Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia resumes in March, which means Friday’s friendly against Jamaica (7 p.m. ET, in Chattanooga, Tenn.) will serve as the U.S. national team’s final tune-up — and re-introduction period for Bruce Arena — ahead a monumental pair of games, from which the Yanks almost certainly need a minimum of four points.
To say the next 60 days are important for the USMNT program, would be a massive understatement.
Most important of all: Mixing up the midfield
In Sunday’s draw with Serbia, one thing became alarmingly clear very early on: despite all the new faces in camp and the starting lineup, the USMNT player pool is still full of too-similar central midfielders, all of whom lack the vision and touch to pick out and play the final pass leading to a clear-cut scoring chance. It wasn’t until Sebastia Lletget (halftime, for Jermaine Jones) and Benny Feilhaber (77th minute, for Sacha Kljestan) entered the game that the ball began to move forward, with purpose, rather than side to side and backward.
Darlington Nagbe received most of the plaudits as the USMNT’s only consistently dangerous attacker on the day, though his only two “chances” of the game ended up nothing more than speculative efforts from distance. It was a predictable outcome, though, given the number of times we’ve seen the Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones experiment play out over the last five years, and while Kljestan has been an goal-creating machine for the New York Red Bulls the last two seasons, he doesn’t attack opposing defenses with the pressure-creating, straight-ahead approach of Feilhaber. When the European-based players join up for World Cup qualifying next month, the midfield options aren’t suddenly plentiful; this is, for all intents and purposes, the group from which to choose.
Note: Kljestan (family reasons) and Jones (WCQ suspension) each departed camp following the draw with Serbia.
FULL 21-MAN ROSTER
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)