Following the announcement of Jurgen Klinsmann’s 26-man roster for the U.S. national team’s upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Mexico (Columbus, Ohio — Friday, Nov. 11) and Costa Rica (San Jose, Costa Rica — Tuesday, Nov. 15), a few important questions regarding the squad and lineup choices spring to mind…
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1. Who starts alongside Brooks?
Over the last six or so months, the John Brooks-Geoff Cameron center-back partnership has proved itself the Yanks’ best since the glory days of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez/Cameron in 2013 and 2014. With Cameron set to miss this round of internationals due to a knee injury, a starting spot opens up. Gonzalez seems the most sensible candidate to deputize: he’s playing regularly, and well, for Liga MX Clausura champions Pachuca, and he’s got experience playing against Mexico in his career.
Steve Birnbaum seems the likeliest option this side of Cameron, and that’s a mostly terrifying reality given his form down the stretch of the MLS season for D.C. United. Besler regained a bit of his 2013-14 form over Sporting Kansas City’s final three games of 2016, but he’s 1) left-footed, like Brooks, and 2) never started a game alongside Brooks at center back (Besler started at left back with Brooks next to him against Ecuador at Copa America 2016).
Best guess (L-R): Fabian Johnson, Brooks, Gonzalez, DeAndre Yedlin
2. How attack-minded does Klinsmann dare to be?
Put another way, Klinsmann wouldn’t dare leave Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan out of the starting 11, would he?
With Kyle Beckerman not on this roster, the days of the Beckerman-Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones midfield-three might finally be over. Bradley and Jones are presumed locks to start, which leaves just the no. 10 spot up for grabs (
assuming hoping against all hope Bradley isn’t played there, again).
You might say, But what about Alejandro Bedoya? He can still start three defensive midfielders, to which I say, start Bedoya on the wing opposite of Pulisic. Andres Guadrado has been the best player in CONCACAF for a little over a year now, and Yedlin is going to need all the help he can get up and down Mexico’s left attacking flank. There’s no one on the roster better equipped than Bedoya to provide that cover from the front. Without the assistance of Bedoya, Yedlin will be pinned back deep inside his own half, resulting in a narrow attack that Mexico can navigate all night long. Yedlin has to be able to get forward with freedom, knowing that when he does, the winger ahead of him will rotate defensively.
Best-case scenario: Bradley, Jones in the back; Pulisic, Kljestan, Bedoya from left to right, with Pulisic and Bedoya switching from time to time, just to let Pulisic run at the other full back.
3. What’s the pecking order amongst the strikers?
Since scoring his first goal of 2016 on July 31 (no, not a typo), Jozy Altidore has 13 goals and assisted on seven others in 17 games for Toronto FC (including the ongoing playoffs). It’s the best form he’s been in since his final days at AZ Alkmaar in 2013.
Bobby Wood has four goals in 11 games for a truly awful Hamburg side this season (all competitions), to go with his stellar form for the USMNT at the Copa and in fall friendlies.
Jordan Morris scored eight of his 12 goals, and bagged three of his four assists, between the start of the summer and present day. Leaving him off the Copa roster is looking more and more like a masterstroke by Klinsmann with every passing game.
Best guess: Altidore starts; Wood is slightly ahead of Morris as the first striker off the bench, assuming Morris isn’t forced to withdraw from the squad (hamstring). It’s been a while since the USMNT had one in-form striker, let alone three at the same time.