USMNT preview: USA opens World Cup qualifying vs. CONCACAF minnows

0 Comments

Who: USA vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
When: Friday, Nov. 13, 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

955 — the number of times we must all go to sleep and wake up once again before the first ball is kicked at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That sounds like a long time to wait, but with the U.S. national team in the 2016 Copa America Centenario next summer and the 2017 Confederations Cup the summer after that, it’ll be here before you know it.

On Friday, Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT faces their best chance to wash the bad taste of 2015 out of their mouths as the third round of World Cup qualifying begins in CONCACAF. In America’s heartland, the gateway to the west, St. Louis, Mo., the USMNT will face CONCACAF minnows St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Busch Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Cardinals.

[ MORE: Zardes reportedly the subject of $3-million bid from England ]

Klinsmann announced on Thursday that Brad Guzan will start in goal on Friday, and Tim Howard will assume the starter’s role for Tuesday’s road qualifier against Trindad and Tobago. Elsewhere in the defensive half, Klinsmann’s latest roster (FULL ROSTER HERE) is almost completely lacking in full backs, with only Fabian Johnson fitting the bill out as a natural out wide. The center back partnership of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron proved formidable in the USMNT’S CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico — as it had done in the past — thus 20-year-old Matt Miazga will likely be delicately eased into international action, rather than thrown straight into the fire.

The other USMNT rookie in Klinsmann’s squad, midfielder Darlington Nagbe, has garnered plenty of headlines since receiving his first call-up, but will also likely start Friday’s qualifier on the bench, with a chance to make his international debut with the result (in theory) well in hand. It’s hard to imagine any one of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman not getting the nod from the start, as they’ve been Klinsmann’s preferred trio for well over a year now.

[ MORE: Donovan, on U.S. roster: “Where’s Dempsey?” ]

Up top, Jozy Altidore remains the most tenured USMNT striker and likely to start, though youngsters Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood have regularly impressed when called upon since becoming fixtures in Klinsmann’s squads. Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin could be the wingers called upon to provide width in the attack.

As my Nicholas Mendola pointed out on Thursday, the USMNT hasn’t always waltzed through the third round of qualifying, despite the often minnow-like competition within. T&T will pose a tougher test on Tuesday, while Guatemala City is never an easy place to go and get a positive result. Three points on Friday is the only acceptable result, otherwise the rest of this round of qualifying becomes unnecessarily complicated.