Guys, I’m really excited to see the US Men’s National Team, in person, for the very first time in my life.
My first ever international soccer match was during the 1994 World Cup, when Cameroon played Sweden at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. I was 17. I got to witness a World Cup Qualifier in 1997 when Israel played Russia in Tel Aviv, which was pretty cool, even if Israel was then ( and still is now?) destined in the end to miss the World Cup .
But rooting for your national team, on home soil, in your own city, at your club team’s stadium? And in a critical, nearly must-win game? That’s a bucket-list football experience right there. I lack my typical eloquence and overly-loquacious pouring forth that you all enjoy (endure?) when I write Backpass.
Me —-> Excited. That’s it.
This game is truly must-win for the USMNT. Until he was dispatched by Sunil Gulati, Jurgen Klinsmann had made a hash of qualifying. The team lost to Mexico 2-1 in previously impregnable Columbus, and then, inexplicably, got blown out in Costa Rica, 4-0. The midfield looked awful. John Brooks was a disaster. The formation and game plan seemed absent. And then, Jurgen was fired.
Bruce Arena has begun a turnaround.
Under him, the team picked up four points in two games - a 6-0 shellacking of Honduras in San Jose, and a droll 1-1 draw away to Panama. That leaves the US in fourth out of the six teams in the Hexagonal.
The team isn’t tinkering with formations or old players in new positions anymore. Michael Bradley? He’s a defensive midfielder, like he should be. Fabian Johnson? He’s a winger in Germany, so he’s a winger for Bruce - not a left back. No more experiments with Jermaine Jones at CB in a 5-3-2. Christian Pulisic is your best player? Great. He’s the 10. Period. And Bruce isn’t evasive or vague like Jurgen was - he tells us fans whats what. He’s about preparation and a tactical plan; it’s not about fitness and heart anymore.
If you’re a Rapids fan, this may feel a little bit weird. But it should feel good - Bruce has a plan, and he’ll do this, along with the 11 guys out on that field.
Who’s gonna be the 11 guys on the field?
Right. Here’s my predicted lineup. We’ll find out officially in about four hours, so if you’re reading this after the announcement, feel free to mock my selections down in the comments:
Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Chandler, Yedlin; Bradley, Nagbe, Johnson, Pulisic; Dempsey, Altidore.
Howard’s a given, as are Chandler, Yedlin, Bradley, and Pulisic - nobody else is even close.
Could someone else stand in for Yedlin or Villafana? Sure. Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron have both been played at fullback. Under Jurgen. I don’t see that happening today.
Bruce could also go with a better central midfield box-to-box type in Alejandro Bedoya over Fabian Johnson, because it allows the midfield to be a little more defensive and compact. But Fabian Johnson can bring a lot to the table offensively that I haven’t seen from Bedoya in any context.
We could also potentially see a flat 4-4-2 instead of the expected 4-4-2 Diamond, with the central midfielders being Pulisic and Kellyn Acosta. Many fans have been clamoring for the US to let go of Michael Bradley. I agree, but not now. We want experience and calm on the ball tonight. I’ve seen Kellyn Acosta do amazing things, but starting him and Pulisic alongside each other tonight would be a gamble of epic proportions . Like taking your mortgage to Vegas for the weekend. Michael Bradley is more like investing in a Treasury Bond - it ain’t sexy, but it will get the job done.
Lastly, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris are also starting options, as is the USA playing a careful 4-2-3-1 with only one striker up top, which would presumably be Jozy Altidore.
That’d be fine if we were looking to draw.
We cannot draw.
We must win.
There will be two strikers on the field, and they will be Jozy and Deuce, with both dropping alternatively into midfield to create and confound and allow Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic to do the things they do so well.
I predict a 3-1 US win, with T&T’s Joevin Jones either scoring or assisting on some blistering Trinidad & Tobago counter.
See you tonight in Commerce City! USA! USA! USA! USA!