The United States faces New Zealand tonight in what will be their final dress rehearsal for the upcoming CONCACAF Hexagonal matches against Mexico and Costa Rica. It’s not really an ideal test for the USMNT, though, as New Zealand has historically been a very defensive team that favors long balls out of necessity. Jurgen Klinsmann will rue the fact that US Soccer had lined Ghana up for this date, only to have FIFA reject the pairing. The problem? A new travel limitation that appears tailored to benefit European countries while making it difficult for all other continents to line up suitable opponents. Great job FIFA! Never change!
Anyway, the US will have to make due with an opponent that, stylistically, doesn’t really match anyone they’ll see in the Hex. That’s not the end of the world, and there is something to be learned from trying to force New Zealand to play a game more suited to the US. That said, if we’re being honest, the quality of the opponents lined up in this window means the training sessions were more important than the matches, as players battle for roster spots once the games get serious.
There were also some major changes made to the US roster over the weekend. D.C. United’s Bill Hamid joins defenders Matt Besler, Michael Orozco, and Tim Parker in the squad, while Juan Agudelo - in great form for the first time all year - and fit-again Terrence Boyd will join the attack. Kellyn Acosta has also been included, though he’s destined to be used as a fullback once again despite being better as a central midfielder.
With six new faces coming in, some folks had to make room. Klinsmann excused nine players for this one. Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski returned to their clubs to prepare for crucial weekend MLS matches, while the other seven - Ethan Horvath, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic, and Bobby Wood - all went back to their European clubs early.
The result is a far younger twenty man roster for tonight’s game, with only six European-based players. Only seven players have more than 21 caps, and that group includes Agudelo and Danny Williams (who both only receive sporadic call-ups). The three goalkeepers available have combined for 5 caps total, while Lynden Gooch and Tim Parker are both looking for their first senior national team appearance.
Local fans, of course, will be focused on United players of past and present. It seems fair to expect Hamid to get to split the minutes in goal in his home stadium, though Klinsmann’s poor judgment may prevent that from happening. Steve Birnbaum may or may not play after suffering a nasty cut against Cuba. While there are no outward signs that he picked up a concussion, Klinsmann has indicated that they don’t want to take a big risk given that Birnbaum is rocking eight stitches right now. And finally, Perry Kitchen is back in town after signing with Scottish club Hearts in the offseason.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
Kick-off time: 8:00pm Eastern
Available TV: ESPN (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: WatchESPN (English), Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Treat this as the gamethread for tonight’s game.