The rosters have been announced and the squads are gathering for pregame training sessions. So what will the lineups and tactics look like when the US national team visits the National Stadium in Kingston for Friday night’s pivotal World Cup qualifier against Jamaica?
On the US side, the recent roster release by Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff offered up some interesting information and a few mild surprises. Tim Howard will start in goal – that much is certain. Very little else is, however.
For all his bold rhetoric about hunting for all six points on offer in the back-to-back tussles with Jamaica, the German-American coach has actually leaned towards the conservative side in terms of his personnel selections.
Certainly, it’s forward-leaning to pick an attacker who hasn’t played a competitive match in some three months (Clint Dempsey), and this midfield group has plenty of youth in the form of Joe Corona, Graham Zusi and Brek Shea, all of whom have yet to experience a World Cup qualifier with the Yanks.
That in and itself suggests a measured approach, practically guaranteeing that holding midfielders Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, two of Klinsmann’s most trusted figures, will start in Kingston. Assuming the usual 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation, that probably leaves the third central spot to Jose Torres (right) or Danny Williams.
If the latter gets the nod, it will signal a truly defensive mindset. Torres would offer more going forward, but would need to gird himself for a rough-and-tumble evening among the athletes populating the Reggae Boyz roster. He might be the only experienced option suited to connecting with the front line, where in-form strikers Jozy Altidure and Terrence Boyd will vie for a role along with the battle-tested Herculez Gomez.
After all, Dempsey couldn’t possibly be fit enough to start, right? Then again, Klinsmann has already sprung several surprises of similar scope in his 13 months on the job.
Curiously – at least compared to the patchwork defense called up for last month’s friendly against Mexico – this is a bottom-heavy US squad, with ample options in defense.
Klinsmann has classified Maurice Edu as a defender on this roster, which is either a sleight of hand to distract from his eventual use in midfield, or a significant revision of the recent Stoke City signing’s area of greatest value following his sterling work at center back in the historic win at Estadio Azteca.
Was that single game enough to make Edu and his new club teammate Geoff Cameron the de facto partnership in central defense? Captain Carlos Bocanegra (below, right) is back, so his return to the Yanks would suggest otherwise. Bet on a Bocanegra-Cameron pairing, with Fabian Johnson and Steve Cherundolo on the flanks – and that still leaves four more defenders for Klinsmann to improvise with.
Jamaica’s abundance of fleet-footed wide men could pose the greatest threat to this US group, so Johnson and Cherundolo face a critical task on Friday, one that their team’s tactical arrangement will greatly affect.
If the likes of Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards are given room to dribble at the back four, or – even more dangerously – space to run into behind a high defensive line, this game could grow a bit more stretched than the US would like.
Yet the aforementioned midfield shape necessitates that width be provided by advancing fullbacks, requiring a careful balancing act by that duo. Klinsmann might direct his front line to track back deeper along the flanks to assist when Jamaica takes possession, which would represent another concession to an opponent that the US says can be a source of six points in five days.
As he proved again on Sunday, Klinsmann possesses a unique knack for being forthright, expressive and open to the media without really giving away much of substance.
Come Friday, don’t be surprised if his declaration that “We want to get maximum points if possible” adds up to the same rugged defend-and-counter that has proved so effective with the USMNT for so long.