Welcome to Three Questions. Every Friday, before the weekend’s matches kickoff, I breakdown the three questions I have most heading into the week of MLS action. Since the MLS is mostly on an international break this week, I’ll be looking at the USMNT’s World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala.
1. Where in midfield does Michael Bradley play?
This question is probably a part of the bigger question of, “Which formation will the USMNT line up in?” If you’re at all familiar with Michael Bradley, by now you’re probably familiar with the flux of position he’s been in between Club and Country. Jurgen Klinsmann sees him as an a number 10 (advanced attacking midfielder), being the creative force of USMNT, but dating back to the 2014 World Cup, and even earlier, Bradley has struggled in that role. There’s a different story to be had for his club position, though. This season for Toronto FC Bradley has been playing as a number 6, sitting in front of the defense. What this has allowed him to do is get the ball deep, and have many passing options in front of him. This is Michael Bradley at his best. Everyone knows this, except for Jurgen. Against a very poor Guatemalan side, will Jurgen abandon his love for a true out and out defensive midfielder and in doing so let the glory of Michael Bradley fly? I sure hope so.
2. Which pairing of the seven Centerbacks start?
That is not a typo. Of the 23 (well, 26, but only 23 will be eligible) players that make up this roster, seven of them play a majority of their time at centerback. In other words, only 2 other defenders on this roster are fullbacks. These seven players are all over the map, really. You have young guns that have impressed (looking at you Steve Birnbaum and John Brooks). You have young players who have failed to live up to expectations (sorry not sorry, Ventura Alvarado and Michael Orozco). And you have the tried and true reliable veterans (Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Geoff Cameron). I could see Klinsmann going one of two ways. The first is that he could continue his endless auditions for some of the younger guys and start John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado, which didn’t work out very well in the Gold Cup last summer. Or, the second option is to go with a reliable back line of Omar and Besler, one that all USMNT fans are comfortable with. Knowing Jurgen, it’ll probably be the first option, because he always seems to have one eye on the future and is never fully present in the now.
3. Who starts at Forward next to Clint Dempsey?
It was just a few months ago that we were wondering if Dempsey was the next veteran on Jurgen’s list to be iced out of the national team, but here we are. Looking at the forwards that are on this roster, it’s almost a given that Deuce will be starting. But who starts with him? You have Bobby Wood, who is tearing it up in Germany. You have Chris Wondolowski, who is a staple of Jurgen’s rosters. There’s Gyasi Zardes, who has struggled the last few months playing out of position, but scored a brace over the weekend. And then, the biggest question of them all, Jozy Altidore. In January, Jozy was a man on fire. He came in fit and he was playing like the player we’ve always known he was… until he got hurt. Again. He’s only played 13 minutes in Toronto FC’s first 3 matches due to injury. Yet, he’s been called in. Does Jurgen risk Jozy’s health to see if the fire from January is still going? Does he go to one of the hot hands in Zardes or Wood? I think it’s pretty safe to rule out Wondo, because Jurgen loves to use him as a sub. If I were a betting man, I would put money on Wood starting. He fits all the criteria for what I think Jurgen is trying to accomplish. He’s young, he’s desperate to prove himself worthy of the biggest stages, and he’s in the form of his life.