by: Garret Heinrich (@GarretHeinrich)
The United States Men’s National Team has a huge World Cup Qualifying game Friday night as they take on Panama to start the final leg of the CONCACAF Hexagonal Round. The United States are sitting in 4th place behind Panama, one point back of the all-important 3rd qualifying spot to head to Russia.
So with the very important game, the USMNT Need to win this game if they want to automatically qualify for Russia. With that in mind, here is the squad Bruce Arena called to play (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 15/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 37/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 35/6), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 12/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 24/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 16/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX; 6/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 6/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 4/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; (8/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 20/3)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 5/0), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution; 0/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 5/1), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 9/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 38/7), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City; 6/0), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 9/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 11/5), *Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 4/1)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 39/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 41/18), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 12/4)
*Zardes left the camp with an injury.
I’m not here to pick apart the fact Arena left Fabian Johnson, the midfielder and best left back the USMNT have right now, off the roster. Or that somehow, some way Chris Wondolowski still is getting calls to this team despite being terrible in every meaningful game he’s ever played in for his country. I’m not here for that. I’m here to figure out who the best eleven players are to start on the pitch for the Stars and Stripes in Orlando on Friday.
Let’s start at the Back:
Goalie: Tim Howard
The easy pick. There is no one better still for the USMNT than Timmy Howard when he’s on his game. And he loves to step up in big games. Now it would have been nice to see Bill Hamid, Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath any of the young keepers who will likely replace Howard after 2018 on the 23, but you know. Nick Rimando and his short arms needed to be there.
Defense: Geoff Cameron – Matt Besler – Tim Ream
Yes, I’m playing the 3-5-2 card.. I’m buying into it. The best way for the USMNT to not have problems at left-back is to NOT HAVE A LEFT BACK! It seems so simple! I am putting the best center backs with the most talent on the ball back there for the USMNT and that means Omar Gonzalez and his brick feet are gone and off the pitch. Besler has been up and down for the country, but I have seen him play some great center back both for club and country and he’s versatile at marking controlling outlet balls to the midfield. Ream is underrated in my opinion and a big body who can sometimes get caught ball watching but only about 1/8th as much as Omar. Geoff Cameron is a top five USA Defender of all time. THERE I SAID IT. He gets to lead this new back line. And don’t be surprised to see him push when the opportunity presents itself.
Midfield: Michael Bradley, Kellyn Accosta, Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin
In this game I want reliability. I want guys who can go up and down the field and I want guys who can play everywhere in the midfield. The midfield should look like an amoeba between Acosta, Nagbe and Yedlin. When they want to go let, go left, if they want to go right go right. But Nagbe and Yedlin are going to be important to run the wings and play some solid defense and push the offense when the time calls for it. I’d start Nagbe on the left, Yedlin on the right. Bradley plays the deep defensive midfield with Accosta next to him (slightly higher) and Christian Pulisic will play a true 10 for this team, positioned in front of Bradley and Accosta and rigth behind the forwards.
Forwards: Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore
Clint Dempsey is no longer a starter for the Men’s National Team. It’s sad but true. He still provides a purpose for this team (We’ll get into that in a bit.) Altidore and Wood have played really well together for the national team. They bring different skill sets up top and work off each other well. Wood makes smart creative runs and Altidore always has been an excellent passer in tight spaces. Look for the two of them to hook up early and try to get an early goal for the USMNT.
Subs (If Losing): Graham Zusi, Clint Dempsey, Omar Gonzalez
I think that all three of these moves enhance your offense with Omar being the last off the bench if in need of a late goal and can use his size in the box on set pieces. None of them hurt your defense because Omar would come in for Accosta and you’d move Cameron next to Bradley in the midfield. Zusi could come in for Negbe or Yedlin and is a good two-way player (not good enough to start at right-back for this team, but great as a sub in the midfield.) Dempsey comes in for either Wood or Altidore likely unless you REALLY need a goal and you offense for defense the super sub, but let’s hope that isn’t the case.
Subs (If Winning): Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, Omar Gonzalez
Yes, not a big difference on the substitutes, but Bedoya brings a really solid ability to play the midfield and he rarely makes big mistakes (something Zusi can fall into in the defensive third). Dempsey should come in for one of the forwards again, and a defense for offense sub of Gonzalez for Pulisic gives the defense side a little more size and if you want to shift to a 5-3-2 at this point you can bring Omar back in the center and let Cameron and Yedlin fall into the outside.
Do I think that Bruce Arena will use this very aggressive, talented, and potentially volatile lineup? I have no idea. I’ve stopped believing I know what USMNT Managers are thinking long ago. We’ll have to wait and see and just hope the best XI make the pitch and are able to #Get3 points for the USA.