The United States begins the long journey to Russia 2018 today by hosting St. Vincent & the Grenadines in what should be a World Cup qualifying mismatch. However, the Gold Cup - which included a loss to Jamaica, what is technically a tie against Panama, and a very nervy win over Haiti - and ensuing matches since indicates that the USMNT hasn't been able to make anything easy in 2015.
Key player: Bobby Wood
There's a significant chance that Wood (assuming a two-forward formation) starts up front. Alan Gordon has been called in for his abilities as a blunt object off the bench, Jordan Morris is still playing college soccer, and the other two players listed as forwards - Gyasi Zardes and Miguel Ibarra - are more likely to wind up on the wings.
Wood's bustling, intense approach might help in a game that otherwise appears to be a total mismatch. The USMNT should be able to brush off the "Vincy Heat" pretty easily, but situations like that can quickly give way to a flat, overconfident performance. Wood appears driven and desperate to score whenever he suits up, though, and he could serve as a spark here. In addition, his energetic play will mean more options for the midfield, a crucial factor against an opponent that in all likelihood will be packing 10 or 11 men behind the ball.
Key question: Is the USMNT finally ready, after 16+ months, to break out of their post-World Cup malaise?
Never mind the drivel Jurgen Klinsmann has and will continue to trot out whenever he speaks to the press. This team has not played up to their capabilities in a competitive game since going to Brazil in 2014, and in many cases they've been flattered by some deceptive scorelines. The USMNT has been bad - not mediocre, not below par, but flat-out bad - for a while now. Losing home games against CONCACAF opponents not named Mexico is something this program left behind over a decade ago.
Today's game is about as good of an opportunity to break out of a slump as we'll ever see for the USMNT. It's the start of World Cup qualifying, so it means something. The opponent is one this team should easily overwhelm, particularly at home. The weather will favor the Americans. Anything less than a rout would be a disappointment, but what should concern US fans is the performance. Will the US be intelligent off the ball? Will they be smart enough to open up a bunkering defense? Will they be able to move the ball at a proper pace through the midfield without turning it over? Will they defend the sporadic counter-attacks by snuffing them out early, or will they turn it into hard work?
Those are the questions that need affirmative answers, because next week's trip to Trinidad & Tobago is a more difficult task. Based on the Gold Cup, T&T is better than the Haitian team that gave the USMNT fits in the group stage and is not far from being equal to the Jamaican side that very deservedly dumped the US out of the competition. Tonight's game has to be an effective dress rehearsal for that game rather than one more confused, slapdash performance that the manager tells us was actually very good.
Match previews: Stars and Stripes FC has you covered, as they discuss Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Miazga, and Fabian Johnson as well as scout St. Vincent & the Grenadines...well, sort of.
Match date/time: Friday 11/13, 7:00pm Eastern
Venue: Busch Stadium (St. Louis, MO)
TV: ESPN2 (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Online: WatchESPN (English), Univision Deportes En Vivo (Spanish)
Treat this as today's gamethread as well.
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