U.S. Men's National Team
Wood, Altidore Should Lead U.S. to Win in Jacksonville
September 06, 2016
THE U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM will wrap up the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tonight at home against Trinidad & Tobago in Jacksonville. The Yanks will advance to the Hexagonal with a win, draw, and even a loss as long as it doesn’t squander a 12-goal differential advantage over Guatemala, which takes on St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A win over Trinidad & Tobago would give the U.S. the top spot in Group C and would set up a likely home match against Mexico to open the Hexagonal in November.
Following a 6-0 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said that he will start a strong lineup against Trinidad & Tobago. There will be some lineup changes as DeAndre Yedlin is suspended for this game due to yellow card accumulation and Matt Besler has returned home to be with his family following the birth of his daughter.
Michael Bradley and Michael Orozco will be eligible for selection after serving a suspensions carried over from the Copa America Centenario. Also, Klinsmann has said Tim Howard will start this game in goal after Brad Guzan went the distance on Friday.
There are a lot of different ways that Klinsmann can play this game. Here are some of the things I am watching for.
Central midfield pairings
On Friday the U.S. opted for a 4-4-2. Will Klinsmann go with the same formation again? It is certainly possible although with Bradley back, he has multiple options to consider. At the Copa America, Klinsmann used the 4-3-3 but without Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones, it is hard to gauge what he will do.
If Klinsmann goes with the 4-3-3, the three-man midfield is likely to include Bradley and Beckerman. The third man could either be Alejandro Bedoya, Darlington Nagbe, or Sacha Kljestan who was very solid off the bench against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. That would mean the front three would likely feature Jozy Altidore in the middle and Booby Wood out wide with either Graham Zusi, Christian Pulisic, Bedoya, or Fabian Johnson on the opposite flank.
A straight 4-4-2 would almost certainly have Bradley in the central midfield with Beckerman as the most likely partner. That would force Bedoya out wide along with Johnson.
One thing that would not be surprising at all is to see the formation change during the course of the game—either in the first half or when the second-half substitutions are made. Klinsmann is not necessarily married to one formation in a single game. At the Copa America there were times when the U.S. opened in a 4-3-3 but shifted to a 4-4-2 when Gyasi Zardes would drop into the midfield and Wood would move inward to join Dempsey up top. This was apparent in the group stage win over Costa Rica when the tactical switch helped the U.S. overcome a sluggish start.
Jones and Beckerman, both 34, are on their last legs and Klinsmann has lamented that younger players haven’t made their case to push the veterans off the team. The reality is that sooner or later it has to happen. Any opportunity another player has in these positions to prove he belongs is an important moment for this team.
Kljestan is not young but he is playing some of the best soccer of his career. Also, perhaps this could be another opportunity for Nagbe who did not see much of the field at the Copa America but who looked outstanding in the friendly against Ecuador shortly before the tournament.
Fullback options and Fabian Johnson
Due to yellow card accumulation, DeAndre Yedlin is suspended for this game. That means Klinsmann can either move Fabian Johnson back to either fullback role with Michael Orozco or Kellyn Acosta playing the other side. Less likely options include using either Geoff Cameron or Steve Birnbaum at right back.
Johnson is perhaps the best American player but his versatility is also his curse. He is almost exclusively used as an attacking midfielder in the Bundesliga. Klinsmann recognizes this but has used him primarily at fullback due to his ability to get the job done in the backline and his lack of comfort with the fullback options behind Johnson. So in a sense, so far Klinsmann has been using his best player to fill in holes as opposed to putting him in his best position and building the team around him.
That approach was different on Friday when Johnson started in the midfield with Kellyn Acosta getting the nod at left back. Is that a start of a new trend? Tuesday against Trinidad & Tobago could offer new clues. If Acosta continues to start at left back (despite playing as central midfielder for his club) and another player getting the nod at right back, then maybe it’s a sign that Klinsmann feels more comfortable with other fullback options to put Johnson in his best position.
Altidore and Wood Up Top
The U.S. national team forward contingent has had a rough couple of years. Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd have endured long-term injuries. Rubio Rubin was injured for most of last season and Jozy Altidore has been injured at all the wrong times over the past several years, limiting his involvement in major international tournaments. To go along with that, Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski are now heading into their mid-thirties.
Finally things seem to be trending in the right direction on the injury front. Johannsson made a recent start for Werder Bremen, Rubin is playing for Utrecht and is back with the U.S. senior side, and Boyd is on his way back.
The most significant news, however, is that Bobby Wood is off to a strong start in his Bundesliga debut season and Altidore is not only healthy, but he’s playing his best soccer since 2013 when he dominated the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar. To make it better, Wood and Altidore look comfortable playing together. Waiting in the wings is Jordan Morris, a change-of-pace option off the bench.
But if Wood and Altidore can continue to develop a nice chemistry and Altidore can stay healthy, Klinsmann will have two players in their prime as the Hexagonal gets underway.
I think Klinsmann will go with a conservative starting lineup.
I also think this will be more than good enough to defeat Trinidad & Tobago. Without Jones, Bradley should have a more defined role and the striker tandem of Wood and Altidore is just playing too well at the moment. Plus, the bench options of Pulisic, Kljestan, Nagbe, and Morris can tip the balance in the second half.
The weakness in fullback of Orozco and Acosta (who is a good player in the midfield) would be a problem against top competition—but not here, where they can easily get the job done.
I think the Yanks take this one comfortably 3-0 and a strong performance from Altidore and Wood.