With the completion of the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying it’s time for the next edition of the USMNT player stock report. Each time the USMNT breaks camp, Pauly Kwestel will review the games and tell us which players national stocks are trending up and who’s trending down as the US now turns it’s focus to upcoming Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying and a date with Mexico.
There’s no denying the star of these past two games was the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder. Pulisic scored two goals and added an assist against St. Vincent and the Grenadines last Friday. He was rewarded with his first start when the U.S. returned home to face Trinidad & Tobago where he was the best U.S. player on the field over the whole 90 minutes. Pulisic is certainly making a case to become a permanent fixture in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting XI going forward.
The surprise late addition to camp Kljestan was given an opportunity and he jumped all over it. Kljestan parlayed Friday’s one-goal, two-assist appearance as a substitute into a starting spot alongside Michael Bradley against Trinidad & Tobago. He wasn’t done impressing as he looked like the better central midfielder against the Soca Warriors and scored the opening goal. Kljestan hadn’t made an appearance with the USMNT since March of 2014 but now looks like a sure lock to be with the team when they open the Hex in November.
There’s no more important position for Klinsmann to find a full-time starter than at left back. Acosta was given the chance against the Vincy Heat on Friday and shined. Despite playing as a holding midfielder for club side FC Dallas, Acosta looked right in his element making overlapping runs. He didn’t start the Trinidad & Tobago match, likely because Klinsmann wanted Fabian Johnson to provide cover on the left side for Christian Pulisic who was making his first start. Finding someone to play left back is imperative for the United States as it would allow Fabian Johnson to play up the field in a far more effective wing position. Playing him at left back is simply a waste of his talents. Acosta put a good foot forward this time around, and I’d expect him to get more chances when the team plays their pre-Hex friendlies next month.
The 21 year old replaced Alejandro Bedoya in the second half against Trinidad & Tobago and immediately made the right side of the field dangerous for the U.S. Arriola showed his predatory instincts to get on the end of a Christian Pulisic rebound to fire in his first career World Cup qualifying goal. Arriola represented himself really well and certainly has a bright future with the national team.
Stanko was unheard of by most U.S. fans up until two weeks ago when he received his first call up. He played the final 20 minutes against the Soca Warriors and showed himself well in his passing and ability to read the game. With the U.S. looking for a long-term replacement to Kyle Beckerman as their no. 6, Stanko certainly put in a solid audition. He’ll compete with Perry Kitchen for a roster spot in November.
Altidore’s contributions from a soccer perspective were pretty minimal over the two games. His passing was poor, his link-up play with Bobby Wood was also pretty terrible. But Altidore scored three goals over the two games and that’s what Klinsmann wants to see. He’s got a long-term future with the national team whether fans like it or not.
After naming Brad Guzan as his No. 1 for the Copa America, Klinsmann continued his policy of rotating his goalkeepers for the World Cup qualifiers. For the first time in this cycle Howard started the home match, though it could be argued that it was the more difficult of the two matches. Klinsmann may simply be keeping the rotation going as he bides his time to declare a No. 1 goalkeeper, since it’s expected Guzan won’t be the first choice goalkeeper at his club, while Howard is the No. 1 for the Colorado Rapids.
Bedoya represented himself well in the middle of the park against St. Vincent and the Grenadines but was terrible (even by his own admission) against Trinidad & Tobago. The right side of the field was a ghost town for U.S. attacks while Bedoya was on the field. He’s a Klinsmann favorite so his position on the team isn’t under immediate threat. He still does the little things that are valuable to the U.S. but only in certain matches where they need to play more defensive. In any home match, the U.S. has promising wingers that can and should be selected over Bedoya. Bedoya is hoping that T&T was just an off night, but due to his recent move from France to the MLS, he’s going to be judged a bit harsher, whether that’s fair or not.
It’s harsh to lose your starting place due to injury but that’s the way international soccer works. Zardes will be out for the rest of 2016, which will give someone a good chance to make the right wing spot theirs. Unless Zardes’ touch improves, it’s hard to see him winning that spot back regardless of how hard he works on defense. Of course, Klinsmann loves him so there’s always a chance but with players like Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola, and even Ale Bedoya available to play on the wing, if Zardes is simply handed his spot back it would be completely fair to ask why.
While it may sound a bit extreme, there’s a good chance that Nagbe has wasted his chance to become a permanent fixture with the national team. Nagbe has made 10 career appearances with the USMNT but hasn’t really made an impression in any of them. For the past two games he was an unused sub who watched Sacha Kljestan grab his latest opportunity. With Jermaine Jones set to return from his injury in the next few weeks, it’s hard to see Nagbe making the team in November over Kljestan.