BALTIMORE – Keep things stable, or shake them up? Get on the front foot against bus-parking opponents, or mind the back door with a bit of caution? Blunt a plucky adversary's strengths, or focus on your own?
There are plenty of tricky choices facing US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of Sunday's Gold Cup quarterfinal against underdogs El Salvador at sold-out M&T Bank Stadium (4 pm ET, FOX/Univision, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
He's got three new bodies (Matt Besler, Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon) eligible for selection after this week's additional call-ins, yet his current group has done most everything he's asked of them. Almost everyone expects Los Cuscatlecos to sit deep in numbers and force the Yanks to break them down – though there's real menace in their creative attack, headlined by current CONCACAF darling Rodolfo Zelaya.
And just how much extra juice will Zelaya and his mates take from the game's strong Salvadoran fan presence?
“We are going through all ideas,” said Klinsmann on Saturday. “We want to raise the bar. Having Matt coming in and Omar [Gonzalez] later on and Eddie Johnson up front or on the wing, that gives us all more options. At the same time, we respect what everybody already did in this tournament, what they showed andwhat they proved.
“Hopefully, we have three games ahead of us. If we do our homework and if we get this big hurdle of El Salvador done, then you play in three days again. … You need those players all in camp, you need them all here, you need them all ready in order to deal with all those other circumstances like heat, like traveling and so forth.”
History shows that center back Clarence Goodson will start, since he was the player selected to accompany Klinsmann to the pregame press conference. Landon Donovan's performances this month – he was repeatedly identified as the USA's dangerman by the Salvadoran camp – strongly suggest he'll get the nod up top. But beyond that, it's tough to predict too much about the spine of the US starting 11.
“There's no complacency and no one's really content right now,” said striker Chris Wondolowski.
Wondo looks like a leading candidate to partner with Donovan, though Klinsmann's high praise of Eddie Johnson's one-on-one skills might mean a starting role for the Sounders star. Should the USMNT technical staff really feel aggressive, they might even field both of them in a 4-3-3 formation, thought that would be something of a departure from the tactics used in this tournament to date.
Further back, Goodson's current partner Michael Orozco Fiscal could be displaced by Besler's arrival, though Klinsmann may wait until Gonzalez arrives to revisit the now-familiar Besler-Gonzalez axis.
Holding midfielder and Maryland native Kyle Beckerman is making a homecoming on Sunday and given Los Cuscatlecos' potential danger on the counter, his defensive discipline may be preferred to a more expansive central partnership like the Mix Diskerud-Stuart Holden pairing that began Tuesday's win over Costa Rica. And there are several strong candidates for the wider midfield roles as well.
“You never know – Klinsmann, you know he likes to change things around,” said Joe Corona, who has manned multiple midfield roles this month. “I'm going to be ready for whatever he needs. If I started, that would be perfect. I feel I've been doing good things and I know that whoever plays is going to do well.
“That's one of the things that Klinsmann has emphasized a lot, the role of play we all have. Everybody that gets on the field already knows what they're supposed to do, so it makes it easier for all of us.”