Shambles. That was the best way to describe the USMNT. Their two devastating losses by 2-1 and 4-0 started a rocky road for the Americans. It first started in Columbus where Mexico broke the “dos a cero” curse and prevailed with a flick header by 37 year old captain Rafa Marquez. Then the ever fateful trip down to Costa Rica occurred. The 4-0 defeat was one of the worst in USMNT world cup qualifying and ultimately spelled the end for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann after 5 years in charge.
Now, the Americans must look forward for a chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Recently hired head coach Bruce Arena has decisions to make for the upcoming qualifying games on March 24th home against Honduras and March 28th away against Panama. Both games will test the US team. This is the lineup that I predict Bruce will use for these vital games.
Predicted formation: 4-1-2-1-2
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard, Colorado Rapids – Howard was doubtful for these upcoming games, but I project he will start nonetheless. His recent start against NY Red Bulls showed he is better than ever after his injury layoff. During qualifying he has only allowed three goals in 4 games. His current club starting role will give him the edge over his backup Guzan who has been starting in Howard’s stead.
Defense: Left Back-Matt Besler, Sporting KC – While usually a central defender, Besler has played this position before. Last year in the MLS, he averaged 3.1 interceptions a game and has the experience to play in a high pressure games.
Center Back-John Brooks, Hertha Berlin – John Brooks has been the best US centerback for the team in the past 2 years. His two appearances in September were horrendous, but he has recovered his form in Germany making 22 appearances for Berlin. His proven record in the USMNT will convince Arena to choose him.
Center Back-Geoff Cameron, Stoke City – Cameron is another player who had a long term injury and was in doubt for this game. He has made 11 appearances for Stoke and has averaged 2.6 tackles per game. He has a good partnership with Brooks and, if healthy, will play.
Right Back-Deandre Yedlin, Newcastle United – Yedlin has had some time out of the national team after losing favor from Jurgen Klinsmann. Yedlin has since helped propel his team to the top of the table and has earned a Man of the Match for his performance against Derby County. If he can recover from a calf injury he will play.
Midfield: Center Defensive Midfielder-Michael Bradley, Toronto FC – Bradley has been the US captain for the past 11 years for the national team. He has had a central role for the national team for a while and is the anchor of the team. He averaged 3.5 tackles for his club team last season and excels in front of the back four.
Left Mid-Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach – Johnson has been far and away one of the best national team players at his club team. He has starred playing for Monchengladbach and has scored 4 goals and 2 assists this year with the team. He will undoubtedly be a part of the starting 11, but it could be at either left mid or left back.
Right Mid-Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund – Pulisic is the future star player the USMNT. Not only that, but he has been one of the best players in 2016. He scored 2 goals and 2 assists in the recent qualifying campaign. His form at Dortmund has also been blazing with 4 goals and 7 assists so far this season. He is a lock as a starter, but it remains to be seen where Arena will play him.
Central Attacking Mid-Sacha Kljestan, New York Red Bulls – Kljestan has been on the outskirts of the National Team for the past few years, but broke through in 2016. His creativity is needed for the team to create chances, especially because Jermaine Jones will be suspended for the game. So far in qualifying he has had 1 goal and 2 assists and should figure to start.
Left Striker-Bobby Wood, Hamburg – Wood is one of the other 3 Americans excelling in the Bundesliga. He has been productive scoring 9 goals for Hamburg this season. In qualifying he has scored 3 goals and 1 assist. Wood has been fantastic for the national team and club and deserves to start.
Right Striker-Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC – Altidore’s spot is the one with the most uncertainty. If Clint Dempsey can return to full fitness before the qualifying games he would most certainly start up front especially because of Altidore’s injury history. Altidore still makes a strong case, however, as he has scored 6 goals and 2 assists in qualifying. I do not think Dempsey will be back, which is why I believe Altidore will start.
These next two upcoming hex games for the USMNT are crucial if they still hope to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. Bruce Arena has been scouting his national pool for the past months to determine who will play against Honduras and Panama. 2016 and 2017 have been eventful years for the national team, and they will hope to add a bright spot in these two qualifiers.
Sports Analytics and Business, Indiana University
Fixture courtesy of ESPN, stats courtesy of Whoscored.com and foxsports.com, image courtesy of ESPN