Usually when you talk about CONCACAF travel, you think hostile, urban environments with stifling heat and immense pressure from the home fans. Vincy Heat will have heat and a good home crowd (the nation has declared a half-day holiday for the game), but...well, just look at it.
This time around, the boys get a beach-side hotel and rainbows overlooking rain forests for practice sessions. The epitome of hostility these islands are not.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG for time’s sake from here on out) has a population of roughly 103,000 people, which means the pickings for a soccer team (which splits time with cricket as most popular sport) are relatively slim. This didn’t stop SVG from taking a shock lead against the U.S. in St. Louis before receiving a thorough trouncing to the tune of six unanswered goals. With Trinidad & Tobago squaring off with Guatemala in Trinidad, a win for the U.S. and a T&T victory guarantees both victors advancing to the Hex. Any other combination of results complicates things a bit more, but advancing on Friday is still firmly within reach.
L (0-1) - Colombia - Copa America
L (0-4) - Argentina - Copa America
W (2-1) - Ecuador - Copa America
W (1-0) - Paraguary - Copa America
W (4-0) - Costa Rica - Copa America
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
L (0-1) - St. Kitts and Nevis - Caribbean Cup
L (2-1) - Suriname - Caribbean Cup
L (6-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
L (2-3) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
L (0-4) - Guatemala - WCQ
What to Watch For:
Get the Result - This isn’t a complex gameplan. This is a team the United States should beat 10 out of 10 times, and a win is absolutely necessary if the U.S. is to maintain any semblance of control over their destiny (and with SVG traveling to Guatemala for the last matchday of this round of qualifying, a loss here and a Guatemala win against T&T would be catastrophic). Again, this should be an easy win for the U.S., but...Antigua & Barbuda.
Play Your Vets - With a result needed, expect Klinsmann to turn to his veterans as much as he can to start the game off. We might see some greener faces later on (and again against T&T should advancement be secured on Friday), but don’t be surprised when the Kyle Beckerman-types get the nod. Klinsmann will want people who have experience with the zaniness of CONCACAF in from the start, and while that might not be exciting, it’s also smart, common-sense coaching.
Midfield Shakedown - Michael Bradley is suspended, Jermaine Jones is hurt, and Clint Dempsey isn’t in the squad due to medical precautions. The middle of the field is a bit up in the air for Friday. Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, and Graham Zusi are the only people left that Klinsmann has called on with any regularity, while Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola, and Sacha Kljestan all offer different and intriguing skillsets to the midfield pool, but have yet to fully win Klinsmann’s trust. Any way you slice it, it looks like a pretty sure bet someone will be grabbing a somewhat-surprising start in the midfield.
Klinsmann preached consistency with the results and positive performances from the Copa America, so I think he’ll try to replicate them as much as possible.
With limited midfield options, I think Klinsmann tries out the lopsided 4-3-3/4-4-2 thing that worked against Ecuador so well. Bobby Wood provides defensive cover as he can on the wing, but also pinches into the middle to be a second forward as opposed to staying on the touchline. Altidore gets the nod up top, while Bedoya’s work rate gives him the nod to on the right. The midfield trio works because Nagbe is so attune to the needs of his team and his tactical adjustments can account for Wood switching into a forward on the break and in possession. Zusi is another Bedoya-like player with a high work rate that Klinsmann trusts, and with no other holding midfielder here besides Caleb Stanko, Beckerman will almost certainly be the one shielding the backline. Besler is the only change fromt the Copa America defense, filling in for John Brooks. It’s also possible Klinsmann decides to slot Geoff Cameron back into the defensive midfield position and give the Omar Gonzalez-Matt Besler tandem another go, but my guess is he keeps Cameron at the back where he’s been so good for the U.S. over the past year.