Picking the Right US Lineup to Beat Jamaica in World Cup Qualifier
On Sunday, the United States men’s national team picked up an impressive 4-3 win over Germany in an international friendly only days after unimpressively losing to Belgium 4-2.
While both matches provided important learning opportunities for both the players and the U.S. coaching staff, the real work now begins as the U.S. resumes World Cup qualifying with a trip to Jamaica on Friday.
Here is the best lineup the U.S. can put on the field to pick up three points in this all-important game.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Tim Howard was his usual solid self on Sunday against Germany and, despite some solid competition from Brad Guzan, continues to be the U.S.’ best option in the net.
The U.S. will need all of Howard’s years of international experience and leadership to keep the American back line—which was chaotically organized in both of the U.S.’ recent friendlies—together.
Left-Back: DaMarcus Beasley
Years ago, when Bob Bradley tried the DaMarcus Beasley-as-a-left-back experiment, it failed miserably. Beasley’s diminutive frame, poor one-on-one defending, weakness in the air and bad positioning made Beasley a liability in the back, and the U.S. kept searching for a solution to its left-back problems.
Fast-forward three years and Beasley has, shockingly, become the answer at left-back for the U.S. Now seemingly fully returned to fitness and form from a devastating knee injury that slowed him down and ended his European career years ago, Beasley is enjoying a renaissance to his career.
After moving to Liga MX two years ago, Beasley has become a regular starter for Puebla and returned to the form that saw him emerge as one of the U.S.’ premier prospects as a teenager over a decade ago.
While Beasley is far from a perfect solution for the U.S., he has proved in recent games against Costa Rica, Mexico, Belgium and Germany that he can help the U.S. His one-on-one defending still needs work, but he has shown a willingness to battle players like Romelu Lukaku, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose, both on the ground and in the air.
Beasley’s positioning is vastly improved, his quickness allows him to recover from some of his mistakes and his ability to go forward has helped the U.S. attack.
With Fabian Johnson an injury question and Edgar Castillo having a shockingly bad game against Germany, Beasley is the answer for the U.S. at left-back.
Center-Back: Omar Gonzalez
If one thing has become clear from the U.S.’ last two international friendlies, it is that Omar Gonzalez still has a lot of work to do to become an international-quality center-back.
Gonzalez’s physical abilities make him a terrific defender in the traditional American sense of being a big body who can knock away services into the area. However, Gonzalez’s naivete in his positioning and decision-making was a big liability against Belgium and Germany.
Gonzalez is still a newbie in terms of the international game, and these friendlies are providing lessons that Gonzalez will never learn from his play in Major League Soccer.
Hopefully, for the U.S., Gonzalez will be a quick study.
Center-Back: Matt Besler/Geoff Cameron
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Who will partner Omar Gonzalez in the back for the U.S. remains a big question mark. Matt Besler acquitted himself well against Mexico in the U.S.’ 0-0 draw at Azteca in March—Geoff Cameron did the same against Mexico in the U.S.’ 1-0 win at Azteca last August.
Besler did not have a great game against Germany, being at least partially culpable on two of the goals against the U.S. Cameron, on the other hand, has only played two games at center-back in the last 10 months (one for Stoke City where he normally plays right-back and one for the U.S. in their 2-1 loss to Honduras in February).
Jurgen Klinsmann will have to make a decision whether it is better to start Besler again and hope he and Gonzalez begin to form a stronger partnership, or give Geoff Cameron another shot and hope it works out better than the Gonzalez/Cameron partnership did against Honduras in February.
In reality, it seems that Gonzalez could do with a veteran partner in the back—once again raising serious questions as to why Carlos Bocanegra is not on the U.S.’ current roster.
Right-Back: Brad Evans
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the USMNT on Sunday against Germany was the play of Brad Evans at right-back. Evans had played well in the position against Canada in this year’s January friendly but has not played there since. This led many U.S. fans to question his inclusion in the lineup against Germany, but Evans repaid Klinsmann’s faith with a very solid performance in the back.
Evans did very well in his one-on-one defensive responsibilities, had solid positioning, stood up to Lukas Podolski and even provided the U.S. with some solid service out of the back, twice finding Jozy Altidore on penetrating runs into the heart of the German defense.
With Steve Cherundolo on hiatus, Timmy Chandler hurt and Geoff Cameron playing poorly at right-back against Belgium, Brad Evans is the U.S.’ best option heading into the game against Jamaica.
Left-Midfielder: Fabian Johnson
Fabian Johnson is one of the U.S.’ best hopes for creativity out of the left-midfield position, but he also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.
That’s not good news for the U.S., who suffer from a lack of options on the left side of the field. Brek Shea and Herculez Gomez are both hurt and Eddie Johnson had an uncharacteristically poor game on the wing against Germany.
If Fabian Johnson is healthy, he should get the nod. If he’s not, Eddie Johnson will likely get the start.
Joe Corona is another option, but it is very unlikely Klinsmann would go with Corona (who is frequently called up, but rarely plays) from the start.
Central Midfielder: Michael Bradley
This one is a no-brainer as Michael Bradley is one of the easiest picks on the field. The only question for Klinsmann is how to deploy Bradley—either as a holding midfielder or as a box-to-box midfielder.
Bradley can do both and do both well. It is really a question of how attacking Klinsmann wants the U.S. to be. Recently, Klinsmann has opted to put the U.S. in a 4-2-3-1 with Bradley and Jermaine Jones playing side-by-side. However, the two-defensive-midfielder combination has caused some problems with gaps in between the midfield and the back line when Bradley and Jones are caught parallel with one another.
The two still need to work on playing on a string—with one going forward and the other staying home—if the U.S. is going to stick with the 4-2-3-1. Another option would be to go back to the 4-1-3-2 that worked so well for the team in the October qualifiers, with one midfielder being dedicated to sitting in front of the center-backs and the other dedicated to going forward.
Central Midfielder: Jermaine Jones
Jermaine Jones had, perhaps, his best game ever on Sunday, igniting the U.S. attack on multiple occasions. Against Belgium earlier this week, Jones displayed his defensive prowess when Sacha Kljestan did more of the attacking.
When partnered with Michael Bradley, the U.S. really can’t lose. Both Jones and Bradley are excellent defensive midfielders and both have the creativity and vision to go forward and spark the U.S.’ attack.
Right-Midfielder: Graham Zusi
Graham Zusi has proved over the past year that he is a competent, if unspectacular, international. He provides solid service from the run of play and on set pieces and is very cognizant of his defensive responsibilities.
He lacks the speed and one-on-one creativity to become a truly elite player for the U.S., but he may be the best the U.S. can do right now.
Eddie Johnson could also get the start, but considering that Johnson has come off the bench in the last two games and Zusi has not played poorly, it is unlikely. A cameo from Joe Corona around the 60-minute mark for Zusi could also help inspire the U.S. attack if a late goal is needed as well as finally give Corona a chance to show what he can do at the international level.
Withdrawn Forward: Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey’s performance against Germany on Sunday was exactly what fans have come to expect from Dempsey over the past few years.
He is not a prototypical No. 10, sitting behind the forward and delivering service. He is not especially creative in his passing game, or particularly active over the course of the game. But, when he gets on the ball near the area, he is a constant threat to score.
His two goals on Sunday were both terrific, the first a well-taken half-volleyed effort and the second (in the video above) an absolute golazo as Dempsey beat a German defender and fired his left-footed shot past the German keeper.
In the U.S.’ last five games, Dempsey has five of the U.S.’ eight goals.
Striker: Jozy Altidore
For the past year-and-a-half, Jozy Altidore has been in striker hell for the USMNT. When he has stayed high, trying to sit in between the center-backs and find space in behind, he has been starved for service and repeatedly called lazy by much of the U.S. fanbase. When he has worked back for the ball, he has been criticized for not staying high and stretching the opponent’s back line.
Added into that criticism has been a goal drought that went back to 2011—the type of drought sure to get into any forward’s head, even one who scored 31 goals for his club in the 2012-13 season.
On Sunday, Altidore broke out of his slump, scoring the opener on a terrific full-volleyed effort, then later assisting on Clint Dempsey’s first goal with a terrific service into the box.
The U.S. needs Altidore firing on all cylinders in World Cup qualifying, and Sunday’s performance was just what the doctor ordered.
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