The Runner Sports

USMNT Face Program Altering Weekend

We all know how the last calendar year went for the United States Men’s National Team.  They began with impressive friendly performances in Europe that included wins against both Germany and the Netherlands with a home friendly victory against Mexico thrown in.  Hopes were riding high that the team could carry on their round of sixteen form from the previous summer’s World Cup with a successful Gold Cup.

Well, then it all unravelled in spectacular fashion.  Not only did the USMNT lose in the semi-finals of the Gold Cup against Mexico, but they also suffered a penalty shootout loss in the third-place game that was absolutely horrible to watch.

The opportunity to wrap up qualification for the upcoming Confederations Cup, the run through to the World Cup, gone with failure to hoist the Gold Cup trophy, the USMNT was forced to play a one-off newly minted “CONCACAF Cup” match against Mexico.  The winner would get the privilege of participating in the Confederations Cup, one of the more entertaining tournaments on a big stage.  You might remember the USMNT defeating Spain and very nearly Brazil in the 2009 edition before the South African World Cup.

Of course, the USMNT lost in the CONCACAF Cup with controversy swirling around Fabian Johnson “faking” an injury.

To make matters worse, the U-23 squad failed to qualify for the summer Olympics outright after losing to Honduras in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF qualifying.  Now this under twenty-three squad needs to win a two-legged series against what should be a difficult Columbia side.

I won’t go into the argument that under twenty-three success doesn’t necessarily lead to full squad success, just look at Nigeria and Cameroon’s late 90s/early 2000s gold medal winning sides to illustrate that point.  However, the valuable experience gained on a big stage would go a long way to developing the next generation of talent. The side is stacked with talent and without the opportunity to play in the Olympics, games with the full team might not be around until after the 2018 World Cup.

With that in mind, the USMNT faces two very distinct challenges over this international break.  First, the action kicks off when the U-23s travel to Columbia today in a match that all USMNT fans are worried about.  I can’t count myself as an expert in the Columbia first division, where many of Columbian players ply their trade, but in their most recent friendlies, their U-23’s drew twice against Honduras.

On the road in Columbia, the task facing manager Andy Herzog’s band of youngsters is to not lose too badly.  In what should be a difficult place to play, the U-23s will hopefully look to play extremely defensive to prevent a lopsided 4-0, or 3-0 scoreline that would all but mean elimination.  If the U-23s can grab an away goal, while keeping within shouting distance they can consider the trip a success.  The return trip to Texas next Tuesday could be must watch television if the scoreline can be kept close.

The major point of discussion surrounding the lead up to this match is the curious case of roster selection (surprise, surprise).  Left off the U-23 squad was perhaps the three best players of that age group, John Anthony Brooks of Hertha Berlin, DeAndre Yedlin of Sunderland, and Christian Pulisic of Borussia Dortmund.  All three of these talented youngsters, who are playing big pressure-packed minutes for their clubs, would have certainly started, yet are with the senior squad.

Brian Sciaretta during an interview on Soccer Morning hinted that these three players would probably not have been released by their clubs had they been called into the youth side.  Clubs can hold players back from the youth teams, but not the senior teams.  The question will be how will the U-23s cope without the calming influence of Brooks, who is playing regular minutes in the Bundesliga for a club looking to make the Champions League.  Yedlin as well would add another dimension to the wide attack as he has been one of the best players for Sunderland (although not that difficult) this season.

The aforementioned senior squad has a much more straight forward task as two victories would send them into the next round of World Cup qualifying.  The opponent for both matches is Guatemala, or the 95th ranked nation in the world.  With the anything goes wacky CONCACAF away trips, a point on the road tonight would probably be sufficient to accompany a sure victory at the USMNT spiritual home of Columbus Tuesday.

With so many players at peak form with their club, it will be interesting to see the lineup and formation choices made by Jurgen Klinsmann.

Will a loss in either match for the senior squad combined with the tumbling out of the U-23s result in the groundswell of negative media reports about Klinsmann force US Soccer to let him go?  So much rests on the result in these four matches and, either way, the future of the USMNT program will be heavily influenced.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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