The United States Men’s National Team returns to World Cup qualifying this week, with an important game against Antigua and Barbuda this Friday. The U.S. vs. Antigua and Barbuda game will be followed by the final mach of group play four days later when the U.S. faces Guatemala.
With the U.S. roster set to be announced at 3 p.m. EST today, no one can be sure what options U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is going to give himself.
That being said, let’s take a look at six bold predictions for the game.
The U.S. is certainly heavily favored in the match, as the Americans are tied atop their group while Antigua and Barbuda are the cellar dwellers, with only one point from four matches.
However, Antigua and Barbuda have a number of factors playing in their favor.
First, Antigua has the advantage of playing at home and they are brimming with confidence. The Antigua and Barbuda Football Association Secretary Gordon Derrick has said Antigua will be fielding “our strongest team we are going to put on the field ever, and we are going to be ready and rearing to go to win.”
He continued saying “They [the U.S.] don’t play well away in smaller territories so we are going to use that to our advantage, with our home crowd support because we know we have to fill that stadium and we believe we are going to have what it takes to take us home.”
Second, Antigua and Barbuda, despite being an island nation of only 80,000 residents, has put up some impressive fights so far. They tied Jamaica, were leading Guatemala in Guatemala through 60 minutes and even gave the U.S. a scare in the opening game of qualifying.
If the U.S. goes into the game with the wrong attitude, or assumes from the opening whistle that the only point of the game is to rack up goal differential, they could be in for a serious surprise.
For better or for worse, Jurgen Klinsmann has shown that he is not afraid to experiment, even when World Cup qualification is on the line.
In three of the team's four qualifiers so far, Klinsmann has fielded a lineup with three defensive-minded midfielders to the serious detriment of the U.S. attack.
In the second game against Jamaica, Klinsmann finally opened up the attack going with a 4-1-3-2, and the U.S. attack flourished.
Hopefully, against Antigua, Klinsmann will stick with this more open approach, especially considering that Antigua should be on their back foot for much of the match, but it shouldn’t surprise any USMNT fans if Klinsmann reverts to his old ways.
Despite repeated poor performances right from the start of the Klinsmann era, Kyle Beckerman continues to get called up and continues to get playing time from Jurgen Klinsmann.
In 16 games under Klinsmann (not counting the January friendlies), Beckerman has made 11 appearances.
Beckerman may be a top MLS player and it is hard to criticize a player for answering his country’s call, but he is simply not one of the U.S.’s top players.
The only one who hasn’t seemed to notice is Klinsmann.
Even many of U.S. pundits have given up on the idea that Klinsmann will exclude Beckerman. Most of the roster speculation this week focused on the potential dropping of Maurice Edu from the roster rather than Beckerman, despite the fact that Edu’s performances with the Nats have been much more consistent than Beckerman’s.
Still, no one will be shocked if and when Beckerman’s name appears on the team sheet this week.
Fabian Johnson is quickly becoming one of the U.S.’s top players. His tactical acumen and technical ability are phenomenal and he is already establishing himself as a premier player in the Bundesliga.
While Johnson has locked down the left back spot for the United States, the team could also use his flair in the midfield where he performed so well against Slovenia last November.
The danger, of course, of this approach is that the U.S. back line is left exposed. The benefit is that Johnson is absolutely phenomenal on the ball, great in tight space and very composed in the final third.
If he is played in the midfield, the U.S. would likely have to deploy Jonathan Spector, Michael Parkhurst or Edgar Castillo at left back.
Joe Corona appears to be a project player that Klinsmann is invested in. Corona has gotten called up for the last three national team camps, but in the eight games played during those camps, has only made two appearances, both late cameo substitutions.
In fact, Corona is still not cap-tied to the U.S. as both of his substitute appearances were made in friendlies.
Against Antigua and Barbuda, Corona may finally get his chance.
Landon Donovan left this weekend’s LA Galaxy game with a knee injury and did not return. Brek Shea is reportedly not being called in for these two games and Jose Torres has been less than impressive when played wide.
Unless Klinsmann is going to gamble on an inexperienced player like Josh Gatt or push Clint Dempsey back into the midfield, Corona may finally get his shot.
With the aforementioned injury to Landon Donovan, Brek Shea being left off the roster and Jose Torres’ performances not living up to expectations, Jurgen Klinsmann may be forced to push Dempsey into his former wide midfield role.
Klinsmann would still have options up top with Herculez Gomez, Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd as forwards and Dempsey’s experience could help solidify the U.S. middle.
It would be a risky move as Boyd and, particularly, Altidore have not been playing at their best for the national team as of late, but it may be necessary to field the U.S.’s strongest possible lineup.
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