Klinsmann and the Kids: A Look at the USMNT’s Young Stars and the First Hexagonal Game Against Mexico
Written by Mark Switzer (@arkwitzner)
On November 11th, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio the United States Men’s National Team will face Mexico in the first of 10 games to decide who will be representing CONCACAF in the 2018 World Cup. The Fifth Round of qualification that both teams find themselves in is nicknamed the “Hexagonal” or the “Hex” after the six teams that remain standing in the federation. The top three advance from the pool of six after round-robin play amongst the six teams remaining with the fourth being forced into a playoff to make the World Cup.
Both teams will be looking to open their Hex campaigns on the right foot, but the onus is on the USMNT. Columbus has been a fortress for the United States historically, as they haven’t lost in 11 appearances in the Columbus Crew’s stadium. 8 wins and only 3 draws to their name. This game is the United States’ to win.
However, the cast that the United States will be trotting out just a week after this piece is being written will undoubtedly have a few younger faces in the mix. They will be thrust onto a stage that will take a different level of skill in order to prevail over one of their true rivals; Mexico. But the kids have the skill, unlike previous generations of U.S. players that revolved around grit and determination to get through tough teams like they will be facing in a few days’ time. They come from all types of soccer, and social backgrounds but they have all been deemed good enough to represent their country at the highest level of soccer by the U.S. Soccer Commander in Chief, Jurgen Klisnmann.
What’s the one thing they have in common? Dynamism in the attacking third. And that is one thing that you can never have too much of. Let’s take a look at which young stars fans can expect to see play a role in the upcoming qualification match.
Christian Pulisic, 18 Years Old. Club: Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Some consider this young 18-year-old to be the brightest young player to come through the U.S. talent pool in quite some time. And who can blame them? He has been an integral part of a top tier Champions League club in Borussia Dortmund since the end of last season, and also during the most recent 2016-2017 campaign. The Hershey, Pennsylvania native has racked up 8 caps so far with the national team, scoring 3 goals and he has played mostly in a dynamic attacking-midfield role. This role is similar to the one that he occupies at Borussia Dortmund.
His role at Dortmund at the start of the season was up for debate after the summer transfers brought in by Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel. However, even with the vast number of young and experienced attacking talent brought in during the summer transfer period, Pulisic has kept his place. He has appeared in 7 games and has scored 2 goals while assisting another 3. Stats that get better considering 2 of those appearances came off the bench. In terms of prospects, he is the best in the USMNT talent pool at the moment, that much is hard to debate due to his output and the prestige of the club and competitions he has been a part of. However, he has yet to face Mexico in a senior competitive match. This will be a new test for the youngster if called upon to start, or make an impact off the bench on November 11th.
Julian Green, 21 Years Old. Club: Bayern Munich (Germany)
This player has had an interesting start to his senior national team career, first and foremost because of how he was thrust onto the stage. Julian Green, who was born in Tampa but grew up in Germany, will forever be remembered as the forward that kept Landan Donovan off the 2014 World Cup roster, but he justified his inclusion by scoring the lone U.S. goal in a 2-1 defeat to Belgium in the same tournament. However, since then it has been a tough road for the 21-year-old. He is on the books at Bayern Munich currently but his surprising world cup appearance was followed by an extremely fruitless loan spell at Hamburger SV, another Bundesliga outfit.
Although the loan period at Hamburger SV and the resulting demotion back to the youth teams at Bayern Munich took a toll on his development and minutes in the past few years, his 2016-2017 season has been a positive one. In preseason with Bayern he earned minutes as well as scoring a hat trick. Add on to that fact that he has scored both his first goal for Bayern’s senior side in the past week and also performed well in the most recent USMNT friendlies and he could be in line for an impact substitute appearance against Mexico.
Bobby Wood, 23 Years Old. Club: Hamburger SV (Germany)
Bobby Wood continues the trend of young Americans that are currently plying their trade in Germany’s top division. Wood was born and grew up in Hawaii and is a pure striker by trade but he has also played on the left wing for the U.S. at times. He started his first season in the top flight of Germany very well, scoring in his first match and is still currently the top scorer for his team in Bundesliga action. However, he recently picked up a red card which will keep him out for his next three games in the competition. Although this does not affect him in matches for the United States, he may be short of match fitness come the Mexico game.
It is likely he will get the call to start alongside Jozy Altidore up top on November 11th in Columbus, and if he does it will be on the left with Altidore set up more centrally. That combination got the Americans to the semi-finals of the Copa America Centenario and Klinsmann may look to use the same combination to start off the Hex, if Wood is match fit enough to start.
DeAndre Yedlin, 23 Years Old. Club: Newcastle United (England)
Primarily a right fullback, it is hard to believe that the Seattle native can be so impactful in the attacking third for the United States, but that is exactly what he does. He is an attacking fullback that bombs up and down the right flank making important runs in behind the defense, something the United States can lack at times. This is especially important to the tactical aspect to the United States’ play since it will open up space in the middle for supporting runs from midfield.
He has also spent some time on the wing, both for the United States and at his new club Newcastle United. This could complicate exactly where he plays in the Mexico game but it is a good bet he will be on the field considering he already has 40 caps at the young age of 23. And although he has yet to score for the Yanks, be prepared to see him make a strong impression on the United States attack in their first game against their heated rivals.
Jordan Morris, 22 Years Old. Club: Seattle Sounders (MLS)
The former Stanford collegiate star has made a splash in his rookie year in MLS, a season that has not been without its bumps in the road. He has been forced to overtake the leading role in attack for the Sounders as Obafemi Martins was transferred over the summer and Clint Dempsey has gone down with a heart issue during a crucial stretch of the playoff push. However, Morris has held strong and has been able to consistently produce throughout his first season as a professional. He’s lower down on the pecking order than Wood, most likely occupying the “third string” striker on Klinsmann’s depth chart.
He will likely be nominated, and possibly selected as Rookie of the Year in MLS. A look at his statistical record will back this up. 12 goals and 4 assists for the highest paid homegrown player in league history has helped him make his case to be consistently included in the national team squad. All of this taking into account a rough start to his season where he failed to tally a goal in his first 5 games. Ever since then however, he has been nothing but a player that is looking like the future of the USMNT at the striker position.
These five young stars are sure to make an impact in the upcoming game against Mexico and barring injury, you can expect to see most of them on the pitch from the off. Wood will be in contention for the second striker role, Yedlin will be vying for the starting right back position and Pulisic surely is in Klinsmann’s plan to get his first ever start against their storied CONCACAF rival Mexico. As for Green and Morris, they may be reduced to substitute roles from the start of the game, but it is more than likely we will see at least one of them come on as substitutes if the U.S. need a late spark and additional creativity in the attacking third.