On paper, a trip for the US National Team to St. Vincent doesn’t look to be all that difficult. But the last time the US was in this position, on the road at a Caribbean minnow, they needed a stoppage time winner in Antigua to save their World Cup Qualifying campaign. Today, life was much easier, and a few players have seized their opportunities to impress Jurgen Klinsmann while they had what seemed to be a rare chance.
Most everyone will focus on the second half after Christian Pulisic and Sasha Kljestan were introduced, and there’s reason for incredible excitement with those two in the fold. Considering the opposition, maybe the performances from both midfielders have caveats on them, but there’s little doubt what both Pulisic and Kljestan are capable of at full tilt. Their mutual understanding was impressive, and the intricacy in the final third is something that most US teams have lacked under Klinsmann. It’s possible, though unlikely, that they start on Tuesday against Trinidad, but even having the options to bring these players off the bench, even with Darlington Nagbe available, is something Klinsmann hasn’t had. It’s irrelevant whether he brought those headaches upon himself, but heading into the Hex, those types of performances are going to be critical to ensure passage to Russia.
Again, considering the quality of opponent, it is hard to effectively judge how Alejandro Bedoya fits in to the system as a central rather than a wide midfielder, or how Kellyn Acosta looked at left back, a position he never plays for FC Dallas. It’s also difficult to judge how a Bobby Wood-Jozy Altidore partnership might fare against stronger defenses, but today they both showed that the US has more depth at striker than some previously thought, and even playing only one at time gives Klinsmann a chance to introduce something different tactically depending on the opposition.
With passage to the Hex almost entirely assured, Klinsmann now has a chance to cull together the core of a squad for the slog ahead. While it’s evident he wants to keep the majority of the Copa America Centenario group together as much as possible, injuries and suspensions have forced the German manager to re-calculate. While there are still positions of concern, including at left back and at the center of the park, the introduction of players like Sasha Kljestan and the slow bedding in of Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris could fundamentally change the way this team is viewed as well as the way it can potentially play. Suddenly, the squad goes from a bit thin, to budding with options in key positions all over the pitch. And today’s performance came without Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and John Brooks; four players who have been ever-present wearing the Stars and Stripes.
While there are still plenty of questions about this squad heading into far tougher challenges ahead, today’s performance showed what depth the US has and can continue to cultivate, which has to further excite supporters on the back of a fairly successful Copa America Centenario back in June. There is still work to do, and how Klinsmann will manage his now growing options remains to be seen, but he has three games before the Hex to make tough decisions, which he has shown he’s not afraid to make.
Suddenly, this US national team went from stale and scared to exciting and brimming with potential. And while no team will be as easy to carve open as St. Vincent was, Klinsmann has players at his disposal in order to change the way this team plays as well as add tactical diversity to a team that usually could only play one way.
As the Hex edges closer, the US has the chance to evolve, and for the better, which didn’t seem so possible as early as March.
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