Questions Facing the USMNT Ahead of Guatemala

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by DENY GALLAGHER

The United States Men’s National Team is back in action for a pair of important World Cup Qualifiers against Guatemala. Despite a relatively strong side called into camp for the home-and-home series, there are still many questions facing Jurgen Klinsmann and company.

The Always Polarizing Fabian Johnson

The first of these questions is the status of midfielder Fabian Johnson. By now, the player’s right thigh injury has been well documented. Up until this weekend’s roster reveal, many fans had all but written off the Borussia man’s involvement in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.

A surprise inclusion in the 26-man roster added another level to the recent tense relationship between Klinsmann and the Borussia Mönchengladbach organization. If you recall after the CONCACAF Cup Final, the side disputed the United States’ manager’s claim that the player had picked up a knock against Mexico. It is important to note that the midfielder did train on a limited basis on Monday. However, Johnson is currently listed a day-to-day according to ESPN FC.

Once the player is cleared to return to full action, the question will then to turn to whether Klinsmann will play Johnson in the midfield or on the back line.

Regardless of opinions on the subject, one thing is for certain: Johnson is far from being removed from the headlines and will continue being a major player going into this World Cup cycle.

Brad, Timmy, or … ?

Remember when Jurgen Klinsmann had the choice of putting one of two starting Premier League keepers between the sticks?

This year is a much different story, as Brad Guzan is in the middle of a season to forget at Aston Villa and Tim Howard is in his final stand at Everton before heading to Colorado this summer.

So what should Klinsmann do? If the manager stays true to his past rhetoric, then he will sit both of them and play a guy like William Yarbrough who is in good form at Leon. The likelihood of Klinsmann sitting that kind of experience in a notoriously tough play like Guatemala City is not very high.

At this point, the time has come to think of life after Tim Howard. With a deep pool of goalkeeper talent at the senior and U-23 level, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give a few of these guys a shot at some point this calendar year. Finding Howard’s successor is crucial so that the team avoids a similar situation at keeper, as it has had in midfield since Landon Donovan retired.

For now, expect the Secretary of Defense to take up his post when the Stars and Stripes take the field on Friday night.

Back to the Future?

With the United States roster in a state of flux after a disappointing 2015, it is safe to assume that very few players in the camp have secured a spot in the Starting XI. These players are Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, and Geoff Cameron. Beyond that group, it is anybody’s guess who will start.

To that note, one of the more interesting roster developments from Sunday was the listing of DeAndre Yedlin as a defender. For a better part of the last year and a half, the former Sounders man was consistently slotted into the midfield. While roster listings in this context are completely arbitrary, it remains unclear if he will see time on the back line. A return to defense with the Stars and Stripes, will give the U.S. an attacking presence from the back not seen consistently since Steve Cherundalo retired.

As mentioned in the Tim Howard debate, Klinsmann finds himself in a tough position choosing between the future and experience. Ideally, a guy like Clint Dempsey should play the attacking midfielder role in the potential absence of Fabian Johnson. This would allow for the Americans to experiment with a partnership of Altidore and Bobby Wood up top. With Dempsey right behind the front line, Bradley can drop back into a holding midfielder position.

A lot has been made during the Klinsmann era about the need to play a more attractive style of soccer. As the German’s second cycle gets going, the emphasis should be on finding a way to be dominant in the region and internationally. The previously mentioned midfield lineup allows for the U.S. to play a more counter attacking style, which the side has fallen into by default since the 2014 World Cup.

The United States’ problems won’t fix themselves, but going back to what has worked over the years is not a bad first step.