The US begin play in the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying next Friday with a home match against Mexico at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus. The roster for that game and the one the following week away at Costa Rica will be revealed at halftime of Sunday’s MLS Cup playoff match between the Montreal Impact and the New York Red Bulls on ESPN.
This is not a time for experimentation. These are games against two of the top three best teams in CONCACAF, and they are games that the US need to get results from. This is not Guatemala or Trinidad and Tobago.
So you (hopefully) won’t see Caleb Stanko or Paul Arriola. Here’s who I think you will see:
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath
The core three. Howard and Guzan appear to still be on a rotational basis, while the third spot seems to be held by Horvath, who was the third-stringer at the Copa America over the summer.
These were fairly easy picks, but it’s anyone’s guess who starts against Mexico. If I had to predict what Jurgen Klinsmann will do, I’d have to say Howard, but it’s impossible to know.
Center backs: John Brooks, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Steve Birnbaum
Starting central defender Geoff Cameron appears to have been ruled out of these qualifiers. That leaves these four guys.
Brooks, a sure starter, is the obvious one. Matt Besler played well in September’s qualifiers, as did Gonzalez, and Birnbaum was called up for that camp as well. There other worthy contenders (Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Matt Miazga) but Klinsmann won’t call those guys in to such important games after leaving them out of competitive matches for so long.
Full backs: DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson, Michael Orozco
Yedlin and Johnson (who I still wish was allowed to play winger) are the clear starters. The third full back spot should go to somebody younger and better like center midfielder Kellyn Acosta, but I have a worrying feeling that Michael Orozco will get another call-up.
Defensive midfielders: Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, Perry Kitchen
The battle to be Bradley’s backup mainly comes down to three players: Kyle Beckerman, Perry Kitchen and Danny Williams. Beckerman is 34 and has 58 caps, so he has an outright advantage. Kitchen was called up to the Copa America squad and to the September qualifiers. Williams is the loser.
Center midfielders: Sacha Kljestan, Jermaine Jones
Kljestan should start against Mexico, no question about it. He’s the midfield creator this team needs, and he works well in the 4-1-3-2 they will probably play.
Jones should be healthy unless he reinjures himself playing for the Rapids, so he’s a surefire pick. Darlington Nagbe, unfortunately, will be on the Klinsmann exile list along with Benny Feilhaber after he declined an October call-up. I don’t think we’ll be seeing him.
Wingers: Christian Pulisic, Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi
Klinsmann goes safe with these picks. Pulisic is starting for Borussia Dortmund now and should also start against Mexico, while Bedoya seems to be a favorite of Klinsmann. You can’t go wrong with a little Zusi.
Forwards: Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo
Wood and Altidore are shoo-ins, but the other two aren’t as obvious.
I would consider Morris the direct replacement for the injured Gyasi Zardes, even if they aren’t the same type of player. Agudelo was on fire for the Revolution over the last couple months of the season and made a pretty convincing case for himself. I’m optimistic that he will get called in instead of Chris Wondolowski, but like Orozco, I have a worrying feeling that Klinsmann will make the wrong decision.