The USMNT looks to embark on its journey to defend its title starting tonight against Honduras at Toyota Stadium.
The United States has been placed in the hardest of the three groups: Group A with Haiti, Honduras, and Panama. Many storylines going into this tournament and it will be interesting how they all unfold. Of course, the U.S. is co-favorites to win the tournament with Mexico and anything less then reaching the final will be seen as a disappointment. Klinsmann has named Toronto’s Michael Bradley as captain for the tournament, stripping Clint Dempsey of the honor. Is this the beginning of another Donovan-esque saga with Klinsmann or will Dempsey understand this is just a changing of the guard? Budding-star and Stanford man Jordan Morris was not selected for the tournament because of injury. No matter who is injured and whoever is in a bad mood, this team is expected to win.
Klinsmann has walked away from the diamond recently and could easily go straight back to it but we have seen him use a flat 4-4-2, most recently in a 4-0 friendly win against Guatemala. The major difference between this formation and the diamond is Bradley being told to stay back more and be a facilitator between the defense and the midfield. It also gives more of an opportunity for the full backs to bomb up the sidelines with two holding midfielders now being able to cover for them.
The other formation we could expect to see is the 4-3-3 with one holding midfielder, most likely Beckerman. This will give more license for Bradley to go forward and create as he will be playing with more numbers in midfield. It would be interesting to see if Klinsmann puts Dempsey on the left, where Bob Bradley played him mostly during his tenure. Bradley did not give him license to roam inside and cut in with his right foot but Klinsmann would encourage this—the more creativity the better. This could also create a lot of space on the left for an overlapping Fabian Johnson, which could become quite scary for opponents.
Brad Guzan is the no. 1 without question and might get a little bored in goal as the U.S. is expected to dominate in possession most of the games they play in. Rimando will be the backup to Guzan and has plenty of experience to takeover if Guzan goes down at any point during the tournament. William Yarbrough is the youngest of the three goalkeepers and this is the first major tournament he will be a part for the USMNT. He is the no. 3.
DaMarcus Beasley is gone and replacing him heading into 2018 will not be easy. Fabian Johnson can play with both feet and most likely find himself here on the left where he has played before. Johnson’s overlapping runs will be a huge part of the U.S.’s attack and he will need to improve his final ball into the box to reach his full potential as an attacking full back. Gregory Garza was just called up due to the injury of Brad Davis and has played well in appearences for the USMNT but needs to show he can be reliable defensively. Garza will slide into the starting role if Klinsmann wants to shift Johnson back to the right side like he played in the World Cup. Tim Ream and Ventura Alvarado could be asked to cover if necessary.
Klinsmann has called up four center backs but Brad Evens, the utility man, has played there for the Sounders recently and can fill in as well. Omar Gonzalez is a lock to start on the right side as Jurgen prefers his center backs to play on their strong sided foot and Tim Ream, Ventura Alvarado, and John Brooks are all left-footed. John Brooks started alongside Omar vs. Guatemala and looks the favorite to start against Honduras but look for Tim Ream to be a breakout player in the tournament. He is a great passer of ball, something the U.S. has never really had out of the back.
U.S. fans would love to see DeAndre Yedlin get a chance here but instead we see the most inconsistent player for the national team over the last four years, Timmy Chandler. The German-born player has put in a string of decent performances against for the U.S. and will likely be the starter for the group stages. However, if he becomes the player he once was expect to see Johnson move over from the left or Brad Evans to take his place. Klinsmann will keep him on a tight leash.
With the injury to Brad Davis there is no true left midfielder on the roster. The ones standing to replace him on the left side are the likes of Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, Gyasi Zardes and even potentially Clint Dempsey. All are right-footed players with Zusi having the most accomplished left foot of the three as he’s shown at Sporting Kansas City. Bedoya is likely to see more time at right midfield and Dempsey at striker; therefore leaving Zusi and Zardes fighting for the spot. Zusi has proven himself at the international stage and will be deadly on set pieces, which the U.S. should take advantage of due to their height, such as Omar Gonzalez (6’ 5”) and John Brooks (6’ 4”). Gyasi Zardes brings pace and hustle to the side as well a little flair with his blond fro. He will most likely come off the bench and given ample playing time.
Beckerman is seen as a perfect partner with Michael Bradley, which will likely be the starting duo if the U.S. does go 4-4-2. Mix Diskerud can be a spark plug off the bench and expect him to replace Beckerman as a substitute as the Real Salt Lake man is getting up there in age. Tim Ream, Alfredo Morales and Brad Evans will act as cover for the position but will most likely not see much time. This is probably the strongest position in the squad with Bradley leading the group.
Bedoya has been a very consistent performer for the National Team over the last few years but Klinsmann seems poised to give DeAndre Yedlin a real shot at taking the position from Bedoya. Bedoya’s high work rate and willingness to contribute on the defensive end may not be needed during this tournament as the U.S. will be favorites for most games. Do expect Yedlin to have a big impact this tournament despite not playing many games for Tottenham this season.
If the U.S. plays with two forwards, former captain Clint Dempsey and Toronto’s Jozy Altidore are locks to play up top. Both have been stalwarts for the U.S. National Team over the last 2 World Cup cycles and don’t be surprised if one of them wins the tournament’s Golden Ball. If the U.S. does play with one forward expect Altidore to be the lone striker and Dempsey to drop somewhere in midfield. Wondolowski and Johannsson are seen as backups that will only come off the bench and will rarely start a game unless playing a small team such as Haiti. However, Gyasi Zardes could be put ahead of Wondo and Johannson in the pecking order when Klinsmann is looking for options off the bench at striker.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando and William Yarbrough
Defenders: Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, Brad Evans, Gregory Garza, John Brooks, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, Ventura Alvarado
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman, Alfredo Morales, DeAndre Yedlin, Mix Diskerud, Gyasi Zardes
Forwards: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson