Copa America 2016: Will USMNT go young in 3rd-place game vs. Colombia?

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For the second straight year, Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team is still alive heading into the final weekend of an international tournament. For the second straight year, Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team is set to feature in the third-place game of an international tournament.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | Copa America 2016 ]

One of the biggest questions surrounding Saturday’s consolation clash against Colombia, a rematch of the two sides’ opening group stage game, in Phoenix, Ariz., is to do with the starting lineup Klinsmann will select — specifically, its international experience (or lack thereof) that many desire.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USA 0-4 ARG | Player ratings ]

The order in which certain players should play vs. Colombia, most to least…

Goalkeeper

Brad GuzanTim Howard … Ethan Horvath — Guzan had something of a shocker in the semifinal drubbing at the hands of Argentina, and he’s the only one of the above three ‘keepers without a stable club situation at the moment (Howard is headed to the Colorado Rapids where he’ll see out the rest of his career in MLS, while Horvath is on the cusp of winning the full-time starting job at Molde in Norway). Recency bias is a real thing, and it’s something Guzan must correct and exploit in order to achieve a favorable move away from Aston Villa this summer.

UPDATE: Klinsmann has since announced that Howard will start Saturday’s game.

Defenders

John Brooks … DeAndre YedlinGeoff Cameron … Fabian Johnson … Matt Besler … Steve Birnbaum … Edgar Castillo … Michael Orozco — With the exception of the Besler-at-left back experiment against Ecuador in the quarterfinals, Klinsmann has chosen the same back four of five times this tournament, and it paid off in spades. Before shipping four goals against Argentina, the USMNT had given up just three goals in four games, none of which were scored from open play. That’s good! It’s also a youthful enough group (average age: 25.8) that they’ll still be at, or approaching, the primes of their respective careers as the 2018 World Cup approaches and begins. More reps together now can only mean good things for that group down the line.

From left to right: Johnson, Brooks, Cameron, Yedlin

UPDATE: Brooks reportedly left Friday’s training session with an apparent injury.

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Midfielders

Darlington Nagbe … Christian Pulisic … Michael Bradley … Jermaine Jones  … Alejandro Bedoya … Perry Kitchen … Graham Zusi … … … … … Kyle Beckerman — For better or for worse, Bradley and Jones are still the best two-way midfielders in the player pool, and if Klinsmann is committed to the 4-4-2 (like he’s ever been committed to a system before), they would have to start together in a must-win game. Bradley will be 30 years old in the summer of 2018; Jones, 36; which means there’s a good chance they’ll start together the USMNT’s opener in Russia.

The up-and-comer most likely to break up the Bradley-Jones duopoly is, of course, Nagbe. To this point, though, he’s played just 36 minutes at Copa America 2016, which makes you wonder, “Why, exactly, is he on the roster if only to play 36 minutes in five games?” Speaking of not getting playing time, Pulisic has played all of 69 minutes thus far. So much for the “we must use this tournament to give experience to the new guys” narrative.

From left to right: Pulisic, Bradley, Nagbe, Bedoya

Forwards

Bobby Wood … Gyasi Zardes … Clint Dempsey … … … … … Chris Wondolowski — Dempsey’s not going to be around forever, and while his partnership with Wood was the best thing the USMNT attack managed all tournament, it’s time to start addressing (at least mentally) “what comes next?”

Wood is the best pure no. 9 in the entire player pool, meaning with any luck, the 23-year-old Hamburg man will seize that starting job for the next five to eight years. Zardes is very much a “Klinsmann guy,” even if he’s yet to be handed a regular position or starting job at this point. Everything, at least on paper, says that Zardes is more of a forward than a winger, but the 24-year-old has proven more than serviceable in a wide deployment time after time. It’s time to find out if he can play as a striker at the international level, though, and what better time to do so than in a meaningless (stakes-wise) third-place game?