Jurgen Klinsmann Has Chance to Extend Youth Movement with Changes on Tuesday

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2016

Sep 8, 2015; Foxborough, Mass, USA; United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann on the bench before their 4-1 loss to Brazil at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As it has been for the majority of Jurgen Klinsmann's reign as boss of the United States men's national team, the defensive alignment of the starting XI is up in the air.

And as it has for the last two years, the presence of a new generation lingers in the background, waiting for the former Germany international to usher it in.

As the Yanks prepare for their final third-round match of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Tuesday, Klinsmann will be forced to make at least two changes to the back four he started in the 6-0 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday.

The USMNT coach has the opportunity to use those positional swaps to hand out some valuable playing time to the younger members of the squad. 

Center back Matt Besler, who scored the second American strike in the Caribbean on Friday, left the squad to be with his newborn daughter, while first-choice right back DeAndre Yedlin has returned to Newcastle United earlier than expected due to yellow-card accumulation resulting in a suspension. 

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Even though the Yanks are basically guaranteed a spot in the Hexagonal round because of their superior goal difference to Guatemala's, they are still searching for a full influx of youth with the final round of World Cup qualifyingand a potential meeting with Mexico, Costa Rica or bothahead in November. 

The USMNT boss was forced to switch up his defensive setup from the Copa America Centenario in the blowout win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines due to the absence of John Brooks (back injury) from the 23-man squad.

During the Copa run, Brooks was a rock next to Geoff Cameron in the middle of the back four. One has to assume Brooks has that position locked up regardless of what occurs during his time away from the squad. 

But for the time being, Klinsmann will be tasked with testing his depth at center back until Besler and Brooks return.

Cameron will either be paired next to Omar Gonzalez or Steve Birnbaum. Gonzalez may not be on everyone's radar because of his move to Liga MX from Major League Soccer at the start of the year. Birnbaum showed plenty of promise during the winter friendlies, but he has yet to receive a full shot at earning a starting spot. 

The smart choice given the opposition (Trinidad and Tobago) would be Gonzalez, who carries plenty of big-game experience with him.

A start against one of the five fellow Hex sides would also boost Gonzalez's national-team stock. If he impresses against the Kenwyne Jones-led attack, the Pachuca man should be able to secure a spot on the roster for the first two Hex matches in November provided he remains healthy. 

Birnbaum appears to be in good standing with Klinsmann given his recent appearances on the roster. The 25-year-old D.C. United defender is one of the players in the current squad who will have an impact on the USMNT past the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

If Klinsmann wants to continue to experiment with youth, like he did Friday with Kellyn Acosta at left back, Birnbaum will earn a starting nod.

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Steve Birnbaum #15 of the United States heads the ball away from Tesho Akindele #23 of Canada during the first half of their international friendly soccer match at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The situation becomes a little more complicated on the defensive wings, but the German's selection could continue to serve a purpose for the future as well.

Yedlin, who is one of the focal points of the youth movement, is the starting right back of the present and long-term future, but with the 23-year-old out Tuesday, Klinsmann has to build some depth. 

The last match Yedlin missed due to suspension in the quarterfinal round of the Copa America Centenario saw Besler slot in at right back alongside Cameron, Brooks and Fabian Johnson. Since the full-back depth chart is still slim at best, Klinsmann might have to fit a square peg into a round hole with the personnel on his roster.

Johnson, who is the most versatile player in the USMNT talent pool, plays on the left wing at club level with Borussia Monchengladbach and was employed in that position Friday, but he may wind up farther back on the pitch.

If that is the case, Klinsmann should grant Acosta a deserved audition on defense against an actual competitor in CONCACAF after getting his feet wet Friday. 

Acosta plays in defensive midfield for FC Dallas, but with the field crowded at that position and an imminent need at full back, he has a chance to take advantage of the opportunity and become a fixture in the squad like Brooks, Yedlin and a few other youngsters have in recent years. 

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 02: Joel Stevens of New Zealand is tackled by Kellyn Parry-Acosta of the USA during the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015 Group A match between New Zealand and the United States at North Harbour Stadium on June 2, 2015 in A
Phil Walter/Getty Images

In the win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Acosta didn't look out of his element and was a factor on the attack with a few overlapping runs. Of course, the talent level of the opponent was far inferior to what he'll potentially face Tuesday, but it was a good warm-up for the 21-year-old. 

If Acosta remains in the starting XI and Johnson drops back to defense, Klinsmann has a chance to unleash another member of the youth movement on the Soca Warriors.

The much-hyped Christian Pulisic, who scored twice off the bench Friday, appears ready to earn a start in a key matchor at least the impatient American fanbase believes so. 

Starting the Borussia Dortmund starlet in midfield around an experienced core wouldn't isolate the 17-year-old and would allow him to work into the match alongside wily veterans Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore.

Jun 21, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; United States midfielder Christian Pulisic (17) controls the ball during the second half against Argentina in the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at NRG Stadium. Argentina won 4-0. Mandatory
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If players like Acosta and Pulisic can make a name for themselves for the rest of the year, starting Tuesday, Klinsmann will have more faith in building with a younger squad.

Impressive performances from the young group would finally allow Klinsmann to let go of veterans Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Chris Wondolowski and even Tim Howard ahead of a vital 2017 in which the Yanks will crank up their preparation for Russia. 

As crazy as it sounds, time is already running out for Klinsmann to test his kids in competitive matches before the rigorous Hex begins on Nov. 11.

With the USMNT not in danger of losing a spot in the next round of World Cup qualifying unless Guatemala scores close to double digits against St. Vincent, Klinsmann should take some risks with his lineupand that starts on defense with his replacements for Besler and Yedlin. 


Joe Tansey covers U.S. Soccer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JTansey90


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