USMNT 4, Trinidad and Tobago 0: Three things as U.S. advances in 2018 World Cup Qualifying
The United States men’s national team moved one step closer to Russia in 2018 with a convincing 4-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night.
The Americans finished first in their group and go into CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifying, the Hexagonal, with a match-up against rival Mexico looming in November. The group also goes into the Hex with plenty of confidence. This summer’s semifinal appearance in the Copa America Centenario was followed by two dominant World Cup qualifying wins.
What comes next is the most important round of all. Here’s a look at Three Things from Tuesday’s win.
The U.S. depth is as good as ever
It’s crazy to think about the consternation around this U.S. team just a few months ago when Jurgen Klinsmann was under pressure after a poor start to the Copa America Centenario.
Right now, it looks like the U.S. has a large group of players in peak form – maybe two years too soon – but most importantly they have competition at nearly every spot in the roster. There are some really tough decisions to make for Klinsmann if this pool is fully healthy and everyone is available.
Assuming the U.S. stays in a 4-4-2 lineup, here’s a look at the depth chart right now:
- GK: Tim Howard/Brad Guzan/Ethan Horvath/Bill Hamid
- RB: DeAndre Yedlin
- CB: Geoff Cameron/Steve Birnbaum
- CB: John Brooks/Matt Besler/Omar Gonzalez
- LB: Fabian Johnson/Kellyn Acosta
- RM: Alejandro Bedoya/Graham Zusi/Gyasi Zardes
- DM: Michael Bradley/Jermaine Jones/Kyle Beckerman/Wil Trapp
- AM: Sacha Kljestan/Darlington Nagbe
- LM: Christian Pulisic/F. Johnson
- F: Jozy Altidore/Zardes/Jordan Morris
- F: Bobby Wood/Clint Dempsey
The biggest question marks right now? The young starting goalkeepers behind two veterans, depth at right back behind Yedlin, and depth at left back or left wing. Otherwise, you’ve got some really good players to choose from at nearly every spot.
The battle at center back has some really good options, both experienced and not as much – and we’re not even considering some of the very young options. The midfield is as stacked as it has ever been centrally, even as the U.S. looks for the right depth options behind Michael Bradley. Can Wil Trapp or Caleb Stanko grab a hold of that role and knock Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman out of the squad?
On the wings, Klinsmann has options. Bedoya is a two-way midfielder who can play centrally as well. Zardes adds pace if you want to fit him into the lineup with Altidore and Wood up top. On the left, Pulisic seems to have grabbed hold of a starting job, though they could use more depth in that spot if Fabian Johnson is going to remain at left back.
The two forwards who could be coming off the bench, Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris, are starting quality players.
This is a good headache for any coach.
Kljestan proves he belongs
It has been written about here and other places.
Sacha Kljestan’s form in MLS has been worthy of a U.S. national team call-up. It was hard to figure a reason why he had not been called in, especially considering the U.S. was looking for an attacking midfielder who could consistently find that final pass.
In two qualifiers with the U.S. this week, Kljestan proved he could be that man. Kljestan scored two goals and had a pair of assists and was involved in nearly everything the U.S. did in the final third. If this camp was about proving he belonged, Kljestan delivered the perfect argument. It’s impossible to have seen his impact on the team and not call him back in for the Hex in November.
Kljestan linked up well with the forward pairing of Altidore and Wood. He combined with Pulisic often, showing a keen feel for the type of movement between midfielders that causes havoc for opposing teams to defend. He overlapped at times, checked back for the ball when the team needed someone to have possession deeper in the field and was dangerous in space running at a back line – his strength with the New York Red Bulls this season.
Expect Kljestan to be back in the mix for a while.
Pulisic plays unlike anyone in U.S. pool
Here’s what stands out about the 17-year-old winger: He has a swagger we haven’t seen in some time.
Pulisic gets on the ball and he wants to go after people. He looks for the stepovers and the megs, he tries to beat a defender and find the most dangerous pass or shot every time. The simple, safe pass backwards is a last option.
Is there a comparison? Sure. It is reminiscent of a young Landon Donovan, and that’s not an unfair comparison. When Donovan broke into the team and onto the scene in the 2002 World Cup, he did so without fear. He had that brashness and that cockiness on the field that was so necessary. And it made an immediate impression on the team. Pulisic plays the same way. He lacks any fear. He believes he can beat you every time.
Klinsmann talked this week about making sure Pulisic was ready before giving him the starting job. He brought the teenager along slowly, and there is a reason for that. But Pulisic has made an impact every time he enters a game as a sub, and on Tuesday night he showed he can have that same impact over 90 minutes for the U.S. team.
Trinidad isn’t Mexico, but it was a step up from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And Pulisic was arguably the best player on the field on Tuesday night. If Kljestan proved he belonged he should be in the team, Pulisic showed he is a starter, and the most exciting player to come around in some time.
Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTenorio.