United States embarks on World Cup qualifying with a pair of matches.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, November 12, 2015) -- Perhaps United States men’s coach Jürgen Klinsmann is just being cautious, or maybe he feels a bit snake-bitten after his team’s poor showing recently with the Americans finishing fourth in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and losing the CONCACAF Cup showdown and its attendant berth in the FIFA Confederations Cup 3-2 to Mexico.
In any event, he has called into camp for the U.S.’s first two qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia his strongest team -- with one glaring exception.
The U.S. will begin group play in CONCACAF’s semifinal round Friday night against St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The 6:30 p.m. (ET) match will be televised by ESPN and Spanish-language UniMás
On Tuesday, the Americans travel to Trinidad and Tobago for a 6:35 p.m.meeting to be aired by beIN Sports and Spanish-language NBC Universo.
Guatemala rounds out the four members of the group.
With this being an official match weekend for world governing body FIFA, and these being World Cup qualifiers club teams have to release players if Klinsmann wants them. Moreover, Major League Soccer is taking a break from its playoff schedule so their players on the U.S. team will not miss playoff games.
The major surprise in the 23-man squad is the glaring absence of veteran attacker Clint Dempsey. Dempsey, 32, is fit and Klinsmann admits he was omitted in order to look at some younger players against two teams which the U.S. is a strong favorite to defeat.
Alan Gordon, Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), as has been central midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who just became a American citizen this fall. Nagbe, 25, was born in Liberia and came to the U.S. when he was 11.
Klinsmann is big on sending messages to players. His message to Dempsey might well be no one is indispensable on this squad and he better raise his game from what it’s been in recent outings if he wants to compete in future qualifiers.
Several players who likely would have made the roster are out with illness or injury. Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has been fighting a month long illness, third-string goalkeeper Nick Rimando is recovering from knee surgery, striker Aron Jóhannsson is working his way back after hip surgery, defender Brad Evans a hamstring injury, while defender John Brooks was not called seemingly because he has only three appearances for his German club team Hertha Berlin this season.
Forward Chris Wondolowski, 32, also was left behind. The San Jose Earthquakes forward is a reliable scorer in MLS, but his international career is near an end.
Looking at the U.S. roster, three defenders stand out. Fabian Johnson, whom Klinsmann dismissed from the side after he asked to be taken out of the Mexico match in extra time, has patched things up with Klinsmann. He will likely be the starter at right back.
Matt Besler and Jeff Cameron, who both started against Mexico, likely will start in the center of the back-line. The intrigue continues to be who will start at left back, a constant problem for Klinsmann. The DaMarcus Beasley experiment at left defense seems over and the job now seems to belong either to be Brek Shea, who just returned after being out several months with a sports hernia, or Tim Ream, who plays for Fulham in the second-tier League Championship in England.
New to the team is defender Matt Miazga of MLS’s New York Red Bulls.
The U.S. midfield will once again be anchored by Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. If newcomer Nagbe can partner with Bradley, it could give the Americans a new option.
On the front line, Klinsmann continues in search of a reliable partner for Jozy Altodore. Gyasi Zardes is the likely starter in St. Louis with Wood, the hero of the June U.S. victories over Germany and the Netherlands, in reserve.
In this penultimate round of qualifying, the 12 remaining teams are divided into three groups of four. The top two teams in each round-robin group will advance to the six-team Hexagonal, the final round of qualifying in the region. The top three teams in that round, beginning next November, will advance directly to Russia. The fourth-place finisher will enter a playoff against the top finisher in the Oceania confederation for the final slot in Russia.
After these opening two matches, the next two qualifiers will both be against Guatemala in March.
Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Bill Hamid (D.C. United, Major League Soccer), Tim Howard (Everton, England).
Defenders (8): Ventura Alvarado (Club America, Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Germany), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls, MLS), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Tim Ream (Fulham FC, England), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC, MLS).
Midfielders (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake, MLS), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, MLS), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC, MLS), Miguel Ibarra (Club Leon, Mexico), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution, MLS), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers, MLS), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland, England).
Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC, MLS), Alan Gordon (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin, Germany), Gyasi Zardes (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS).
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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