DAVID SMITH - Saturday, June 25, 2016
First off, I must admit, this is as much a plausible wish-list as it is an attempt to decipher Klinsmann's plan.

The coach has promised to put out the strongest squad possible, but in a third-place game, against a likely questionably-motivated opponent, directly following a 4-0 loss where nearly every player on the field failed to impress, and with approximately half of the squad soon returning to Europe to begin pre-season training, there is no way to know what this means.

In regards to the overall formation, Klinsmann has favored some variety of a 4-3-3 that can variably switch to a 4-4-2, so it seems logical he'll stick to the same tactic.

Here's what we already know: Tim Howard has been announced as the starter in goal in place of Brad Guzan. This is a move that matches my personal inclinations in this case, so there are no complaints here.

Now it gets a bit more opaque.

Reports from training sessions have said that both Fabian Johnson and John Brooks are struggling with minor injuries. It's safe to say that if there is any risk exacerbating a minor problem to either of these players, they will be left out. Johnson in particular has been fragile in recent months, while Brooks - the newly anointed star of the team - will be eager to show up to Hertha's pre-season with no setbacks whatsoever (apart from his late arrival).

Let's assume that Brooks and Johnson do not play. While hardly to the level of Brooks, Steve Birnbaum is a fitting direct replacement. The Matt Besler at left back experiment was more than serviceable in the quarterfinal, and this would be the best option here as well.

The midfield is where I'm holding out hope for some major changes.

The number-one priority is to get Darlington Nagbe onto the field, in whatever way possible. During his short run-out on Tuesday, he was the only attacking player who could consistently complete a pass or hold possession against the Argentineans. He must play.

Should Klinsmann complement Nagbe with a double-six partnership of Michael Bradley and the now-available Jermaine Jones, or throw caution to the wind, drop one of the two, and throw in another attacker? I choose...hope....the latter, and see Graham Zusi as the most likely attacking wing option.

This leaves one of Jones or Bradley on the sidelines from the start. Bradley, while the captain, has been off-key for awhile. Therefore, Jones would be the better option as the lone defensive midfielder, sending Bradley to the bench.

Heading up the three-man attack, the key, as became clear on Tuesday, is that the play of Bobby Wood is the biggest factor in keeping Clint Dempsey a threat. These two must start together.

This leaves the final piece of the front three, where Gyasi Zardes has been a fine complement to his two partners throughout the tournament. On the other hand, one can practically hear the steady chants of "Pulisic, Pulisic, Pulisic" emanating from numerous corners of the internet.

Which gets the start?

In the backs of their heads, US fans do know that it will almost certainly be Zardes, even if they want to see "the kid". In this case I do side with Klinsmann; Zardes has done more than enough to keep his spot, and Pulisic, while a hugely promising prospect, has not shown enough in his limited cameos to justifiably unseat the now-incumbent.

That said, the Dempsey/Wood/Zardes trio has a limited shelf-life due to Dempsey's advancing age. With Pulisic currently the most immediate candidate to integrate himself into the bunch, he will see significant minutes - perhaps the entire second half - in place of one of the three.

Naturally, Klinsmann is full of surprises, and the chance is greater than not that the starting lineup trotting out to the field tonight in Glendale will be a head-scratcher.

Predicted lineup (4-3-3):

GK: Tim Howard

RB: DeAndre Yedlin; RCB: Geoff Cameron; LCB: Steve Birnbaum; LB: Matt Besler

AM: Darlington Nagbe; DM: Jermaine Jones; AM: Graham Zusi

RFW: Gyasi Zardes; CFW: Bobby Wood; LFW: Clint Dempsey

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