Bruce Arena is doing something it felt like Jurgen Klinsmann never dared to do in charge of the US National Team: use a meaningless game to give fringe players a chance to shine.
Following a drab 0-0 draw with Serbia, Arena has chosen to give a number of players looking to make a statement the stage to do just that. Regulars such as Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley take a seat on the bench, and in their place is a starting lineup chock full of players looking to prove their worth against Jamaica at 7:30 p.m. ET ahead of vital World Cup qualifiers.
Arena has stuck with the 4-3-3 he used in the last match against Serbia, but the cast is entirely different. We knew ahead of time that NY Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles would be between the sticks, and that Walker Zimmerman would make his national team debut. Alongside the FC Dallas defender is Steve Birmbaum, a player with some experience under Klinsmann but who has yet to crack the true starting eleven.
Graham Zusi returns to the right-back position he took charge of against Serbia and plays well, and with so many new faces in the lineup, he takes the captain’s armband. 27-year-old defender Jorge Villafana, who was called into January camp late, gets a chance to stake a claim to the thin left-back position.
In front of them is an even more experimental midfield of Chris Pontius, Dax McCarty, and Benny Feilhaber. Philadelphia’s Pontius earned his debut cap against Serbia off the bench, and now will get more significant time. Fans have clamored for Feilhaber and McCarty to get time under Klinsmann, and while both are now either past 30 years old or fast approaching it, they get another chance to break the squad.
In the attack is Sebastian Lletget who took his chance off the bench against Serbia and provided a spark, supporting Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris, the latter of whom will likely play out wide as an inside forward, a position he has experience with at the national team level.
It’s also possible that the formation comes out in more of a 4-1-3-2, with Agudelo and Morris up top, Lletget leading the midfield forward, and Pontius or McCarty in front of the back line, but that would be a lineup that lacks width and would put significant pressure on the full-backs.
All told, it’s a meaningless game with potentially a whole lot of meaning for these domestic-based players who have plenty to prove.
USMNT: Robles; Zusi (c), Birmbaum, Zimmerman, Villafana; Pontius, McCarty, Feilhaber; Lletget, Agudelo, Morris.
Subs: Bingham, Rimando, Beasley, Bradley, Bedoya, Marshall, Garza, Nagbe, Altidore.
Jamaica: Blake; Powell, Fisher, Lowe, Campbell; Gordon, Grandison, Burke; Watson, Binns, Williams.