Life without Jermaine Jones: This central midfield doesn’t look so deep anymore

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SEATTLE, Wash. — When he first inherited the U.S. Men’s National Team, Jurgen Klinsmann had the luxury of giving Michael Bradley, the team’s best central midfielder, some time off. Not only was Klinsmann committed to giving players like Kyle Beckerman a chance to work his way into the national team picture, the new U.S. boss also had players like Maurice Edu, José Torres, Danny Williams to evaluate. By the time Bradley and Jermaine Jones settling into the starting roles, central midfield seemed the U.S.’s deepest position.

Fast forward to today, and the U.S.’s squad suddenly looks thin in the middle, especially with the news that Jones will miss Tuesday’s match. The first choice midfielder revealed Sunday that the concussion he suffered in Jamaica will keep him out of the Panama match. With right midfielder Graham Zusi suspended for the match, Klinsmann has to find two new starters from his limited options.

“These moments happen,” was Klinsmann’s sanguine response when asked about some of his absences. In trademark Klinsmann fashion, he was more apt to talk about the new chances than the misfortunes.

“With every player getting an opportunity, for whatever circumstances — some players injured, some missing, whatever it is — this is the opportunity they get,” Klinsmann explained, espousing his general philosophy while speaking of Brad Evans’ opportunism. “You always break into a team by the fact something happens or you convince the coach that you’re good.”

As it concerns replacing Jones, Klinsmann’s squad has three players who could get the change to show the coach they’re good.

Sacha Kljestan, never fully embraced as a middle-of-the-park option under Bob Bradley, saw time centrally during pre-qualifying friendlies. Often playing in the middle for Anderlecht, Kljestan would be a proactive choice, enhancing the U.S’s ability to hold the ball and dictate play going forward.

Geoff Cameron, however, may be the most Jones-like player of the group. While it would be risky to ask him to replicate the ranging destruction that’s characterized Jones’ play, Cameron is capable of providing a physical (if deeper) complement to Michael Bradley.

Klinsmann was also impressed with what Cameron offered in Jamaica.

“The way Geoff Cameron jumped in and he played a number six was outstanding,” the coach said. “He helped us a lot there.”

If Klinsmann is looking at people who “convince the coach that you’re good,” do Cameron’s Kingston contributions give him a leg up?

Stu Holden is the only other central midfielder on the roster, but it would be a stretch to see him get the start. Perhaps the Bolton midfielder has impressed in training, but playing only nine minutes for the U.S. in the Klinsmann-era, getting a World Cup Qualifying start would be a huge step up.

The trio are a collection of imperfect alternatives, which isn’t surprising. There’s a reason some players start while others are understudies. Still, with the likes of Eddie Johnson having shown the ability to have an impact from wide, you wonder if switching to a 4-3-3 formation could prove helpful.

If central midfield is hurting, Klinsmann may elect to throw numbers at the problem.

AT HALF: Lletget, Bradley, Dempsey spur USMNT to 3-0 lead

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The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes is off to a flying start.

As it stands, the 3-0 halftime lead provided by Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey has the Yanks up from sixth to fourth in the Hex table.

Sebastian Lletget scored a fifth minute goal to ease the tensions of the Avaya Stadium crowd in San Jose, though he’d leave the match with injury before the match was 20 minutes old.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal.

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks, Cameron; Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′)

LIVE – USMNT looks to right ship vs. Honduras

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The United States starts to make amends for its 0-2 start to the final round of World Cup qualifying with a match against Honduras on Friday in San Jose.

Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job and Bruce Arena will try things differently

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Most importantly for Arena, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard are available this time around.

Cameron starts at right back, with John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez in the center of the back four. Jorge Villafana slots into the mix at left back.

Captain Michael Bradley will sit atop the midfield, with Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Lletget, and Christian Pulisic in the midfield.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the forwards. Kickoff is set for 10:55 p.m. EDT from Avaya Stadium.

Minnesota’s Molino lifts Trinidad and Tobago to big win (video)

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Minnesota United attacker Kevin Molino has given Trinidad and Tobago life in the race to win a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Molino’s 37th minute goal gave hosts T&T a 1-0 lead against visiting Panama at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on Friday, and the Soca Warriors held on to win its first points of qualifying.

Panama had a Luis Tejada goal controversially ruled offside as Los Canaleros nearly pulled their fifth point of the Hex. Panama faces the USMNT on Tuesday in Panama City.

[ WATCH: Zaha scores wonder vs. Russia ]

Molino fooled long time LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with a low shot across the body. The Panama backstop couldn’t get low enough or far enough with his dive to stop the shot.

The win has T&T in fifth place on the Hex table, behind Honduras on goal differential and three points ahead of the last place USMNT.

The U.S. needs a two-goal win to pass T&T, and a three-goal win to climb above Honduras.

WATCH: Zaha drives Russia nuts with mazy dribble goal

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Wilfried Zaha combined balance, deft touch, and breakneck speed to score his first international goal for the Ivory Coast.

With his side leading Russia 1-0 on Friday, the Crystal Palace winger worked his way through four defenders before burying his shot.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Zaha especially fooled with Ilya Kutepov, a harsh cut nearly tipping both to the field.

He’s just 24, and it seems much longer ago that he made his failed move to Manchester United in 2013.

Failed may be a rough verb considering it all contributed to making him the player he is for Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast today.