George Costanza once prophesized “The sea was angry that day, my friends – like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.”
And for sure, the sea was quite angry when we last met. Last November, the United States was languishing away in the last place of the Hexagonal group.
US Soccer – here recognized as George Costanza – continued by saying “Well then, from out of nowhere, a huge tidal wave lifted me, tossed me like a cork, and I found myself right on top of him – face to face with the blowhole. I could barely see from the waves crashing down upon me, but I knew something was there. So I reached my hand in, felt around, and pulled out the obstruction.”
US Soccer did just that. Sunil and his colleagues pulled out the obstruction inside the US Men’s National Team’s blowhole, a Titleist golf ball herein named Jurgen Klinsmann. Since this obstruction had been dislodged from the team’s blowhole, the whale known as the US Men’s National Team has been swimming freely ever since.
In four qualifying matches since Bruce Arena has taken over, the men have amassed eight points, one of which came at the Estadio Azteca. Things have turned around to the point that the US can actually secure World Cup qualification through this round of qualifiers, although it would take divine intervention to make it happen.
Even though qualifying this round is a near impossibility, our guys can make it a whole lot easier if they take care of business at home on Friday vs Costa Rica and earn at least a draw away to Honduras. On Sunday, Bruce revealed his 26-man roster for this round, a roster that he believes can get this very job done. This roster can be seen below.
Again, much of the same from Bruce and who’s to fault him? He has done historically well with these groups of guys and hopefully will continue to do so. In order to better understand this “whale” let’s take a look at it by position.
I’m sure I couldn’t choose a positional group that I fear more than our current crop of goalies. The only two who would get any consideration for time, have been very poor with their respective clubs, to say the least. Tim Howard has given up 9 goals in his last 5 games which were highlighted by this meek attempt to save this magnificent own goal scored by Jared Watts.
Brad Guzan has not been much better. The Atlanta United netminder has allowed 5 goals in the last 4 games which have seen the new club only pick up 3 points in that time span. Nick Rimando and Real Salt Lake have been better of the course of the last few weeks, but I’d be hard pressed to give a 38-year-old with no qualifying experience an opportunity in these massive games.
I still believe the US is in capable hands with Howard/Guzan in net, but after this World Cup, it is surely time to move on from all three of the above. Furthermore, it seems a bit mindless to bring in a 38-year-old Nick Rimando who has no experience in WCQ when we could at least give a younger keeper, say, Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, or Ethan Horvath, the opportunity to experience the pressure of being in camp ahead of “must-win” qualifiers.
Next up are the defenders who I certainly feel more upbeat about. Obviously, John Brooks who will likely miss the entirety of the remaining qualifiers is a huge miss for this American backline. But luckily, we have capable replacements who should be able to sure up the defense.
Tim Ream comes into this camp on-fire form for Fulham. This form was highlighted by his display in a 0-0 draw with Reading where his defensive partner, Tomas Kalas, was sent off after 30 seconds. This performance lead Ream to be named to the EFL Team of the Week. Ream also comes into camp after two very solid performances over the last couple of hexagonal rounds. Ream was good against Panama away and was even better at Estadio Azteca.
Having a healthy Geoff Cameron should also calm American’s nerves as he is undoubtedly the best defender in the American pool. He brings a leadership and tactical awareness that the US desperately needs. To extrapolate, in the three hexagonal matches that he has not played in, the US has given up 6 goals and only amassed one point. In the matches, he has played the US has scored 9 and only given up one goal. In that time we have amassed 7 points.
Regardless of who plays along the backline, the USise in healthy hands. Of course, we as fans wish DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks were available but this group has more than enough talent to see the US through the next two games.
In our most talented positional area, the US brings a loaded group for this round of qualifiers. The midfield group is highlighted by none other than Christian Pulisic. The 18-year-old enters this camp as one of the best players in the Bundesliga. In fact, Kicker, a German sports magazine, has Christian ranked as the 6th best player in the Bundesliga based on performances so far. He opened the season with a man of the match performance for BVB scoring a goal and providing an assist in the 3-0 win over Wolfsburg. He failed to score in the next match for Dortmund but continued to show his talent as he was the driving force in Dortmund’s attack. Much like Kramer hitting the Titleist golf ball into the whale’s blowhole, Pulisic is a one in a million talent. I don’t need to be the one millionth person to tell you that we’re on the verge of something special here, but let video evidence do the talking.
The midfield is further strengthened by who I personally feel is the United State’s most technical player, someone who is becoming more and more valuable to the stability of the US – Darlington Nagbe. The Portland Timber man has become a star under Bruce Arena, somehow Jurgen Klinsmann did not find him useful under his tenure as manager. While I think Nagbe is a star, I feel people misunderstand his use in the Red, White, & Blue. His ability to dictate where to attack, the speed of the attack, or to just keep the ball in tight situations are some of the best I’ve seen in my 15+ years of watching the US. I’ve never seen someone who can so quickly get out of pressure in a tight space and allow the US to recycle the ball and get it moving forward. There aren’t many US players who can produce this sort of magic (over our best ever keeper, also).
Add in the completely revitalized Michael Bradley, the tenacious Paul Arriola, and the skilled Fabian Johnson and you’re cookin’ with arguably the CONCACAF’s best midfield. This is only just the beginning of the American Golden Age of midfielders also, but I’ll save that for another post *waves to Weston McKennie*.
Then there are the usual suspects in the striker position. I’d like to focus on Jozy first. The Toronto FC striker comes into National Team Camp in good form scoring two goals in his last two MLS matches. While many US fans seem to count him out for some godforsaken reason, I feel Jozy is still incredibly important to this set-up and is the United States’ best forward. His passing has improved leaps and bounds over the last few years, which is something that he has shown as of late across MLS & the US Men’s National Team (see his assist to Pulisic vs T&T or his pass that lead to Lletget’s goal vs Honduras or his assist on Pulisic’s first in the same match). Across 23 appearances for TFC this season he has scored 11 goals and provided 5 assists. Not bad at all. Jozy has yet to score in this Hexagonal, but he has chipped in with 3 assists and let’s not forget about his performance in the Gold Cup final. It’s only a matter of time until he puts a few into the back of the net for the US in the Hex.
Another player coming in on good form is the Hawaiian, Bobby Wood. The striker has scored 2 goals in 3 appearances across all competitions so far for Hamburg. I still think he gets the case of the “yips” in front of goal and in these hugely important qualifiers that makes me worry just a bit. His ability to stretch the backline, especially playing off Jozy, is one that could give any backline fits. But I think based on current form we couldn’t go wrong with playing him. See below for his latest strike for Hamburg.
Last and certainly not least is Clint Dempsey. The Seattle Sounder man has been in fine form as of late, scoring 4 goals and assisting 1 in his last 5 MLS appearances. He has proven even more important for the national team as of late. In his last 3 hex appearances, he has scored 4 goals. If you include the Gold Cup, Clint has scored 5 and assisted 3 in his last 6 USMNT appearances. The question becomes, does Bruce & Co. recognize his form right now and start him, or does he continue to be a super-sub for the US?
Oh, and Wondo. He’s with the team for some reason, probably to be a traffic cone in practice. I don’t see him making the 23 for either match this round. That is all I’ll say about him.
Lineup & Score Predictions
I see Bruce trying to go out with a more attacking team at Red Bull Arena. Costa Rica are a very good team, who embarrassed the US who can also wrap up qualification this round and their best chance might actually be beating the US at home (they face Mexico at home on Tuesday. Although depending on results this could be a rotated Mexican team that will have already qualified for Russia). Look for Pulisic to continue to find space in the middle of the field for the Nats and be able to distribute or run off the ball into space. He will pull the strings in the final 3rd for the US.
USA 2 – Costa Rica 0 (Goals scored by Pulisic & Jozy)
This one is a bit more tricky to call. Honduras is a beatable team, we’ve won away there before, but in CONCACAF it’s always smart to be cautious. If the US happens to lose to Los Ticos on Friday, then I’d imagine the US go for the win in San Pedro Sula. This is where the second lineup comes into play. Being in the 4-4-2 gives the US the ability to attack but also keeps a rigid formation that, if utilized correctly, is a nuisance to break down.
Conversely, if the US get a win vs Costa Rica, then it isn’t hard to imagine the US set up more defensively to settle for the draw away to Honduras. The left lineup is geared with that in mind. The toss-up in my mind is Fabian Johnson, will he be able to go two matches in a row or will Bruce trust Lichaj/Zusi to start in the back? The rest all have attacking potency and more importantly the tenacity to defend. Either way, I certainly see Bobby Wood having a part to play in Honduras – his ability to turn nothing into something is the exact type of player you need in these situations.
USA 2 – Honduras 1 (Goals scored by Wood & Acosta; Elis for Honduras)
I cannot see Honduras dropping points to Trinidad & Tobago – a team who failed to qualify for the Gold Cup this summer. So the US needs to guarantee a win in New Jersey on Friday to avoid a very hairy situation down in Honduras. I think they’ll do just that. This whale is swimming and breathing freely now! If I were the head coach I’d go out equally as attacking away to Honduras, but I don’t have that sort of power, so I do expect Bruce to dial it back and set the US up to gain a point. If things go to plan and the US pick up 4 points this round than the United States can guarantee qualification with a win vs Panama in Orlando (needing other results to go their way also) on Oct. 6th.
The US take on Costa Rica at 6:55 pm this Friday, September 1st on ESPN then will travel to Honduras for a match on Tuesday, September 5th at 5:30 pm. That match will air live on BeIn Sports as well as Universo.
As always, support your country! It means the World to me that you made it this far without bashing your skull on your keyboard. If for some reason you enjoyed my idiotic and sometimes incoherent rambling about the US Men’s National Team, then please share and follow my US Soccer Twitter at DontTreadSoccer
*all roster photos provided by US Soccer*