USMNT: New team takes shape, best of Klinsmann era?

The USA's next two matches -- Friday's game against Cuba in Havana and Tuesday against New Zealand at Washington's RFK Stadium -- are all about one thing: preparing for the Hexagonal, in particular, the Nov. 11 opener against Mexico in Columbus. Despite major changes in the last 12 months, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmannwill be fine-tuning what could be the strongest lineup of his reign.

Here are some key themes as the USA prepares for the two games.

1. A lot has changed in a year.

A year ago, the USA lost to Mexico, 3-2, in the Concacaf Cup, arguably its biggest game since the 2014 World Cup. Only four starters from that game are in camp.

DaMarcus Beasley retired from international action. Jermaine Jones, Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey are sidelined with injury/health issues. Brad Guzan and Matt Besler aren't starting for their respective teams, while Kyle Beckerman, who started the game at St. Vincent & The Grenadines in September, was given a rest as Klinsmann looks at Perry Kitchen and Danny Williams in roles Beckerman has played in recent years.

Guzan will likely be recalled for the Mexico game, but the others aren't sure things to be in Columbus next month.

2. Wood, Pulisic and Altidore spearhead attack.

Despite the turnover, the USA is heading into the Hexagonal with its strongest lineup of the Klinsmann era. The emergence of Bobby Wood, 23, and Christian Pulisic, 18, gives the USA exciting young attacking threats.

Wood makes up for the loss of Dempsey, though that it is contingent on Jozy Altidore remaining healthy. Altidore is playing the best soccer since his return to MLS and is also a big addition after being injured during the last three major tournaments (2014 World Cup, 2015 Gold Cup and 2016 Copa Centenario).

Pulisic just turned 18 but is the most promising player to break into the national team since Landon Donovan. In 115 minutes against St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago, he contributed two goals and two assists and created countless other chances.

3. Kljestan in line for starting spot.

Sacha Kljestan is having an MLS MVP season -- six goals and 17 assist for the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls -- and that caught Klinsmann's attention. Kljestan was lucky that John Brooks was a late scratch, opening up a roster spot for the September qualifiers, but his big break was that Jones was injured. Kljestan, who had not played for the national team in 30 months, took advantage of Jones' absence and matched Pulisic with two goals and two assists against St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

If the Hexagonal opened today, Kljestan would be in the starting lineup alongside captain Michael Bradley in central midfield. The Cuba and New Zealand games are his chance to make sure that happens.

U.S. Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Ethan Horvath (Molde/NOR), William Yarbrough (Leon/MEX).
DEFENDERS (7): Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG), Timmy Chandler (Ein. Frankfurt/GER), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX), Fabian Johnson (Bor. M'Gladbach/GER), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle/ENG).
MIDFIELDERS (7): Paul Arriola (Tijuana/MEX), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland/ENG), Perry Kitchen (Hearts/SCO), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Bor. Dortmund/GER), Danny Williams (Reading/ENG).
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/GER), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER).

4 comments about "USMNT: New team takes shape, best of Klinsmann era?".
  1. R2 Dad, October 6, 2016 at 12:11 p.m.

    Regardless of whether it's the best pool of players, it's certainly the deepest, EVER. So JK has done what he can to broaden the pool of players that he can draw on. Which is great, and one of the goals as Coach & Technical Director. However, I'd still like to see more pressure on the NCAA to evolve, and more focus on player ID and improving the youth club funnel. That's where we are weakest and can get the biggest bang for the buck.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, October 6, 2016 at 12:47 p.m.

    R 2, I'm rarely a pessimist, but if universities ever agree to expanding the season, both semesters, I'll start buying lottery tickets. Heck, I'd be shocked if they followed the rest of the planet with game administration. Two seasons make perfect sense for players and coaches, therefore its doomed. Still though, universities aren't what are most talented footballers need.

  3. Chris Sapien , October 6, 2016 at 1:28 p.m.

    Get out your line-up cards this Fri/Tues.......your gonna' need them to keep track of the Nat's during these matches

  4. Ginger Peeler, October 6, 2016 at 4:55 p.m.

    I'm in Florida watching news about Hurricane Matthew as it heads for the east coast (I'm secure on the west coast). It's enormous and has already hit Cuba with the Bahamas next in line. With the news of so much damage, I'm wondering if the game is still on for tomorrow? Anyone heard anything?

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