Over this international break, the U.S. National Team will take a break from World Cup qualifying. Instead, the Stars and Stripes will travel to take on Cuba on Friday, and then return home to RFK Stadium to take on New Zealand on the 11th. These friendly matches aren’t against any powerhouse squads, no offense to Cuba and New Zealand, so they should allow Jürgen Klinsmann to experiment a little bit with his tactics and lineup selection.
The squad selected for these two fixtures is missing some big names, but it looks set to give youth a look, as well. The two biggest absentees have to be the keepers. Brad Guzan and Tim Howard have both been left at home. Filling in for the two veterans are three keepers that have a combined three appearances at the international level. William Yarbrough (León), David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes) and Ethan Horvath (Molde) will battle for the starting spot and will be trying to cement themselves as the keeper of tomorrow for Klinsmann.
For me, the player to watch out of that group has to be Ethan Horvath. The 21-year-old has emerged as Molde’s starting keeper in the Norwegian top flight, and he even got the chance to play in the Europa League last season. In that continental tournament, Horvath helped Molde finish first in a group that included giants such as Fenerbache, Ajax and Celtic.
Even though he was unable to lead the US U23 side to Olympic qualification earlier in the year, Horvath still has to be considered the future of U.S. goalkeeping. Yarbrough and Bingham are by no means old in goalkeeping years (27 and 26, respectively), but neither of them have really stood out to me with their performances. I think that it’s only a matter of time before Horvath moves on to a bigger league and bigger team in Europe after his stellar displays with Molde. He’s yet to make a senior appearance for the U.S., but that should change sooner rather than later.
In the midfield, I want to focus on two players: Christian Pulisic and Lynden Gooch. If you’re a U.S. soccer fan and you haven’t heard of Pulisic by now, you must’ve been sleeping under a rock for the last 18 months. The teenager has continued to grow at Borussia Dortmund, and it is clear that Thomas Tuchel has faith in his abilities. It was reported over the summer that BvB turned down multi-million dollar offers from Stoke City and Liverpool to keep Pulisic at Signal Iduna Park. This season, he has started three league matches for Dortmund, and even played some pivotal minutes against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
My biggest concern with Pulisic is that the U.S. will rely too heavily on him too early on in his career. There are countless stories of young American talents being overwhelmed by this pressure and their hype trains were derailed just as quickly as they started. I think that Pulsiic has a much higher talent level than those other “failed” prospects, and I think a big reason for his continued development is Dortmund’s willingness to ease him into the limelight. They can afford to do that because of the ridiculous talent that they have on their roster, but I don’t think that Klinsmann has that same luxury. Hopefully, the German manager can keep the teenager’s development on track without overusing him on the international stage.
Another young American that has popped up on the European stage has been Lynden Gooch. Gooch made his Premier League debut for Sunderland and has quickly grown into a fan favorite at the Stadium of Light. David Moyes has started the 20-year-old four times in the league. He even threw him in the starting lineup for the club’s opening match against Manchester City (a heartbreaking 2-1 loss). It’s clear that the former Manchester United boss sees some talent in the American midfielder, and now Klinsmann has shown the same type of faith.
Gooch and Pulisic could be the midfield pairing of the future for the Stars and Stripes with Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman not getting any younger. I think that these two fixtures will provide Klinsmann with an ideal situation to put these two on the pitch together and let them build some chemistry.
My biggest problem with the roster has to be the inclusion of Chris Wondolowski. I mean, c’mon. It’s not like Wondo is a dominant striker on the international stage, and at 33 I don’t think that he is going to be playing in any major international tournaments in the future. Why not give a player like Rubio Rubin or Aron Jóhannsson a chance to shine instead?