U.S. Men's National Team
What to Look for in World Cup Qualifier Against T&T
June 07, 2017
PLENTY WILL BE AT STAKE when the United States national team resumes World Cup qualifying on Thursday night when it hosts Trinidad & Tobago in Commerce City, Colo. After a poor start to the Hexagonal, Bruce Arena’s team can most likely move into the top three with three points.
Of course, the United States will have just two days of rest before a quick turnaround for Sunday’s qualifier against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Arena has suggested that there will be significant roster turnover between the two games—which makes sense. But ensuring that the Yanks get three points from Thursday's game is the bigger priority since the U.S. is a heavy underdog on the road against El Tri. If the U.S. can win its remaining home games in the Hex, that alone should be enough to qualify and should be the priority.
Everyone on the roster is healthy enough to play but there have been a few recent concerns.
For starters, John Brooks returned to training but has battled a thigh injury. Bobby Wood played hurt down the stretch for Hamburg and was not sharp in Saturday's friendly against Venezuela. Clint Dempsey also looked tired. For reasons unclear, Fabian Johnson also had an unusually poor game.
One thing is sure, however: Tim Howard is the No. 1 guy and should be in goal for both games.
Arena used a 4-4-2 diamond midfield against Venezuela, a formation he deployed in March in a crucial home qualifier against Honduras. In the road game against Panama, he altered the formation and it is unlikely he’ll use it Sunday against Mexico.
Arena is showing that while playing at home he is comfortable with the diamond. That formation gives Christian Pulisic a lot of freedom and provides Michael Bradley with a clearly defined role. It also allows midfielders like Darlington Nagbe the ability to drift centrally.
It has proven to be successful and it is is probably the formation we'll see against Trinidad & Tobago.
Right now there are four forwards on the roster: Wood, Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Jordan Morris.
It would be hard to imagine Wood and Dempsey starting both qualifiers given Dempsey's age and a recent injury to Wood. While both could start in the opening game, a stronger possibility is that one is partnered with Altidore against Trinidad & Tobago. The tactics for the Mexico game would then come down to what result the team got against Trinidad & Tobago and the amount of energy it expended in Colorado.
No matter what, these two games should provide a huge opportunity for Altidore to impress Arena. Dempsey starred in the March qualifiers and Wood was strong in the Bundesliga. The competition is tight for Altidore and now he has a chance to make a case for himself.
Despite fan support for a different option at the No. 6 spot, it's a safe bet that Michael Bradley will start against T&T, working behind Christian Pulisic.
The outside midfielders are harder to predict. The safe bet is Johnson and Darlington Nagbe will get the nod but it remains to be seen if Johnson’s stinker against Venezuela will prompt Arena to consider other options. Alejandro Bedoya is in contention for a starting role if Arena decides to bench Johnson.
If Arena goes with a flat four-midfielder setup, he would have more options. He could shift Pulisic out wide and move Kellyn Acosta or Dax McCarty into the middle with Bradley.
In a four-man backline the odds are very high that DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana take up the fullback spots. Central defense is a little up in the air, however.
Brooks and Geoff Cameron are the first-choice starters at the moment. Brooks resumed to full training but was slightly injured after the Venezuela game. Cameron is over 30 and was injured for a stretch this year. It's hard to see both players starting both games on only two days of rest. Against Trinidad & Tobago, the United States should be able to get the necessary result with any combination of central defenders.
So far in 2017, Arena appears to really like Tim Ream and if Brooks sits for Mexico, Ream would be natural left-footed replacement ahead of Besler. It is also possible that Omar Gonzalez gets the nod and he might be a good fit based on Trinidad & Tobago’s potential set piece strength.
While Arena has many options, this lineup is the one we'll likely see.
Trinidad & Tobago is the weakest of the six teams in the Hexagonal but it does have weapons. Joevin Jones, Kevin Molino, and Kenwyne Jones pose a significant threat and are familiar names to many American fans.
While not a regular starter, Jones is part of a very good attacking contingent for Atlanta United and could torment the U.S. backline. Molino has five goals for Minnesota United this season and Jones is a dynamic fullback for Seattle. Set piece defending will be a high priority.
The U.S. will feel significant pressure to win and even a draw would be terrible result. The last thing this team needs is to travel to Mexico City needing a victory.
This game is far more important than Sunday despite it being much lower in profile. A win and the U.S. is still on course to head to Russia no matter what happens on Sunday. A loss or draw would put the federation into turmoil.
Most importantly, the U.S. needs a strong start and an early goal on Thursday. That would go a long way toward making it a stress-free game and allowing Arena and Co. to focus on stealing a point or three against El Tri.