By IVES GALARCEP
In 11 days Jurgen Klinsmann will settle on 11 players to help deliver the U.S. Men’s National Team its first points of the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. It will take much more than three points to qualify, but the three points on the line in Colorado next week are as important as any the U.S. has played for in four years.
With a trip to Estadio Azteca looming on March 26th, the U.S. team knows that anything short of a victory against Costa Rica on March 22nd would put the Americans in serious trouble, and staring at the possibility of zero or one point from the first three matches in the HEX.
The recent rash of injuries will make the task of beating Costa Rica more daunting, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s encouraging news about some of the players who had been injured recently suddenly has U.S. fans feeling better about their prospects.
With Brad Guzan set to replace Tim Howard, and with Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson expected back in time for the match, the U.S. team should still be strong enough to take three to four points from the upcoming matches.
Just what will the starting lineup look like? Here is one projection of the lineup we could see take on Costa Rica on March 22nd.:
PROJECTED USMNT LINEUP vs. COSTA RICA
You will notice that Danny Williams is missing, and there is no Maurice Edu to replace him. If Klinsmann decides to put a defensive midfielder behind Jones and Bradley, then we think Edu gets the call, but with the attack needing to generate more punch, I can see Klinsmann going away from his central midfield preference and going with Jones and Bradley together centrally. I can certainly see him returning to an Edu-Jones-Bradley triangle for the Mexico qualifier, but facing a Costa Rica side with a beatable defense, you have to think Klinsmann will to an attack-minded unit.
The same back four that started vs. Honduras starts again, and they should fare much better this time around. Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler struggled with the sultry heat in Honduras, but should find it much easier going in what could be chilly conditions in Colorado. They won’t exactly have a pushover in Costa Rica. The ‘Ticos’ boast some dangerous wing options, but with Chandler on good form lately in Germany, and Johnson being a very good defender when on his game, the U.S. defense could neutralize Costa Rica’s flank threat.
Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez make too much sense at this point given Carlos Bocanegra’s worsening situation at Racing Santander (he hasn’t played in quite some time). They will face a tough tandem in Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz, but it should help them both to be familiar with Saborio’s game.
Brek Shea gets the nod here, though Graham Zusi was considered. Shea isn’t getting 90 minutes for Stoke yet, but he is getting some minutes and his speed and left foot making him the perfect fit on the left. However, if fitness is a concern for Klinsmann, and if Shea doesn’t look capable of coping with the altitude as a starter, then Zusi can definitely get the nod.
Jozy Altidore gets the start up top, and while this formation looks like a 4-2-3-1 here, it can definitely play like a 4-3-3 with Shea and Gomez pressing forward. Whether Shea or Zusi, Altidore will need some service from the left flank to help stretch the Costa Rica defense.
Might Klinsmann actually not start Altidore? In theory he could go with a Shea-Dempsey-Gomez trio in front of an Edu-Jones-Bradley central combination, but it is just very difficult to envision Altidore being left on the bench considering the form he’s enjoying (and yes, I know, Klinsmann has done it before, but still).
What do you think of this projected starting lineup? What changes would you make to it? Think this squad can beat Costa Rica?
Share your thoughts below.