The US men’s national team concludes their January (and, I suppose, February) camp tonight in Tennessee, facing Jamaica. It’s probably no mistake that the USMNT is lining up a CONCACAF foe, what with crucial World Cup qualifiers looming on the horizon. Jamaica has been a particularly tough opponent for the US recently, and in fact their results against the Jurgen Klinsmann-era USMNT were some of the most problematic for both US Soccer and the former head coach.
Key player: Sebastian Lletget
The obvious answer for this site is Steve Birnbaum, but we talked about him ahead of the game against Serbia. So today, let’s get into central midfield. Jermaine Jones and Sacha Kljestan are no longer in camp, and Bruce Arena has stated an intention to play this game with two forwards:
Arena says he'll go with two forwards and a different midfield shape tomorrow vs Jamaica. Adds Villafana and Zimmerman will start. #usmnt— Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN) February 2, 2017
A 442 (Arena’s not about to trot out a random 352, the Klinsmann era is over) on a team where Michael Bradley is a lock to start leaves one central midfield role for Lletget, Benny Feilhaber, Darlington Nagbe, and Dax McCarty all potentially battling for one spot. Granted, the first three names on that list can also play wide, and Nagbe in fact spent the Serbia game playing on the left. It’s still safe to say that one of these players will get a major opportunity tonight.
While I felt Kljestan’s lack of impact against Serbia had opened up the door for Feilhaber to reduce (or even close) the gap in the #10 role, the move to 442 takes that job off the table. To me, that’s a signal that Lletget - who was straight-up great playing as a #8 for the Galaxy during the back half of the 2016 season - will get a chance to show what he can do in that position.
If Lletget can be the driving force he was in LA - where he linked play, helped set the rhythm, and also used the speed that allows him to play wide to burst out of crowded central areas - Arena will be very tempted to keep him in the fold even when the full squad is reconvened for next month’s qualifiers. This might also serve as a reminder to the Galaxy, who have spent TAM to add one central midfielder and are being strongly linked with Jonathan Dos Santos, that they should probably not push Lletget back out wide.
Location: Finley Stadium (Chattanooga, TN)
Kick-off time: 7:00pm Eastern
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English), Univision Now (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Treat this as the gamethread for today’s game.