Let’s face it, there aren’t may reasons to pay attention to this weekend’s USMNT friendlies. The United States Men’s National Team will play a pair of exhibition matches as they prepare for the opening of The Hex against Mexico on November 11. Neither opponent is exactly a powerful nation in the soccer world.
The USA makes its first trip to Havana since 2008 on Friday to face Cuba. Cuba is ranked a whopping 139th in the World and hasn’t played in a World Cup since 1938.
New Zealand will take on the Americans on Tuesday at RFK Stadium. They clock in at 88th in the most recent FIFA rankings and are the only viable soccer nation on the OFC since Australia bolted for Asia. They can expect to routinely lose in inter-continental playoffs until Gianni Infantino successfully expands the World Cup to 48 teams, when they will start losing in the opening play-in round to the World Cup Finals.
The roster is missing several mainstays, particularly between the sticks. Aging goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan will make way for the power of youth in David Bingham, Ethan Horvath, and William Yarborough. There are also plenty of young kids looking to earn an expanded role in the national team. Lynden Gooch, Perry Kitchen, and Julian Green are all looking to get valuable minutes to develop their national team careers.
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Ethan Horvath (Molde FK), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
Defenders: Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Perry Kitchen (Hearts), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Danny Williams (Reading)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV), Julian Green (Bayern Munich)
So, what can we look for in these matches against tiny, irrelevant nations with a youngster laden roster?
Which young goalkeeper steps up?
With Tim Howard on the brink of retirement and Brad Guzan beginning to age, Jurgen Klinsmann is going to have to find a new full time keeper. This weekend is the next step in finding one.
San Jose Earthquakes’ David Bingham, age 26, could make his second ever cap for the national team, but I don’t think he’s the favorite. Instead, I look to 21-year-old Ethan Horvath of Molde in Norway to take the reins in the long run. He is yet to be capped for the national team, but the Colorado native is a good bet to start one of these matches.
The third keeper is Leon’s William Yarborough. He’s 27 and is the regular starter for Los Panzas Verdes, but he hasn’t made his mark nationally yet, and it may be too late for him with all the young talent the USA has at keeper.
Does Julian Green step up to earn a spot on a competitive roster?
Julian Green stormed onto the scene by scoring the USA’s only goal in the 2014 World Cup knockout round match against Belgium, his first cap with the national team. That’s also his only goal in six matches. Since then, he has failed to make his way into the Bayern Munich set up, had a disaster of a loan spell in Hamburg, and has been (justifiably) surpassed by Christian Pulisic as the teenage stud of American soccer.
If he’s not careful, he may start running into consistent road blocks as he tries to fully break into the national team. He’s still only 21, so there’s plenty of time for him to right the ship. However, if given the chance against these two opponents, he better step up or risk falling out of favor as the USA looks to solidify it’s forward options for the Hex.
Will any young midfielders stand out?
Twp young midfielders would do well to make their mark this weekend. Lynden Gooch could make his first national team appearance and Perry Kitchen could get some valuable playing time as well. Both of these young kids could stand to replace the old guard of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Also showing up on this roster are the invaluable Christian Pulisic, oft overlooked Reading midfielder Danny Williams, and Tijuana’s Paul Arriola.
We already know what Pulisic can do, but what about those other two. Williams has 20 caps and two goals, while Arriola has been seen twice and is only a regular sub for Los Xolos. Without Alejandro Bedoya, one of these central players will have an opportunity to make his case for becoming an important starter in World Cup Qualifying.
Overall, these USMNT friendlies won’t be judged on the final results (unless they lose, in which case, panic). These matches will be looked at based on the performances of the young players we don’t often get the chance to see in action. Which goalkeeper will lead the way to replace Howard and Guzan? I’m thinking Horvath. Will Julian Green prove that he belongs at this level by scoring a goal or two? I somehow doubt it. Finally, which midfielder will look like Michael Bradley’s successor as the midfield fulcrum? I don’t think there’s a front runner.
So enjoy this weekend’s set of low pressure matches. Try not to get to outraged when the team tries something new and scraps out an ugly 2-1 win at Cuba. Remember, this may be the last time we get to relax while watching the USMNT for the next couple years.