On the face of it, the United States men’s soccer team’s path to the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying now looks a serene one. A win against regional minnow St Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday coupled with an expected victory for Trinidad and Tobago at home to Guatemala would take Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad into the Hexagonal with a game to spare. However, the U.S. has experienced enough in both this and previous World Cup qualifying cycles to know not to take anything for granted.
Indeed, at this same stage four years ago the U.S. was in a tight spot before edging through to the Hex on the final day. And in March this year, the U.S. suffered a shock 2-0 defeat in Guatemala that left the team with no further margin for error. Because of that loss there could yet be some nervy moments ahead.
Were Trinidad and Tobago to fail to beat Guatemala then the destiny of which two teams make it to the Hexagonal would go to the final day. And a match against the Soca Warriors, even at home, on Tuesday would be far from straightforward.
All of that is assuming the U.S. gets the straightforward win that is anticipated against Vincy Heat in Kingstown. When the teams met in St. Louis in the first round of fixtures last November, Klinsmann experienced perhaps his most uncomfortable moment yet in charge of the United States. At the end of a year to forget, in which the U.S. had suffered an early loss at the Gold Cup and defeat to Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff, Klinsmann’s side stunningly fell a goal behind inside the first five minutes to a side ranked 129th in the world.
The U.S. recovered to run out 6-1 winners, but Klinsmann will be eager to avoid such early drama this time around. Klinsmann signaled that he wasn’t taking a place in the Hexagonal as a given by making clear his desire to stick with the experienced core of players who guided the team to the semifinals of this summer’s Copa America Centenario.
However, his plans have taken a significant dent. Captain Michael Bradley is out of the match on Friday through suspension, former captain Clint Dempsey is sidelined with concerns over an irregular heartbeat, while fellow regular starters Gyasi Zardes and John Brooks miss out through injury. Veteran Jermaine Jones is in the squad but hasn’t played in close to two months because of a knee problem.
There is, though, cause for encouragement about the United States’ prospects in attack. Bobby Wood scored on his Bundesliga debut for Hamburg last week and could now form a front two with Jozy Altidore, who was forced to miss the Copa America through injury. Altidore has scored five goals in his last seven outings for Toronto FC and is also joined in the squad by Seattle Sounders’ striker Jordan Morris and San Jose Earthquakes veteran Chris Wondolowski.
“Jozy Altidore is back scoring. Jordan Morris is doing really well. Then we’ve had the European-based players Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin starting their season right now,” Klinsmann said ahead of the game, according to USSoccer.com. “It looks good. Chris Wondolowski is scoring as well. We know our strikers are hungry for goals, and hopefully they can start with that right away in St. Vincent.”
“Bobby made big, big strides, there’s no doubt about it. That jump from Union Berlin to a big club like Hamburg is huge. The way he opened up things in his first game with a beautiful goal is a strong signal from him. He says, ‘I’m ready to take over more responsibility here and have a bigger load on my shoulders.’ That’s what he was hoping for, and he seems to respond well.”
USA Roster for Games Against St. Vincent and The Grenadines And Trinidad and Tobago
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde, Norway), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach, Germany), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana, Mexico), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United, England)
Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls) Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz, Switzerland), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht, Netherlands), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV, Germany)
Prediction: This is a match that the United States should win with something to spare. Yet in taking the lead in St. Louis and giving Trinidad and Tobago a real scare in a narrow 3-2 defeat at home in March, St. Vincent and the Grenadines showed they are certainly capable of causing a few problems. Still, expect the U.S. firepower to ensure a high-scoring win.
Predicted Score: St. Vincent and the Grenadines 0-5 USA