Before I jump into this, let's take a look at the initial rosters for the United States Men's National Team and the U23 National teams that will play this Friday and this coming Tuesday.
USMNT WCQ roster:
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals)
DEFENDERS (9): Ventura Alvarado (Club America; 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 8/0), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United; 0/0), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin; 0/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City; 15/1), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey; 4/0), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca; 8/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana; 4/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland; 0/0)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake; 6/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes FC; 3/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC; 26/5), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC; 3/0), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC; 0/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach; 11/1), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers FC; 2/0), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution; 0/0)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 28/12), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 34/13), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin; 2/1), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 2/1)
Olympic qualifying roster:
U.S. Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Cody Cropper (Milton Keynes Dons), Ethan Horvath (Molde KJ), Tyler Miller (Seattle Sounders FC)
DEFENDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Miazga (Chelsea FC), Eric Miller (Colorado Rapids), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Desevio Payne (FC Groningen), Shane O’Neill (Cambridge United), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Luis Gil (Queretaro), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham FC), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Matt Polster (Chicago Fire), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (3): Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Mario Rodriguez (Borussia Monchengladbach), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC)
Starting with the full national team, you'll probably notice that there's 26 players on the roster, so several of these guys probably won't make a game day roster, let alone play. Fabian Johnson and Altidore both come into this break less than fully fit while Howard and Orozco haven't played recently. Jurgen Klinsmann also mentioned the possibility on a Facebook chat this week that there was a chance that players (presumably Brooks and Yedlin) might shuffle between the teams after the games on Friday (more on that in a bit).
Aside from that, it's a strong and seasoned roster with a few holdovers from the January camp (Finlay, Nguyen, Birnbaum) and one prodigal son in the form of Edgar Castillo. Castillo's last appearance for the USMNT was pre-Brazil, but he's the lone dedicated left back on the roster. How well will a good run with Monterrey translate to the international game? We'll ponder this in a bit as well, but for now, 6 points from two games with Guatemala (trip to Central America aside) should be a given. Marco Pappa and
a dude on the cusp of a Social Security check an evergreen Carlos Ruiz aren't particularly daunting, right? With Brooks, Bedoya, Johnson, and Wood (9 goals in his last 8 games) all having banner years for their clubs and with most of the rest of the squad having some experience playing in hostile CONCACAF environments, it's hard to see the US not coming out of this round with at least 4 points.
The Olympic qualification home and home seems far more interesting at this point even if it isn't a FIFA tournament. Given the fact Klinsmann has repeatedly referenced it as vital for young players in the pool, advancing against Colombia seems almost more important than a pair of World Cup qualifiers against a team that hasn't beaten the US in 30 years.
Colombia's selection for this round pretty well mirrors the US U23s. It's mainly built of players from the domestic league, most of whom get regular minutes for their club team. They're missing out on 3 age-eligible players who are playing for the senior Cafeteros in CONMEBOL qualifying. Several of the players were on the U20 team that played the US in New Zealand during the U20 World Cup, a 1-0 victory for the US that would have ended tied at 90 if not for a PK save by Zack Steffen. Get ready for some tension.
Given the lopsided matchup with Guatemala, it seems like Klinsmann could afford to spare Brooks and Yedlin for the U23s, but unlike official FIFA matches where clubs are required to release their players, the clubs can absolutely refuse to release their players for the Olympics or Olympic qualifying. Even if Klinsmann hypothetically wanted to send them to the U23s after a good result in Guatemala, Tottenham/Sunderland and Hertha Berlin could simply say no. The same thing is true of 17 year old Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund, who may end up getting handed his debut for the full National Team on Tuesday rather than playing with the more age-appropriate U23s.
MLS (like their counterparts in Colombia) are not exercising similar privilege and kudos to them for making that sacrifice for national glory. This brings me back to Castillo and what his inclusion in the full national team means to Kellyn Acosta. It's good to see Castillo get another chance after a long time in the wilderness, but it's pretty bizarre that he's the only true left back of all 26 players in camp. This may be his last chance to impress, and I have to think that Acosta's performance in January would have earned him a call here if not for the Olympic play-in series. I fully expect Acosta to get a call up for qualifiers in September, and it will be interesting to see if he gets a call up between now and then. Is it possible that Acosta plays in both Copa America and the Olympics this summer? Well, probably not, but it's definitely heady times for our man. Incidentally, that penalty for Colombia in the U20 World Cup was conceded by Acosta while playing left back. The Colombian hooked him to earn the penalty; let's hope this week is redemptive and successful for Mr. Acosta.