What will Bruce do? That has been the burning question for followers of the U.S. MNT since it became clear that Trinidad and Tobago did not have a late comeback in them Thursday night and the U.S would be heading to Mexico on the back of a 2-0 victory.
Arena hinted that he may be considering some squad rotation for Sunday’s match when he brought up the effects of altitude on the players, saying “the altitude is an issue,” at his post-game press conference.
With a two-goal lead on Thursday Arena pulled Clint Dempsey from the match in favor of FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta, prompting an angry reaction from his veteran striker and inciting speculation that the U.S. may line out in the more defensive 4-2-3-1 formation against El Tri after kicking off versus T&T in a 4-4-2 diamond.
Acosta would be favored to partner Michael Bradley as one of the two deeper midfielders in that system, especially with Geoff Cameron needed at center back against the dangerous Mexico attack.
Some have speculated that Omar Gonzalez, based in Mexico with Pachuca, would get a start. Gonzalez could fill in for Cameron if Arena does opt to move the versatile Stoke man up the pitch or Gonzalez could replace John Brooks, who had a few rough moments on Thursday.
Alejandro Bedoya is a dependable and tireless midfielder that the U.S. coach might choose to start in an effort to blunt the Mexico attack, although the Union man does not provide much going forward and Arena may be inclined to keep the trio of Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, and Fabian Johnson intact behind a lone striker.
That is if the coach elects to play in that 4-2-3-1 setup.
It could leave Arena with the difficult task of telling Dempsey that he is not in the starting 11, and if Deuce was unhappy with being removed on Thursday, he is unlikely to be pleased with sitting from the start against Mexico.
Dempsey’s feelings are hardly Arena’s main concern and the boss said that he and Dempsey spoke and that all was well. Altidore has never liked playing up top on his own while Wood seems a bit better suited to the sometimes thankless task.
If Arena does make this move, and I believe that he should, I look for Altidore to start. The powerful TFC striker is a good passer, the team’s best holdup forward and if Pulisic and Nagbe can provide periodic help in the attack, then I believe that Altidore could thrive in the role.
Mexico has four wins and one tie in five matches to top the Hex and the U.S. has never defeated Mexico in a World Cup Qualifier in Mexico. The Americans did, however, earn a draw there in 2013, perhaps lessening somewhat the Azteca intimidation factor.
The Americans figure to be on the defensive for most of this match and will likely need a counter attack goal if they are to get on the board. A shutout and a goal on the break is no easy task against a talented team like Mexico, but it may be the best chance the US. MNT has for victory, or even a draw on Sunday.