Study points ahead of tonight’s U.S. World Cup qualifier

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TAMPA, Fla. – Anything other than a resounding win tonight against tiny Antigua and Barbuda would be fodder for fan angst – but a win by any margin will do in the technical sense as Jurgen Klinsmann gets his first taste of World Cup qualifying as U.S. manager.

Clint Dempsey is not yet at full speed. Landon Donovan hasn’t been at full rev most of this year, a fine night against Scotland as the exception. Michael Bradley has been cleaning up, ensconcing himself as perhaps the most important U.S. man this side of Tim Howard.

We’ll see it all come together at 7 p.m. on ESPN. What else to consider:

  • Style points do not count; there are no voters around to impress

So says U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra (pictured). Yes, the United States will be expected to win by multiple goals. And if the Americans sneak away with a 1-0 or 2-0 win, flags of concerns will rise across U.S. fandom and the chattering class. But no matter, says Bocanegra, who figures the need for plentiful goals serves only the bottom line.

“We need to hopefully go out there and get some early goals on them and take some pressure off ourselves,” he said. “So we need to be impressive right from the first whistle. Doesn’t matter how we win, or what the score is, we just need to come away with a win.”

  • The left back situation

We’ve gone over that one, here (about the situation) and here (about the options). My best starting XI guess: We’ll see Geoff Cameron tonight for injured starter Fabian Johnson and injured backup Edgar Castillo.

FYI: I’m hearing that Johnson has a better chance of playing Tuesday than Castillo.

  • The Klinsmann factor

Two things to know here: First, the U.S. boss isn’t just new to coaching in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, he’s new to World Cup qualifying, period. Remember, Germany didn’t go through the qualifying paces with Klinsmann in charge for World Cup 2006; as hosts, they were awarded the berth. So there’s that.

Does it matter? Surely not, because Klinsmann was clearly front-and-center in those Germans bids to grab World Cup spots as a player.

The other thing to discuss his tactical style, about his desire for United States that plays higher up the field, applies more pressure and generally is more of a regional bully that can impose itself. It’s a style suited for games like tonight’s.

Teams under previous manager Bob Bradley were all about organization and possession, not necessarily about taking the fight to the enemy. It was a style suited to manufacture upsets against higher-quality nations, or to carefully manage matches against equals. But his teams, lacking that extra gear of forward drive, sometimes struggled to break down weaker teams.

Klinsmann’s way should be better at it. We’ll know more in a few hours.

We will, that is, unless …

  • The wet weather factor

Bocanegra said the United States has an edge on a wet field, where the ball moves quicker. He’s surely correct.

But there’s a point where “wet and slick” becomes “water-logged and bogged down.” That benefits the lesser side, the visitors in this case. Rain here in Tampa. Yep. On and off through the day. With more perhaps en route.

By the way, the field at Raymond James, where about 20,000 seats had been sold as of yesterday, is 116 yards by 74 yards. Whereas the fields were tighter for last week’s friendlies in Florida and Maryland, U.S. Soccer officials made sure this one was properly wide.

  • Who starts at striker?

Best guess, Herculez Gomez. Or perhaps Terrence Boyd.

Coming into this camp I (and everyone else) assumed it would be Jozy Altidore, coming off that breakout season in Holland. But listening to everything Klinsmann is saying here, I don’t see that now.  He keeps talking up Gomez and Boyd and the razor-wire edge and effort they bring every day to training. (And there has been lots and lots of training, two sessions on most days since the team arrive more than two weeks ago.)

Altidore? Klinsmann says those three weeks off hurt the 23-year-old Alkmaar man desperately.

I’ll have just a little more on this one later this afternoon.