All of the experimenting and tinkering is over. We're finally ready to see if Jurgen Klinsmann's plan will be a successful one. After scheduling friendlies with some of the best nations in the world, with very mixed results, we're one tune-up friendly away from the start of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The United States take on Guatemala on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET, FS1, UniMas) in what will be Klinsmann's last chance to fine tune his lineup for showtime. It's been a year since the U.S. fell to Belgium in the round of 16 at the World Cup, the last competitive game for the team. The Americans come into the Gold Cup riding a wave of momentum after defeating Germany and the Netherlands in their own backyards in early June.
This regional competition to decide a champion of CONCACAF will be a huge measurement of how far the team has progressed under Klinsmann's tenure as national team manager. They enter the tournament as one of the three favorites alongside Costa Rica and Mexico.
A lot of questions surrounding lineup choices are still left unanswered with one game remaining before a major competition. The hectic European and MLS schedules clash all the time making it difficult for the USMNT to have a consistent roster for friendlies. This results in experimental rosters and patchwork lineups. Now that the "A team" is finally together we get to see Klinsmann's cards and what he's truly thinking.
Who will start at the back?
The biggest question mark surrounding the USMNT currently has to be the back line. It's hard to pinpoint one defender on the roster and say for certain that he will start in a particular position. Fabian Johnson is sure to start, but will it be in midfield or in defense? Who will play left back if he starts in midfield? Timmy Chandler or DeAndre Yedlin at right back? Who gets the nod as the center back pairing? So many questions with very little time to answer them. Ventura Alvarado, Omar Gonzalez, and John Brooks have to be the three favorites to win the two center back jobs. With Tim Ream and utility man Brad Evans having an outside chance. Alvarado and Gonzalez teamed up well to keep Mexico off the score sheet in April. Then against Germany and the Netherlands Alvarado was paired with Brooks. That partnership got off to a rocky start, but really solidified itself against the World Champions.
All eyes on Bradley
Will Bradley play as a number 10? Will he play a box-to-box role? Does it even matter? With Clint Dempsey back in the fold expect to see the 4-4-2 diamond formation return with Bradley acting as the primary playmaker. It's a role that he's been playing for Toronto FC behind Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore with excellent results lately. It may not be his preferred role, but the fact remains he's the most dynamic attacking midfielder the U.S. has. He just happens to be their best box-to-box midfielder as well. It shouldn't matter what role Bradley starts in as long as he's healthy. He's proven over the last two months that he can change any game he plays in from whatever position he's asked to play.
The rest of the midfield
With the attacking midfield spot filled and Kyle Beckerman presumably sitting in front of the back four that leaves two midfield spots left. You can expect Klinsmann to fill these spots depending on the opponent and type of game he thinks will be played. Alejandro Bedoya is a safe bet to start on one of the flanks. His consistent play for club and country over the last year has earned him a spot. If the U.S. wants a counter-attacking setup with pace you'll probably see Gyasi Zardes occupying the opposite wing. If they're aiming for a methodical build-up style it should be Mix Diskerud. Considering most CONCACAF teams will be playing not to lose against the USA and parking the bus, I'd expect the latter to start out with.
The old guard up top
Heading into the 2014 World Cup it was supposed to be Altidore and Dempsey leading the attack. Pre-tournament friendly success from the partnership had everyone expecting huge things in Brazil. Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the Ghana game and it all looked promising. When Altidore blew out his hamstring 20 minutes later the whole attacking gameplan got thrown out the window and was a mess for the rest of the tournament. We'll most likely see the pairing in the Gold Cup, and hopefully this time we get to see their full potential realized.
If we've learned anything from the USWNT's run to the Women's World Cup final it's that winning against lesser opponents isn't enough for the media or the fans. U.S. Soccer has reached a point where the federation and its fans expect to be among the world's best. While this is a more attainable goal for the women's team than the men's currently, the USMNT should still strive to meet these expectations. Their history as one of the best teams in CONCACAF is no secret. They'll be expected to win every game they play in, especially at home. Can Klinsmann finally get his side to play up to their own talent like in June or will they continue to play down to their competition like previous years? The game against Guatemala will go a long way in telling us if they've developed a killer instinct against less talented teams.
Here is the lineup I'd like to see start against Guatemala: