The United States men’s national team earned its first points of the Hexagonal round on Friday night, and did so in style with a dominant 6-0 win vs. Honduras in San Jose, California. The dramatic goal differential swing that resulted was enough to lift the U.S. from last to fourth place in the group with seven games remaining. If your hand was hovering over the panic button beforehand, you can safely pull it away now. Here’s what else we learned:
Write off Clint Dempsey again at your own peril
Remember Clint Dempsey? A few weeks ago, it seemed unlikely he’d even be included on the roster for the March qualifiers, and that wasn’t even controversial. Having only recently returned to competitive play following treatment for an irregular heartbeat, it seemed a reasonable enough approach to ease Dempsey back into the national team picture. Following a rash of injuries, suddenly Deuce was not only a candidate to start, he was very much needed.
All he did was respond with the second hat trick of his USMNT career. Calling it a vintage performance may not do it justice, because this was Clint Dempsey at his absolute best. Yet each of his three goals in its own way was uniquely classic Dempsey, punctuated with his breathtaking free kick in the 54 minute; a ball struck so perfectly he began to celebrate with the ball still in mid-flight.
Dempsey will be 35 years old when the 2018 World Cup commences in less than 15 months. That’s too old, according to conventional wisdom. The emerging young talent was supposed to push Clint Dempsey aside by now. Instead, he’s proven more indispensable than ever. You’d better believe Deuce is going to Russia. Go ahead, try and tell him he’s not.
Christian Pulisic told us he was ready to do this. He was right.
Thus far in Christian Pulisic’s young career, we’ve primarily observed his brilliance from a wide midfield position. His skill set however, has also long suggested that his future may lie more centrally, perhaps as the U.S.’s next number ten. On Friday against Honduras, the middle of the field was exactly where Bruce Arena placed him. Oh, and on the back of Pulisic’s jersey? 10.
The day before the game, Pulisic was asked about which role he preferred. Unsurprisingly, he expressed comfort in whatever role Bruce Arena had in mind for him. But Pulisic also made it known that if Arena was ready to turn over the playmaking keys, he was up to the task. Arena clearly saw enough to agree.
Pulisic was, of course, brilliant in the role. He scored another goal, added two more assists, and created dangerous opportunities all game long. From his ability to make defenders miss to delivering perfect through balls, he pulled all the right strings in the attacking half. He may just hang on to those keys for a long time to come.
Bruce Arena has a nice problem in June
So much went right for the U.S. that it’d normally be hard to imagine Bruce Arena wanting to change what worked. We probably won’t see much different on Tuesday in Panama, with the exception of a replacement for the injured Sebastian Lletget. But what about three months from now when World Cup Qualifying resumes, and several key players (hopefully) return from injury?
A healthy DeAndre Yedlin slots in at right back, that much is obvious.
And there’s got to be a place for Fabian Johnson, but the question of where still remains. Darlington Nagbe was quiet on the scoresheet Friday, but his 94% passing accuracy isn’t something to sneer at. Johnson’s best position might be on the left side of midfield, but does the strongest possible U.S. lineup require him at left back?
What about Bobby Wood, whose starting job seemed a foregone conclusion? Can Arena possibly justify sending either Dempsey or Jozy Altidore to the bench? Is there a sensible formation that works utilizing all three simultaneously?
Lletget’s outing was abbreviated, but impressed nonetheless. Does he get a chance to return to the XI? Alejandro Bedoya put in an excellent performance in relief and will stake his own claim. And where does Jermaine Jones fit into all this?
A lot could change in the next eleven weeks. Heck, a lot could change in the next 72 hours. But for now, it looks like Bruce Arena will have some difficult lineup choices to make when June rolls around, and that may not be a bad thing.