A preview with a Nashville focus. Walker Zimmerman photo obviously from file, courtesy US Soccer.
The United States Men’s National Team is once again in action. With a busy year coming up – Gold Cup, World Cup qualifying, Olympics, and more – the typical “camp cupcake” experience carries a little more weight this year. While it’s usually an opportunity for MLS-based (or out-of-contract) players to earn a bigger role with the national team, this year it’s all-but guaranteed to include a number of guys who’ll see competitive action for their country later this year.
First, though, let’s take a quick peek at the opposition for tonight’s friendly (6 p.m. CST, FS1 in English, TUDN and Unimas en Español).
Trinidad and Tobago
Surely, no opponent is to be taken lightly. But the reason the failure to qualify for the 2018 World cup was such a big deal was, in part, because of the magnitude of the upset when the Nats headed down to Couva, Trinidad and couldn’t muster a draw to beat a relative minnow in Concacaf. That said, the American program is in a very different place than back in October 2017 (in part because of that game, largely because of simple bad luck back then). Trinidad… may not even be quite as quality as at that time (No. 80 in the global rankings then, No. 103 now).
There are nine Trinbagonians in this group of call-ups plying their trade in the United States. All nine of them are USL players:
- Neveal Hackshaw (Indy Eleven)
- Noah Powder (Real Monarchs – moving to RSL in 2021)
- Michael DeShields (New England Revolution II – drafted by DC United in 2021 SuperDraft)
- Leland Archer (Charleston Battery)
- Josiah Trimmingham (Forward Madison)
- Andre Fortune (North Carolina FC)
- Duane Muckette (Memphis 901 FC)
- Jonathan Jimenez (Rio Grande Valley)
- Ajani Fortune (Atlanta United 2)
A couple of the younger guys are planning moves up to MLS, yes. But other than Hackshaw – who in my opinion is worthy of an MLS look, and I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten one – none of them really seem to be playing at a lower level than they deserve.
The second most-represented league on this roster is the T&T domestic league, with seven players. The clubs in that league have outstanding names like “Defense Force” (the reigning champion boasts three players called up), “Police” (two), and boring ones like “North East Stars” (since moved and renamed “Port of Spain AC,” which is also just a normal name) and “Central FC,” with one apiece. The T&T Pro League has not resumed play since cutting the 2019-20 season short due to the coronavirus pandemic, so there’s a pretty decent chance these guys are reallllllll rusty.
There are three players currently without a club situation, including 36-year old goalkeeper Marvin Phillip – who has more caps (79) than the rest of his teammates combined (73). There are a couple 18-year olds (Jesse Williams and Gary Griffith III) who play for Coleraine in Northern Ireland’s top flight, which is a semi-pro league. 33-year old Jamal Jack plays in El Salvador’s second division (you may recall what the USMNT recently did to a bunch of guys who play in that country’s top flight).
…and so on and so forth. There is one player – 19-year old Michel Poon-Angeron – who is in the academy ranks with storied Argentine side Banfield. That’s more a lottery ticket than a guarantee (and he’s reaching an age where “not breaking through soon” means “not making it at all”).
What I’m sayin’ here is that this is a team that shouldn’t give the United States trouble. We’ve heard that song and dance before, but with the US in a different place (and the stakes and situation incredibly different than the time these squads played a couple years back), you’d expect to see… well, the expected.
So, we already know that Matt Turner and a centerback pairing of Aaron Long and Miles Robinson will start the game – that means no Walker Zimmerman, but you can be certain that he’s a second-half sub, assuming all goes according to plan – but the rest of the lineup is a mystery.
Given the departures of a few players due to injury (Jozy Altidore, Julian Araujo, JT Marcinkowski) or transfer situations (Jordan Morris, Bryan Reynolds), I’d skew toward going pretty young with the lineup overall. That’s even more the case against what should be an overmatched squad in this particular iteration of Trinidad and Tobago. It’s sort of the logical endpoint of a camp that blended a true U-23 squad and some senior players, it’s for a friendly that should be a win either way, and it’ll help build for the future.
Give me George Bello and Kyle Duncan (the latter of whom I’m a huge fan of, despite his assist against Nashville SC during the 2019 USL season) at fullback. I wouldn’t mind Sam Vines on the left side, either – Bello has been “next big thing” long enough and looked pedestrian enough for Atlanta United that, while he’s going to be a nice player, I don’t need to feel like he’s a lock for the MNT. My youth movement also gives me a midfield three of Tanner Tessmann (holder), Jackson Yueill (box-to-box) and Sebastian Lletget (attacker). Obviously Lletget is not a young guy, but Tessmann very much is. Yueill, while he’s more considered a pure holder by a lot of MNT fans, has some characteristics I like as a more-mobile guy. Giving him the opportunity – and I’ll admit I’m much higher on him than the fanbase at large – to be a little more versatile could provide some interesting data points. I’ll diverge a little bit from my youth-first idea with a front three of Chris Mueller, Daryl Dike, and Jonathan Lewis from left-to-right, leaving 20-year old Jesus Ferreira on the bench. He can come on as a sub for Dike at striker or either winger, so his versatility is a blessing and a curse.
Overall, you want to see the US dominate this game. You want to see a solid run-out for Walker Zimmerman in which he stays healthy. And you want to see some of the stars of tomorrow begin to blossom.