World Cup Qualifying kicked off in St. Louis with a resounding 6 - 1 victory over St Vincent and the Grenadines. There was plenty to take away from that, both good and bad, but now it is time to look ahead to the US' first road match against Trinidad & Tobago. It's a trip down to the historic Hasely Crawford Stadium with three points on the line for the top two teams in Group C.
Here are five things to keep an eye on during the match:
It's been a hard year for the defense in 2015. They've given up an absurd amount of shots from in and around the box, forcing the goalkeepers to do everything they can to keep the US in the game. Against St Vincent and the Grenadines, the defense wasn't given much to do though they started the match off horribly with bad passing and worst man-marking. This allowed the visitors to take an embarrassing lead very early in the match.
Once the lead was restored, the defense settled down and had little else to do for the remainder of the game. Against T&T, though, they'll have a much tougher task. The centerback pairing of Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler have to remain tight and not allow space for Cardiff City's Kenwyne Jones to exploit. If he can find a little bit of room to maneuver, he'll put chances on frame. It's a good bet he'll slide one past Tim Howard if given enough chances.
The fullbacks need to do a better job of pushing wingers out wide and isolate them than was done at the start of the first match. T&T boasts several wingers with speed enough to get behind the defense and whip a cross in towards Jones.
Possession in Central Midfield
The defense has had a rough go of it this year, and a big reason for that is bad turnovers in midfield combined with a lack of possession in the middle of the park. A lot of this can be put down to players being put out of position (see, Alejandro Bedoya - Brazil). Still, that hasn't been the whole of the issue. Many players have been woefully out of form or been a step too slow to keep up with the opposition.
Michael Bradley isn't immune from this criticism either. He's been trying everything he can to succeed but hasn't been able to find the right magic to make it work. The pairing of Bradley and Jermaine Jones isn't quite what it used to be. Perhaps a pairing of Bradley and newcomer Darlington Nagbe could provide the needed punch, especially if a defensive mid can be placed behind them and Jones.
The best thing to come out of the first qualifier was quick, precise passing and that kind of movement has to continue. One or two touch movement will allow the midfield to find the seams in the T&T defense. Whomever is place in this vital role will need to time their runs forward right. Holes have been the death of this team and discipline is required for any road trip in CONCACAF.
Giving Newcomers Experience
Speaking of faults with this team, it is very old. Jurgen Klinsmann has been relying far too much on veteran players who have limited games left at this level. Blooding young players, or at the least younger. Enter Nagbe and Matt Miazga. The former has shown himself to be a top player in Major League Soccer with loads of potential on the international stage. The latter is a youth international who has finally broke into the starting lineup for the Supporters Shield winning New York Red Bulls. Miazga is an incredibly talented centerback who, at the age of 20, has a lot left to learn and yet is one of the US' top prospects.
Both will need to be given minutes, if possible, during this game so they can learn what it's like to play on the road in CONCACAF. As any veteran player will say, road games in this region are tough regardless of the quality of the opponent. Everything from the fans to field, refereeing, accommodations and so on can make the game far more difficult. Learning to adapt is a key skill needed to get points on the road.
The Right Subs
There was a stretch when it seemed that Klinsmann couldn't make the wrong substitutions in a game, be it a qualifier or friendly. He seems to have lost that talent of late, especially during the Gold Cup and ensuing CONCACAF Cup. If a player is tired and unable to keep up, sub them out. If they are being ineffective, put someone else in their place. Don't get cute with the subs and overthink things.
If a goal is needed, put someone on who can make that happen. If the game needs to be closed out, clog up the midfield and beef up the defense. Considering the heat that has been on Jurgen in 2015, he can ill afford to start losing qualifiers by bungling his subs. It's a fast track to being out of the job.
The offense has been stale this year. They managed to get six past lowly St. Vincent and the Grenadines but have struggled against just about everyone else. A lot of that comes down to chance creation but the rest falls on the poor finishing of the striker corps. The biggest culprit is Jozy Altidore who was good for Toronto but not so much for the US.
Still the goal scoring load can't all fall on his shoulder. Gyasi Zardes has proven to be quite the goal scorer for his club and needs to be played as such, not along the wing. Young Jordan Morris is unproven at the professional level but has loads of potential while Bobby Wood is on a hot streak. The best thing to do is to run a hot striker so look for Wood to be given the start.
The number of chances will be few which means the strikers have to take advantage of their chances.
During the match, these are the things fans should keep their eyes on. If the US can get most, or hopefully all, of these things right than three points is very possible. Should they struggle, though, it'll be a long night in the stadium that created The Shot Heard Round the World.