Historical significance notwithstanding, the US men’s national team’s friendly at Cuba on Friday (4 pm ET; ESPN2) is about as minor as international matches get.
It’s an exhibition game against a weak opponent that will be played in an environment that won’t approximate anything the US will see on the road in World Cup qualifying, so everything that happens in Havana should be taken with several grains of salt.
Still, with Hexagonal matches against Mexico and at Costa Rica looming, the US will have a chance to do a bit of fine-tuning in the Caribbean on Friday. The match might not mean much, but it shouldn’t be totally overlooked, either.
Here are four questions I'll look for the US to continue answering in Havana:
How will the Altidore-Wood partnership look?
Jozy Altidore is playing some of the best soccer of his life; Bobby Wood has gotten his Bundesliga career off to a solid start. Both are talented, both are in form and both will likely start for the US on Friday and in the two Hex matches next month.
While it’s undeniably a positive for the US to have two strikers in such fine form (with a third, Jordan Morris, playing pretty well himself), starting Altidore and Wood together doesn’t come without its complications. Both players are best as pure central forwards and tend to occupy the same sorts of spaces. That can create problems in the attack and can be an even bigger issue when the US don't have the ball.
Wood and Altidore building a better understanding with each other will be huge for both players individually. With those massive Hex matches on the horizon, their partnership will be enormously important for the entire USMNT, as well.
Will the Kljestan Show continue?
Like Matt Doyle, I think Sacha Kljestan is the best No. 10 in the US pool right now. It wasn’t against the toughest opposition, but he was excellent at St. Vincent and the Grenadines and against Trinidad and Tobago last month, scoring two goals and notching a pair of assists in the wins.
More important than any numbers he put up in those matches, however, was the impact he has on the rest of the US lineup. Doyle summed it up best:
“Putting a real playmaker in there allows more service to the forwards, who are playing better than ever; it allows wunderkind Christian Pulisic to play on either wing combining in the channels on the break or around the box in possession while not having to worry about shouldering the pure creative load; it allows Michael Bradley to play in his preferred spot as a No. 6, and in the seven games since he's been playing there the US have gone 5-2-0 with plus-11 goal differential (15 GF; 4 GA); and that, in turn, allows the central defense a stable outlet in possession, which in turn allows the fullbacks to get forward.”
Continuing to get solid play from the Red Bulls creator will be hugely important for the US. Let’s hope the 31-year-old keeps taking advantage of his newfound international opportunity.
Who claims the third goalkeeper spot?
I’m not sure the Cuba game will play a large role in determining who gets called-up for the Hex matches (will the starter actually be tested?), but the time in camp could play a major role. Whoever gets the most time over the next two games will likely be the favorite to be named to the roster for the Mexico and Costa Rica contests in November.
Will any of the youngsters stand out?
Christian Pulisic is the real deal. Barring something depressing, I anticipate that he’ll be a constant in US camp for years to come. You can’t exactly say that about the other unproven young guys on the roster – Paul Arriola, Lynden Gooch and Julian Green.
Arriola has the most recent experience with the national team, having played well in his brief run-outs with the USMNT this year. Gooch, 20, doesn’t yet have a full USMNT cap, but he has been in and out of the lineup with Sunderland in the EPL. Green is still toiling away at Bayern Munich, having played a total of 24 minutes in all competitions for the German giants so far this year.
It’d be beyond shocking if any of these three were anything more than a sub against Mexico or Costa Rica, but the Cuba and New Zealand friendlies will be good opportunities for them to show Klinsmann they belong on the roster for the Hex openers. We’ll see how they perform on Friday and next Tuesday.