But Caribbean powerhouse and 2015 Gold Cup darlings Trinidad and Tobago offer a much different test today. Road games in CONCACAF have always been interesting affairs for all teams, and this will be, by far, the USMNT's toughest fixture of the 4th/semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying.
We're all aware of the one big hiccup the USA had against St. Vincent, that being the opening goal for the visitors in the 6th minute. There was a combination of individual errors that the US had on the play, Gyasi Zardes not tracking back to either recover Geoff Cameron's clearance or to mark his runner as well as DeAndre Yedlin's passive 1-on-1 defending. There are multiple ways the US can fix this issue from player substitutions and tactical formations, and I have three ideas.
A BOX-TO-BOX RIGHT MIDFIELDER
For this concept, we're sticking with the same flat 4-4-2 formation that Klinsmann used against St. Vincent. Essentially the problem here is that Zardes is a true attacker and having him on the same side defensively as Yedlin is, as we saw early in the game, perhaps not a great idea. So, Zardes goes to the bench.
Ideally, the US would have several different options here that wouldn't be all that bad. Alejandro Bedoya has basically been out for a month recovering from the illness he picked up back in October and hasn't reached full fitness with his club Nantes and his absences is really hurting the US right now in the midfield. I don't want to line up a striker like Bobby Wood or Jordan Morris in this spot, though I'd probably take Clint Dempsey in a heartbeat, because again I want someone who can help out a lot on defense. In lieu of a true right sided midfield veteran like Graham Zusi on the roster or even a Juan Agudelo who has impressed on the wing, it means I have to suggest something I don't love.
With Fabian Johnson playing at left midfield there are only two real options for a straight swap at this position: Miguel Ibarra or Mix Diskerud, and in this case since I want a more box-to-box player and experience, so Diskerud gets the nod.
Now, I don't love this idea aside from the fact that I think Mix can do fine at this position, he's still a good player even if I don't think he's the true playmaker many have expected. All I need from him, is a decent, if unspectacular, shift at right midfield against a pretty good Trinidad team. I'd want him to be more defense first, support the attack second and cover a lot of ground and I'd be confident that I could get that much out of Mix while someone else does the heavy lifting on offense. If Mix does get involved heavily in the attack and plays really well, that's just a bonus.
A TRUE DEFENSIVE RIGHT BACK/DEFENSE
Okay, this is the scenario where we blame Yedlin for that early goal and put him on the bench, the down side here is that there aren't a lot of great options to replace Yedlin at right back so there's two okay options. Move Fabian Johnson back to left back and but Tim Ream on the right and find another winger OR give Brek Shea a start at left back with Ream on the right.
Now, I'd prefer Johnson and Ream at fullback every single time in this scenario but that's a lot of moving parts from a team that had a really good, confidence building outing just a few days ago. Brek Shea is at best a capable left back and he and Johnson can basically interchange going forward or just switch outright if Shea's having big issues defensively.
Tim Ream has very quietly established himself as a starting fullback for the US, and I don't think it makes much difference which side he plays on. He's not going to bomb forward the way Shea, Johnson or Yedlin would but that's fine since he's really a centerback at heart anyway.
Basically, these two scenarios are trying to solve the issue the Yedlin-Zardes partnership had defensively against St. Vincent. The minnows only needed one chance on the counter and the finished it, you can assume that Trinidad will get more than one chance. A defensive minded backline, especially in a 4-4-2, can help solve some of the gaps and spaces that Trinidad is sure to find in a flat formation.
But only one idea might be able to solve both.
ADDING A SECOND HOLDING MIDFIELDER
This is where we bring back the second holding midfielder, likely Kyle Beckerman with Jones coming up lame to end the St. Vincent match, to partner with Michael Bradley in front of the back four. This would put far less pressure on Zardes defensively on the right wing and possibly open up more counter opportunities for the US on the road, something they should be better at.
Of course, this opens up another set of problems, mainly who goes to the central playmaking role in the midfield? It probably means that one of your strikers is going to the bench as opposed to playing a staggered two-man front line, and sadly, that would mean Bobby Wood takes a seat and Jozy Altidore starts.
I say sadly because, right now, Bobby Wood is the best US striker on the roster. That's not a knock on anyone, not even Klinsmann's roster selection, but far more a compliment on Wood's form. He's been excellent, especially late in games where he could come off the bench (despite that being the reason Alan Gordon got called up in the first place).
There's always Diskerud in the middle but we've seen that before and if I'm being honest, I'd rather have Diskerud start on the right side as I mentioned earlier. I don't think giving Darlington Nagbe his first US start on hostile territory is a good idea, but that's by far the best option on this roster as far as a central playmaker goes.
Overall, this is the one game where I wouldn't mind the US either playing for a draw, or just out right losing. But it's also the only game in the group where anything less than a win would be acceptable. The USMNT should win all four games in the 2016 fixture list, including a home-and-home with Guatemala in March. So most of the lineups I've suggested are more defensive in nature to reflect the nature of this particular game. I want the United States to win, but if there was one game where I might change my tactics drastically, this would be it.
So which idea wins? You'll have to check out my full match preview later today.