Who Should Start at Striker for the United States Men's National Team?
The United States men's national team (USMNT) had a strong international break this week as the Americans were able to brush aside St. Vincent and the Grenadines en route to a 6-0 win on Friday, and they followed it up with a dominating 4-0 triumph over Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday. The victories helped the United States clinch a spot in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
With Jozy Altidore back, one of the biggest questions facing the USMNT moving forward is who is going to start at striker during the rest of the World Cup qualifiers, and who will occupy that position in the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
Let's take a look at the three main candidates.
Altidore made his case to be back in the starting lineup by scoring three goals in the two games during this international window. Altidore is also heating up for his club team (Toronto FC), having netted five goals in his last seven matches in MLS play.
Not only is he on fire right now, but Altidore has a proven track record of scoring goals for the USMNT. In total, he has racked up 36 goals in 95 appearances in his international career. Considering he is only 26, he has a chance to chase down Landon Donovan's (or maybe eventually Clint Dempsey's) USMNT scoring record.
In his current form, Altidore needs to be in the starting XI, so the question becomes: who is the best player to put up top with him?
Wood has only scored seven goals in 26 games for the USMNT, but his stock has certainly been trending up as of late.
Wood scored an impressive 17 goals in 31 matches for Union Berlin last season, and his play helped him earn a move to Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga for this season. Wood scored a goal in his first match with Hamburger SV, picking up where he left off last year.
Wood is only 23, and he was able to score more league goals for his club team last year (17) than either Altidore (13) or Clint Dempsey (15). He has proved to be deserving of starting minutes for the USMNT, and he has as good of a case as anyone to be paired with Altidore for the next round of qualifiers.
This leaves us with Dempsey, a USMNT team veteran and one of the best players in U.S. history.
Dempsey has scored 52 goals in 131 matches for the U.S., and he is still playing well at the club level with the MLS' Seattle Sounders (8 goals in 17 league matches).
One consideration with Dempsey is that he may actually be better as an attacking midfielder than as a striker. For the Sounders this season, Dempsey has played 10 games as an attacking midfielder, scoring six goals in those matches, but as a striker, he has scored only one goal in four contests. It's a small sample size, but Dempsey, at this stage of his career, could be better suited in a role as an attacking midfielder.
If Wood and Altidore are both healthy, the USMNT would likely be better off using Dempsey as an attacking midfielder. This would force manager Jurgen Klinsmann to change up his formation (he would probably need to use a diamond midfield), but it would help maximize the number of quality players that the United States is able to get in the lineup.
The United States has a logjam at the striker position, but the U.S. can maximize their talent by changing formations, playing Altidore and Wood at striker and deploying Dempsey as an attacking midfielder. This would allow Dempsey to play what might be his best position, and he would always have the option of moving forward in open play.
More than anything, it would be a way to get the dangerous trio of Altidore, Wood and Dempsey -- probably the Americans' three best players -- in the lineup at the same time, maximizing the attacking potential of Klinsmann's side.