Seems like just yesterday the United States Men's National Team were bowing out of the World Cup to Belgium in Extra Time of the Round of 16. In reality it was a year and a half ago and we've already arrived at another cycle of World Cup qualifying. Sixteen matches stand between the U.S. and a trip to Russia for the 2018 World Cup. It'll be a long ride with many bumps a long the way.
The journey begins with a home fixture in St. Louis against St. Vincent & The Grenadines, a small island nation near Barbados. The tiny country boasts a population of just under 110,000 people and will be the massive underdogs of Group 3 of the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Nothing is ever easy in CONCACAF and especially attempting to qualify for the World Cup, but this should be the most favorable match-up for the U.S. throughout this process. St. Vincent & The Grenadines are ranked 129th in the world by FIFA out of a possible 207 teams. Needless to say, the U.S. should have the upper hand when they host them at Busch Stadium on Friday. Here are some key things you should be watching for from this new-look U.S. team:
Show us what you got
It's the end of a very long year for many of the players in the United States player pool. With a new qualifying cycle approaching, Jurgen Klinsmann used this opportunity to rest some his more familiar players and give several new faces a chance. Two newcomers to the squad who have never been capped before are Matt Miazga and Darlington Nagbe. This should be the best chance for both players to get their first minutes and make their first impressions on Klinsmann and the supporters.
Miazga has had a phenomenal season with the New York Red Bulls playing a big part in their Supporters' Shield-winning campaign at centerback. He's a massive individual who won't lose many physical battles, but also possesses some finesse to him. For such a physical presence, he's also very useful in distributing the ball from the back. It's a good bet we'll see him in this match if only to cap-tie him to the United States and avoid any late desperate attempts by Poland, who he's also eligible to play for, to steal him for themselves.
Darlington Nagbe's path to the USMNT has been much more drawn out and complicated. The Liberia-born midfielder has patiently waited the last three years for the bureaucratic process to be completed and for him to gain his U.S. Citizenship. As soon as he was declared eligible by FIFA, Klinsmann gave him the call he's been waiting so long for.
The Portland Timbers man has been in fine form of late and will surely be itching to translate that to the international level during his first taste of USMNT action. The most intriguing thing about Nagbe is, what position he'll end up playing under Klinsmann. He was recently moved to a central box-to-box role by Caleb Porter and it's worked wonders, but that position is one of the few spots the USMNT are fine at. He's a very versatile attacker who can play either wing position or even at the #10 spot. Keep a close eye on what role Klinsmann decides to use him in.
As usual, there's been a lot of debate about Jozy Altidore and his role with the National Team. His inconsistent form is maddening, but until another striker steps up and claims the spot for themselves it's still his job. There's no better time than this match for one of the younger forwards in camp to do just that. The name on the tip of everyone's tongue lately is Bobby Wood. The Union Berlin striker has scored three goals for the USMNT this year, against the Netherlands, Germany, and Mexico of all teams. A quite impressive hit list for the fledgling forward. Will this finally be his big chance to grab the starting striker spot? Pay close attention to him if he gets on the field and see if he can become the guy to finally knock Jozy off his perch.
Then there's Jordan Morris. He's had an equally impressive 2015 as Wood, scoring against Mexico earlier in the year and starring for the U.S. U-23 team. He's an extremely talented player, but continuously gets held back at the international level because he plays his "club" soccer for Stanford. This is one more opportunity for him to get minutes and prove that it doesn't matter that he's still in College and that he deserves to be in the conversation for that striker spot.
Feeling out Fab
The last time we saw Fabian Johnson with the USMNT he was getting sent home from the team by Klinsmann for allegedly exaggerating an injury and asking to be substituted in the CONCACAF Cup again Mexico. Thankfully, after a brief spat in the media between the U.S. boss and the Borussia Monchenglach manager, Fabian was recalled with much of a hassle. The incident appears to be a thing of the past, but it's worth paying attention to the player's attitude on the field in these games to see if the Jurgen's words have had any impact whatsoever. Johnson is one of the most important players for the National Team and will be relied upon heavily throughout this whole cycle. Having him happy and confident is of utmost importance.
Opposing player to watch
Tevin Slater - Forward - Camdonia FC
I watched hours and hours of St. Vinny game tape to come up with this name for you to keep an eye on.
Okay, I just searched them on Wikipedia and his name is really awesome. I wish his first name was A.C. though. Look out for him, I guess.
Here's the lineup we'd like to see against St. Vincent & The Grenadines: