvious when he is on-form and his club play almost always seems to translate over to the national team.

Since returning from his hamstring injury that forced him out of the Copa America, Altidore has been outstanding for Toronto FC—and Klinsmann is reaping the benefits. Clearly, Toronto can be a very good place for Altidore who can play for a quality team alongside a special player in Sebastian Giovinco.

He’s in a good spot right now but the question is whether or not he can stay healthy.

Bedoya and Bradley were quiet

Alejandro Bedoya and Michael Bradley are national team regulars but both had quiet games against Trinidad & Tobago—on a night when the American offense was clicking. But don't think for a minute that either is finished.

Bedoya and Bradley remain valuable and are adept at playing both sides of the ball. As the Hex begins and the competition ratchets up a notch or two, Bradley and Bedoya's defensive skill will be essential. Even though Bradley struggled at times on Tuesday night, he still forced turnovers and made it difficult for Trinidad & Tobago to attack up the middle.

That said, the reality is that there are players now pushing Bradley and Bedoya. The competition within the U.S. national team is pretty high right now and both will have to raise their games if they expect to be first-choice starters on an ongoing basis. 

Arriola is a dynamic bench option

With two goals from his two caps, Paul Arriola has made a strong transition into the U.S. national team. Arriola is an offensive spark plug off the bench for Liga MX frontrunners Club Tijuana, and he has played a similar role with the Yanks so far. On Tuesday he scored the final goal when he opportunistically hammered home a rebound off a Christian Pulisic strike.

Over the years Arriola has established himself as a player who thoroughly enjoys representing his country. He raised his game at the 2015 U-20 World Cup and is doing so this year with the full national team as well. 

Until he becomes and entrenched starter for his club, his spot on the national team will be vulnerable. But for now, he has taken his chances well and it would not be surprising to see him stick around and continue to get call-ups from Klinsmann.

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