The United States took the field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis back in November 2015 aiming to qualify for Russia 2018. 698 days later, in Trinidad and Tobago, they’ll still have the same goal. A nearly two-year World Cup qualifying process should come to an end tonight with the USMNT punching their ticket, but this cycle has been particularly turbulent. Good results have been followed by jarring missteps. Few things have been certain.
A defeat opens the door to an intercontinental playoff with Australia or Syria (or even the remote possibility of outright elimination), so let’s hold the celebratory drinks until the job is 100% completed.
Key player: Michael Bradley
Coming off of a game in which Bruce Arena was willing to leave a gargantuan amount of responsibility at Bradley’s feet, it’s fitting to recognize the guy that held everything down so the U.S. attack could overwhelm Panama. Tonight, it will likely be a bit different, as the conditions and a more direct opponent should result in Bradley having to pile up recoveries and tackles while also trying to help the USMNT attempts at possession.
On a sloppy surface, defensive midfielders need to be more alert than ever. So many things that normally go smoothly can suddenly go wrong, and teams look to their main source of stability to prevent aberrations from becoming Big Problems. That’s Bradley’s #1 job tonight. If the USMNT comes through this without any major errors (or at least, able to cover for them when they happen), they’re in all likelihood going to get the required result. That starts at the feet, and in the head, of their midfield general.
Location: Ato Boldon Stadium (Couva, Trinidad and Tobago)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected USMNT starting 11: (3412) - Tim Howard; Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler; DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Jorge Villafaña; Christian Pulisic; Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore
Bench: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, Tim Ream, Michael Orozco, Graham Zusi, DaMarcus Beasley, Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski
This move to a back three might be wishful thinking, but it makes an awful lot of sense given the conditions, and given the fact that the U.S. doesn’t come into this game with a solid identity in terms of formation. That means Cameron and Bedoya come in for Arriola and Nagbe, but don’t be surprised if Arriola ends up playing major minutes off the bench.
Speaking of the bench, I’m including Orozco because he actually suits a back three pretty well. Arena didn’t call him up just to hang out. I’m leaving Benny Feilhaber out as a result (along with Juan Agudelo, who despite my preferences was in the stands while Wondo was the other striker on the bench), but Pulisic’s calf issue is giving me pause. Really, in this formation, with Arriola available, Zusi is the redundant choice. We’ll see how it plays out tonight.
Projected T&T starting 11: (4231) - Adrian Foncette; Kareem Moses, Daneil Cyrus, Curtis Gonzales,
Mekeil Williams Kevon Villaroel; Kevon George, Leston Paul; Levi Garcia, Kevin Molino Khaleem Hyland, Joevin Jones; Shahdon Winchester
Head coach Dennis Lawrence, a veteran of a few Hexagonals himself, has understandably moved to youth in some spots since qualification became impossible. Still, this group has several players familiar with American soccer, as
six four starters have spent at least some of their career on these shores (Jones is currently with Seattle while Moses and former D.C. United trialist George ply their trade in the NASL).
The main threat is in the attacking midfield trio, with Jones and Garcia (already in the Eredivisie at 19 years old) offering speed down the flanks. Hyland’s passing range is also worth noting; if the Americans give him time to pick out runners, he will pick them out just about every time.
This segment has been changed to reflect Kevin Molino’s suspension and Mekeil Williams returning to Colorado due to injury.
Referee: Juan Carlos Guerra (Guatemala)
Available TV: beIN Sports, NBC Universo
Available streaming: beIN Sports Connect, NBC Universo Now, Telemundo Deportes En Vivo
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Yesterday evening, we delved into the USMNT’s tactical choices against Panama and explained why they should probably alter them for tonight’s game. For more, check out the flood of pieces at Stars and Stripes FC.
What are you drinking?: I am coming off of a cold and will be driving to a soccer bar for this one, so I’m not going to push my limits. No two pitchers during the game and six rounds of celebratory shots after (qualification for 2006 got wild) for me. If I get through the day without any cold medicine, I’ll treat myself to a Guinness.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Let’s get the job done!