With qualification to the final Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on the line in a potentially tricky location, Jurgen Klinsmann naturally named a veteran heavy starting XI for the United States’ game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The team sheet may have been dominated by veterans, but it was the youngsters who led the way for the USMNT.
The match could have been tricky for the United States as they played on a hot afternoon in St. Vincent with temperatures in the high 80s and high humidity. Furthermore, the USMNT was without much of the spine of their team as they were missing top striker Clint Dempsey, top center back John Brooks, as well as both first choice midfielders in Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.
23-year-old Bobby Wood opened the scoring for the USMNT and 17-year-old Christian Pulisic added two goals and an assist as the U.S. routed St. Vincent and the Grenadines 6-0 to all but secure qualification to the final Hexagonal round of qualifying. Bobby Wood also won a penalty that was converted by Jozy Altidore just before halftime. It was Altidore’s third goal in 16 away World Cup qualifying appearances.
Defender Matt Besler scored his first ever international goal when he took advantage of a St. Vincent clearance gone wrong. Earlier in the day, Besler’s wife gave birth to a baby girl, the couple’s first child.
Sacha Kljestan, who was a late addition to the USMNT as a replacement for the injured John Brooks, came off the bench and added the fifth goal. He also assisted on both of Pulisic’s goals.
Klinsmann raised some eyebrows before the match when he named 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta as the starting left back. Acosta, who is left-footed, plays as a holding midfielder for his club team FC Dallas, but grew up playing left back and played there for the U.S. youth teams.
Starting Acosta at left back allowed the U.S. to move Fabian Johnson, the team’s best outfield player, to his preferred position on the left wing, the same position he plays for Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga and Champions League. The move paid off right away as less than two minutes in Johnson played a beautiful ball to get Bobby Wood in behind the St. Vincent defense, but his weak left footed shot was immediately smothered.
Johnson wasn’t done though. He moved around to both the left and right flanks, making his presence known constantly with daring runs and constant involvement on the ball. The difference between Johnson on the wing and Johnson at left back was evident as he has a tendency to get disinterested and drift out of the game when he starts at fullback.
Granted it wasn’t against the toughest opponent, but Kellyn Acosta more than held his own at left back. He’s certainly earned himself the chance to be tested against toughest competition. Acosta making the left back position his own would be a major asset for the United States, as it would allow Johnson to push up to the wing full time, giving the U.S. a plethora of attacking options.
The U.S. will now take on Trinidad and Tobago in Jacksonville on Tuesday in a match that will decide who finishes in the top spot in their semifinal group. The team that finishes with the top spot will open the Hexagonal round at home against Mexico in November.
Ultimately, whether you finish as the group winner or runner-up doesn’t matter too much. Everyone has to play the every team at home and away.
While fans should expect Klinsmann to make changes in the next round they shouldn’t expect wholesale changes. DeAndre Yedlin will miss the game for yellow card accumulation and will likely fly back to his new club, Newcastle United, instead of taking in the new match. Besler is also expected to fly home to be with his family after the birth of his daughter.
Michael Bradley and Micheael Orozco, both suspended, will likely be in the starting XI. Expect Kellyn Acosta to keep his starting spot, as will Jozy Altidore, which will be to the dismay of fans who want to see a Jordan Morris/Bobby Wood partnership.
After his performance against St. Vincent it would certainly be harsh for Klinsmann to not hand Pulisic his first international start Tuesday night. Pulisic’s previous seven appearances for the U.S. have all come off the bench.
As always, MLS fans will be clamoring for Darlington Nagbe to be given a start, but it’s more likely Klinsmann will reward Kljestan’s strong play off the bench with a start next to Bradley. Klinsmann has already announced that Tim Howard will start in goal.
Individually nearly everyone contributed in a positive way in this game. St. Vincent isn’t the toughest of opponents, but the good news is the U.S. took care of business, something they haven’t always done so easily in similar situations.
This display showed the U.S. is continuing their good form that they started at this summer’s Copa America. That’s something that all fans can get excited about.