Let’s not mince words: the United States is almost certain to pick up all three points in its World Cup qualifying match against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday.
In fact, they’ll likely win handily. A loss, even on the road in CONCACAF, would be so incredibly embarrassing and shocking it would make the Spring defeat in Guatemala look like an untied shoelace.
So instead of breaking down whether Oalex Anderson can have the game of his life on the same day Winslow McDowald morphs into the second coming of Edwin van der Saar, let’s focus on three players, positions or pairings that can make major statements to Jurgen Klinsmann.
Yes, the U.S. head coach will know that it was against the 156th ranked team in the world, but with Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, John Anthony Brooks, Gyasi Zardes, and Clint Dempsey all missing, some players have a relatively unique chance to impress their boss.
1. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood — It would be shocking if this pairing isn’t up top for the United States, even if it comes with the mirage of Wood playing on the wing in a 4-3-3. Wood is possibly the future of the USMNT’s strike force, but there’s no question that an in-form Altidore is also a major asset for the Americans. With Klinsmann mainstay Gyasi Zardes injured, the pitch is wide open.
And he’s also under a bit of pressure. He’s back in America, 26 years old and just 23 goals behind Landon Donovan for the all-time USMNT mark. That once seemed a no-brainer, but with Wood, Jordan Morris, Aron Johannsson, Julian Green, Gedion Zelalem, Terrence Boyd and a host of other attackers salivating to be the go-to man for the Stars and Stripes… Jozy will always need to produce in prime time. This counts.
2. Whoever plays with Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya in the midfield — We have little idea what Klinsmann is thinking when it comes to a lineup without Bradley and Jones, though we can be pretty sure Bedoya will join Beckerman on the pitch. Will it be Graham Zusi and Fabian Johnson outside in a 4-4-2? Could it be Darlington Nagbe joining the other two in a midfield triangle? Or will Sacha Kljestan get a surprise return to the Starting XI?
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In any event, given Bradley’s recent injury history and Jones’ problems with health and the yellow card accumulation in your average WCQ cycle, someone stands to profit big from these next two matches. Whether it’s an older MLS-based vet like Kljestan — remember that hat trick against Sweden in 2009? — or Nagbe, Paul Arriola, or Caleb Stanko, opportunity is knocking.
3. How much Pulisic will we see, and will he keep shining? Christian Pulisic is without a doubt the brightest young light in the United States, and he’s done little to let us down. The Pennsylvanian turns 18 next month, and opened his USMNT account against Bolivia this summer. We’d sure love to see him get at least a half to show his stuff against an SVG side that is far off his level. With a talent like Pulisic, we’ll always be watching to see whether he’s not just our next star, but our first true megastar (goalkeepers not withstanding).