New-look USMNT ready for World Cup qualifiers

Written By Alec Brzezinski
(Getty Images)

The U.S. men's national soccer team is set to embark on an important stretch of World Cup qualifiers during this international break, and a few fresh faces have arrived to help the squad get through it.

Returnees and key departures

Fan-favorite forward Jozy Altidore is back after injuries ruined his Copa America hopes. The powerful, well-positioned poacher adds another dimension to the USMNT's attack because he can take on defenders off the dribble and he can sit in front of goal and drive close-range efforts into the back of the net.

The addition of Altidore comes with a price, however. The country's leading goal scorer, Clint Dempsey, will be left off the squad due to an irregular heartbeat. His passion and excellence in the middle of the field helped the U.S. earn a trip to the semifinals of the Copa this summer.

MORE: Top photos of the U.S. in the Copa

Manager Jurgen Klinsmann would love to get him back soon.

"He has a lot of specialists looking at him," Klinsmann said of Dempsey on Monday during a Facebook Live chat, "so we all are very positive that things work out fine and he's going to be cleared -— hopefully very, very soon — to play again."

In the midfield, New York Red Bulls star Sacha Kljestan will make his return to the national team. He has earned 46 caps and scored four goals since making his USMNT debut in 2007. Kljestan's addition may have come at just the right time; he is a tricky midfielder who has an eye for the goal or a slick pass. He should work nicely with Altidore and fellow forward Bobby Wood.

The USMNT suffered an unfortunate loss when starting right winger Gyasi Zardes was ruled out for the remainder of the MLS season with a broken bone in his right foot. He struggled during the Copa America, but he offered pace moving forward and allowed the forwards to operate under more space.

MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann's worst moments

Rubio Rubin, 20, has been called up in his place. The Oregon native plays his club football for FC Utrecht in the Eredivisie (Netherlands). Rubin has been rated as one of the top prospects in U.S. soccer for several years, and he may get his opportunity to show the world what he has.

The final omission from the squad is a big one. Starting center back John Brooks, who showed off his ability during the Copa, has been ruled out with back issues. Matt Besler will likely step up in his place.

USMNT's current position

After a disappointing start that had many questioning whether Klinsmann was the right man for the job, the USMNT has some work to do to reach the fifth round of CONCACAF qualification. 

Two teams from each of the three groups will move on to the final stage. The USMNT is second in Group C with a 2-1-1 record. The seven points put the U.S. three behind Trinidad and Tobago for the group lead, and just one point ahead of third-place Guatemala.

Friday's game against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines should be a formality; that nation is 0-4 in qualification with a minus-16 goal differential. Tuesday's clash against Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, could decide the USMNT's fate. Should the U.S. lose that match, and should Guatemala continue to win, the Americans could fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

That is, however, unlikely.

Players to watch

It will be interesting to see what Christian Pulisic's involvement will be. The crafty midfielder certainly looks like a future face of the team, but he has received limited opportunities from Klinsmann thus far. Pulisic could be a difference maker — especially Tuesday — if he is able to procure a starting spot.

Another player of some intrigue is forward Jordan Morris, who was controversially left off the Copa squad even though some felt he was the best pure striker available with Altidore injured. The 21-year-old Seattle Sounders FC front man has a lot of expectations on his shoulders and the talent to meet them.

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