The United States is through to the hexagonal so tonight's game in Port-of-Spain is meaningless, right? After all, it's not even posturing as first or second place gets you the same thing: a spot in the hex. Standings don't improve based upon your finish in the semifinal phase, so long as you finish.
Well, in terms of the hexagonal, no, tonight's game will not have an effect on that. But the game will carry a great deal of meaning for U.S. players.
In fact, there are five players I've singled out who I think need to show a lot in Trinidad tonight.
1. Freddy Adu. Young Freddy, the stage is yours. American fans have been salivating for years over the prospect of a European-season Adu leading the offense from the middle of the field. We have seen flashes of brilliance from him, as well as moments of absurdity. But in order to ensure more playing time next year in the Hex and Confederations Cup, Adu needs to have more of the former and less of the latter. Adu's biggest problem is his inability to constantly distribute the ball. Often times, he makes runs like a mad man through the center of the field and does not incorporate his teammates. While that can pay off, Adu needs to pick his spots better. Also, he has to try and solidify his spot among a deep group of midfielders. If Adu is going to be the heart and soul of the US attack come 2010, he needs to seize opportunities like tonight.
2. Brad Guzan. Tim Howard is the unquestionable number one goalkeeper. But if he goes down with injury, Guzan is next in line. Can he handle being the number one goalkeeper? Well, he had a brilliant career in MLS and made his way to England. But club accomplishments can only take you so far. Guzan will have plenty of opportunity to show he can be the number one goalkeeper, and there is an outside shot he and Howard could become the modern-day version of Friedel-Keller. Guzan will get tested. Trinidad will be a much tougher challenge than Barbados.
3. Heath Pearce. The defense for this match is woefully inexperienced. Frankie Hejduk is the senior member of the squad but how much he will have left in the tank in '09 and '10 remains to be seen. Entering this match, Pearce is the one player on the backline that seems to be in line for a starting spot in Hex games next year and beyond. He has to show leadership and help stabilize a young backline and ensure that inexperienced players like Michael Orozco and Marvell Wynne do not get rattled.
4. Jozy Altidore. Much like Freddy Adu, American fans have salivated over the prospect of having Altidore see meaningful minutes in meaningful games. Altidore is perhaps the best U.S. forward prospect, well, if not ever then certainly near the top. At some point, he will have to blossom and show that he is worthy of the hype. With a qualifier or three more under his belt, Altidore should be a first-choice starter in next year's Hex. But the time to show he can handle the pressures of a hotly-contested road qualifier is now.
5. Sacha Kljestan. With a loaded midfield, it seems Kljestan has an uphill battle of finding playing time. However, he did well to earn a start against Cuba and play well in that game. Now, with some of the more experienced players out of the way, the stage is there for Kljestan to show his worth. Kljestan is a strong two-way player for Chivas USA and is one of the best young midfielders in MLS. Should he carry that over consistently with the US, it will be just another strong option Bob Bradley will have in the Hex.