5 Things You Should Know About #USAvVIN

The U.S. Men’s National Team begins the long, winding #RoadToRussia Friday night against St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. (5:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas and Univision Deportes Network).
By: Jeff Crandall

Here are five things you should know heading into the match:

The Goalkeeper Rotation

With Tim Howard’s return to the MNT fold in September, the question of how Jurgen Klinsmann will handle the goalkeeping situation between the Everton back stop and Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan has obviously arose.

After Howard made his first appearance since the 2014 FIFA World Cup in the MNT’s 1-0 loss to Costa Rica last month, Klinsmann said the two would rotate games moving forward. He gave more indications of his plans for this set of games at Thursday night’s pre-game press conference.

“Brad will start the game tomorrow night and Tim, if everything goes fine, will start the game in Trinidad,” Klinsmann told reporters.

Aside from having two starting level goalkeepers in the fold, Klinsmann also said having the veteran pair around was helpful to provide wisdom for the younger players in camp.

“The role of those experiences players, those leaders in the locker room is extremely important. [The younger players] need to know what our thought process is, they need to know how we solve some situations and problems and how we go through some tough times and enjoy some better times as well… Having Tim Howard back on board and having Brad Guzan – two very experienced Premier League goalkeepers - is big for us, because they live this kind of environment day-in and day-out in a very good league.” 

Tim Ream, Hometown Hero

After a nearly three-year gap in activity for the National Team, Tim Ream has regained a foothold back in the side over the last year, appearing in last year’s October and November friendlies and earning consistent call-ups for the MNT in 2015.

Things could come full circle for Ream on Friday night with the 28-year-old hoping to make his World Cup Qualifying debut at Busch Stadium in his hometown of St. Louis.

“For me it’s special,” he told reporters Thursday. “You don’t often get chances to play in your home town and in front of family and friends. On top of that, it’s 45,000 fans at that. Knowing and growing up in the city, and not just knowing the history of the Cardinals organization but soccer in the city as a whole, it’ll be good to showcase what this city can contribute to the National Team. Obviously not just myself, but a lot of guys are looking forward to getting out there, stepping on the field and showing what we’re about.”

And it seems Ream’s chances of getting on the field go up a great deal because of his ability to play both center back and left back. It also means Klinsmann can shift other players around the field.

“I’m so happy that he can play both,” Klinsmann said. “We’re blessed with a lot of good center backs and there’s an open competition out there. We also have some issues in both full back roles, on the right side and on the left side. When I have a player like Tim that can play the left back the same as the center back role, this is a good feeling. That gives us different options, so I can discuss putting Fabian Johnson into midfield where he plays with his club team and have somebody else covering the right side. It’s good to have a guy like Tim that is ready to jump into any role and can jump in there for the team.”

A Return to St. Louis

Friday night’s game marks the first match in the United States’ historic soccer capital since a 0-0 draw with Paraguay on June 4, 1997 and the first World Cup qualifying match since another scoreless draw with El Salvador on November 5, 1989.

The MNT is 5-1-1 all-time in St. Louis, with the city hosting many World Cup qualifying successes for the MNT during 1980s, including wins against Netherlands Antilles (4-0 in 1984), Trinidad & Tobago (2-1 in 1985), Jamaica (5-1 in 1988) and Costa Rica (1-0 in 1989).

Read more about the history of soccer in St. Louis here.

U.S. Newbies Earning First Caps?

There has been some excitement this week at the prospect of having first-time call-ups Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga also potentially earn their first caps for the full MNT. Technically both players have options to play for other nations – Nagbe for Liberia and Miazga for Poland – which left some conspiracy theorists wondering whether they were called to cap-tie them to the United States.

Quickly dismissing that idea, Klinsmann said, “They’re coming in because of their very good performances in their club environment and because a lot of the conversations with their club coaches.”

Nagbe, who was just granted his long-awaited U.S. citizenship in September, doesn’t seem likely to suddenly bolt to play for Liberia. On the other hand, Miazga has heard overtures from the Polish Federation about a possible switch. The 6’3” defender has represented the U.S. U-20 and U-23 sides in CONCACAF qualifying tournaments and the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this year and seems set on a future with the full U.S. MNT.

“The opportunity came with the USA and I’ve always envisioned and dreamt of playing for the full team,” Miazga said. “The opportunity came about and I was excited and ready to take the challenge.”

If either Miazga or Nagbe take the field Friday night, they’ll join Alan Gordon and Michael Orozco as players on the current MNT roster that gained their first international appearances in World Cup Qualifying matches.

One Final Stat

The U.S. MNT has gone 4-0-5 in the initial qualifier of every World Cup cycle dating back to qualification for the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina.