With its place in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex) virtually assured the U.S. MNT host Trinidad and Tobago tonight in Jacksonville, Florida.
Confidence should be high for a home team that is coming in fresh off of Friday’s 6-0 drubbing of St. Vincent and The Grenadines. The visiting Americans dominated the Vincy Heat from the opening whistle, although it took 28 minutes for Bobby Wood to start the scoring for the visitors.
Second half substitutes Christian Pulisic (2) and Sacha Kljestan scored and starred in the second half after the home side had begun the second stanza by putting the U.S. under pressure.
The U.S. played Trinidad and Tobago to a dull 0-0 draw last November, a rare blemish for the Americans against T&T. The Stars and Stripes own a 16-2-4 all time record against the Soca Warriors and a near perfect 11-0-1 home mark against tonight’s opponents with the lone draw coming way back in 1989.
With a win tonight the U.S. would top the group and and begin The Hex with a home match versus Mexico followed by a trip to Costa Rica. The Americans would prefer to get its top two CONCACAF rivals early rather than later in the round and a victory over T&T would allow the Americans to play Mexico at a cold weather site, a la Columbus, a strategy that has been effective in the past for the U.S. MNT.
A draw would assure a spot in the Hex for the U.S. who hold a three point lead over Guatemala, who stunned the Americans 2-0 last March in Guatemala. If the U.S. lose tonight, a 12 goal advantage in goals difference should still be too much for the Chapines to overcome.
U.S. captain Michael Bradley returns from suspension as does versatile defender Michael Orozco. DeAndre Yedlin has headed back to Newcastle after earning a yellow card ban and proud new papa Matt Besler has returned to Kansas City to meet his new daughter.
No doubt Bradley will assume his place in the heart of the U.S. midfield and Orozco can fill in at either fullback for Yedlin or center back for Besler. Klinsmann also has center backs Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez available.
Klinsmann recently lamented the inability of younger American players to force veterans aside; is a two goal performance against St. V&G enough to earn 17 year old Pulisic a start? And while Kljestan(30) and Darlington Nagbe (26) no longer qualify as “young” players Nagbe is still fairly new to national team set up and Kljestan has been out of the team after a long absence.
Klinsmann has already named World Cup hero Tim Howard as tonight’s starter, replacing Brad Guzan in a prearranged platoon, so 20 year Ethan Horvath is unlikely to see action.
21 year old Kellyn Acosta started at left fullback on Friday and Klinsmann has several young players on his roster in midfielders Caleb Stanko (23), and Paul Arriola (21); and forwards Jordan Morris (21), who Klinsmann used off of the bench against St. Vincent and The Grenadines, and Rubio Rubin (20).
Will Klinsmann go with some or all of his kiddie corps or will the U.S. coach continue with his conservative policy of relying on veterans like Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi, and Chris Wondolowski?