Who: U.S. National Team vs. Iceland
When: Today at 3:45 ET
Where: ESPN2, UniMas, UDN - StubHub Center, Carson California
The U.S. National Team opens 2016 today and three Crew SC players have a chance to become valuable members of the team. Wil Trapp is in his second January camp, but Ethan Finlay and Tony Tchani are looking for their first action for the red white and blue. This is their chance to impress head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and get called back as the team navigates World Cup Qualifiers and this summer’s Copa America Centenario.
Trapp may be in the best position. He’s been a star of U.S. youth teams and already has a senior cap. This is the camp where Trapp can establish himself as a regular. Klinsmann has his preferred central midfielders, but they are aging. Jermaine Jones Is 34 years old and is clearly slowing down. Never the most solid defensively, but now he clearly struggles without more defensive cover. Kyle Beckerman is 33 and faces the same problems against high level competition.
The opportunity is there, but the hurdle for Trapp is that he’s not a classic destroyer in midfield. He’s very bright and will make the right decision 99 out of 100 times, but there are questions about his physicality. He works best with a partner able to do some of the dirty work in midfield. He has that with the athletic and imposing Tchani.
Trapp’s step up to the first team depends on two factors, how well he can adapt to the physical demands of senior international duty and if he’s fit in a system that utilizes his strengths.
Trapp needs to be stronger in one on one battles. Losing possession or losing the one on one battles will stretch the team. Trapp has the mental tools to play defensive midfield, but he needs to show the physical prowess.
Even if Trapp continues to bulk up, he’s not going to be a destroyer. The other key then is having him fit in the right system. Trapp is a very good passer. He’s able to recycle possession and spray the ball around. He’s a drop lying playmaker. That means he needs support in midfield. He has that in Tchani with Crew SC, but it’s unclear who it would be for the Americans. Michael Bradley may be the best American player right now and an automatic starter somewhere in midfield. He’s not a classic ball winner. Trapp was deployed at right midfield in his only other senior cap, so how he’s used will bear close watching.
Tchani’s travels to the U.S. camp are well known. He traveled from Cameroon to the Washington D.C. area and getting American citizenship in the interim. He was called into the Cameroon team in November, but had to withdraw due to injury. Now he gets a chance to represent his adoptive country.
While Trapp has long been a U.S. prospect, Tchani may have the clearer role on the national team at this point. With Jones and Beckerman’s advancing age, there is a hole in the lineup for an industrious midfielder willing to do the dirty work. Tchani isn’t a defensive midfielder in the Crew SC setup, but he functions more as a box to box ball winner. He’s always tracking to put out fires while acting as a passing outlet with the vision for the next pass.
Tchani has always had the physical talents, but putting them together on the field has been the challenge. He’s adapted to MLS and become on of the better midfielders in the league. International play will be another step up. He will need to keep an even temperament while keeping up with the speed of play. Giving up the ball too easily or picking up cheap fouls will quickly knock him out of competition for more playing time.
Finlay is a devastating attacker built off of one great skill, devastating speed timed exactly right. He is not a traditional winger, he’s more of a wide attacker driving to goal. It’s a unique skill set and one that Crew SC uses to devastating effect.
Like with Trapp, it’s not clear if the U.S. team’s current setup is the best fit for Finlay. The senior team has struggled with width and doesn’t have many direct options, but they don’t have many creators to get him the ball. They also have a more deliberate buildup. Finlay would struggle to replicate his club exploits without someone getting him the ball into space.
It’s possible that Finlay may be a devastating counter attacking threat. He can certainly play off a target striker who can pass the ball. Jozy Altidore may not be the strong physical presence of Kei Kamara, he is an adept passer. A best case scenario could see Finlay finding space for Altidore to get him the ball. With defenses playing forward or compact, Finlay’s speed would be devastating and force the opposition to account for that.
Today’s game won’t be the only test for Crew SC’s U.S. trio. Iceland in a January friendly isn’t the same as a Central American team in World Cup Qualifying. They just need to show glimpses of what they could offer the team. They could grow into a role on the team with a busy 2016 on tap with a mix of WCQ tests and challenges. A good January camp is the first step of a long term future on the National Team.