Fans are also
anxious to see more of Christian Pulisic and Rubio Rubin, whose last cap – his third – occurred in March of last year. They are well short of cracking the starting lineup
this year, but the Hexagonal is a long slog during which alternatives are crucial.
FORMATION QUESTIONS, AS USUAL. The U.S. played well in a 4-4-2 formation during the Centenario, but with Beckerman in the squad he could be used to shield the back line as a lone holding mid supporting a line of three midfielders. Playing without Dempsey also increases the need for increased space provided by incisive play on the flanks from outside backs DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson as well as the midfielders.
This wouldn’t be a long-term option unless Klinsmann slotted Bradley or somebody else in the Beckerman role, which he can do in the T&T game. However, if Klinsmann does intend to inject more creativity in the team, Kljestan or Darlington Nagbe or Alejandro Bedoya -- or some combination thereof -- needs to be in the mix consistently.
For the past five Hexagonals, dating back to the 1997 campaign, the USA has been able to scrape through to the World Cup with good goalkeeping, resilient defending, and opportunistic attacking. Given the talent at his disposal, even without Dempsey, Klinsmann can be fairly confident of negotiating the next Hexagonal in the same manner. Only a few times has Klinsmann tinkered with a three-man back line, but he’s experimented with just about every alignment possible while playing four in the back.
If there is a grand plan to invoke dramatic change, this is the Hexagonal in which to do it. Otherwise, next year will be the same as the past five, since Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley.
YOUNG GUNS. Pulisic (17) is by far the youngest player in the squad. Klinsmann’s willingness to play him in the Centenario against tough opposition should encourage a fleet of younger players to seize any opportunity they receive in the next two months. After all, three years ago Wood (age 23) was with 1860 Munich’s second team. Now he starts Bundesliga games for Hamburg and has scored six goals in 24 U.S. appearances.
Kellyn Acosta (21), Paul Arriola (21), Caleb Stanko (23), Morris (21) and Rubin (20) are the youngest field players selected by Klinsmann. Morris wasn’t picked for the Centenario but is obviously in Klinsmann’s long-term plans at forward. Rubin is being evaluated as yet another option in that position, and the door is open with Aron Johannsson still coming back from a hip injury that sidelined him for nearly a year.
The next four games are perfect forums in which to test Acosta at left back, either as the first-choice replacement for Johnson or as a long-term option. If Acosta shows enough in a U.S. shirt, his versatility -- he plays holding mid for FC Dallas -- and skill on the ball could assist in the team’s transformation.
Stanko, a defensive mid who played in central defense for the U.S. U-20s, is on loan to Swiss league club FC Vaduz, based in Liechtenstein. He’s been with Bundesliga club FC Freiburg for three years and had spent most of his time at Freiburg with the second team in the Regionalliga Sudwest (fourth division). He went on loan after Freiburg II was relegated to the Oberliga last spring.
Arriola has played 53 games -- six during the current Apertura season -- for Tijuana since joining the team three years ago. He scored on his U.S. debut against Puerto Rico in May.
GOAL-ORIENTED. Klinsmann chose Brad Guzan as his No. 1 keeper for Copa Centenario but he announced on Thursday that Guzan (St. Vincent & the Grenadines) and Tim Howard (Trinidad & Tobago) will split the responsibilities in the next two games.
The tensions that simmered between Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel during their days of being platooned by Klinsmann predecessors Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena haven’t resurfaced in the Guzan-Howard dynamic. Going forward, it appears both will play, partly as a concession to the much longer distances Guzan will travel to play U.S. games and the commitment both players are making at their ages to the national team.