Opportunity knocks for Green, Gooch with U.S. set to experiment

WASHINGTON -- Tuesday's friendly against New Zealand (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) isn't the highest-profile affair for the U.S. national team, but it is still anything but meaningless.

The contest at RFK Stadium represents the final chance for the Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff to evaluate players before the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying kicks off with two of the most difficult games the national team will play on the way to Russia: A visit from archrival Mexico on Nov. 11 and a trip to Costa Rica -- where the Americans have never won -- four days later.

With that in mind, here are four things to watch for against the Kiwis.

1. Opportunity for Green, Gooch

Julian Green seems set to start again after the 21-year-old's goal and assist earned him man of the match honors in Cuba on Friday. And with a host of attacking players among those released from the squad, that also could open up a place for Sunderland's Lynden Gooch, 20. Given the available personnel, there's a distinct possibility that Klinsmann opts for three forwards and that means the two youngsters could be asked to flank target man Jozy Altidore.

Gooch also can fill a holding role but, wherever they play and however they perform, only an avalanche of injuries would make them contenders for significant minutes next month. Still, Gooch and Green are among the most intriguing young players in the American pool and, against New Zealand, they'll get a chance to make a case for roster spots for the games that count.

"In that transition that we always talk about between two World Cup cycles," Klinsmann said Monday. "We made a huge step forward over the last year, getting these youngsters pushing more and more."

2. Which central midfielders will emerge?

Even with 2014 World Cup vets Jermaine Jones (knee) and Kyle Beckerman (not called in) out, no part of the field is more packed than the middle. Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan started the Americans' two previous games and are still with the squad. Scotland-based Perry Kitchen was on the Copa America roster and is eager for more field time; he has played just 46 minutes in his two appearances in 2016.

Danny Williams is having a career season at English second-tier club Reading but he has never fully established himself under Klinsmann despite being capped by the coach in each of the past five years. And the aforementioned Gooch has seen Premier League action in central midfield this season, although he figures to play closer to goal in this one.

3. Reserve defenders make their case

The backline that started in Havana -- right-back DeAndre Yedlin, central defenders Geoff Cameron and John Brooks and left-back Fabian Johnson -- remains Klinsmann's first-choice unit. But Yedlin is the only one who is still on the roster and considering Brooks' and Johnson's history of missing international matches because of injuries, it makes plenty of sense to give one final look to a few other candidates.

Steve Birnbaum emerged as Cameron's backup earlier this year and he remains ahead of Omar Gonzalez at right center-back. But D.C. United's Birnbaum received 10 stitches after being kicked in the head on Friday and so is probably a long shot to play in his home stadium. That points to a Gonzalez-Matt Besler reunion in the center with Yedlin in his usual spot and 21-year-old FC Dallas standout Kellyn Acosta on the opposite side.

4. Who starts in goal?

Ethan Horvath backed up veterans Brad Guzan and Tim Howard at June's Copa America Centenario and again in last month's World Cup qualifying wins over St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, so it was no surprise to see the 21-year-old get the nod in Cuba. But Horvath, who kept a clean sheet, was one of nine players sent back to their clubs following that match and it isn't clear if San Jose Earthquakes keeper David Bingham or Mexican-based William Yarbrough will get the assignment against the All Whites.

Whoever Klinsmann picks, there's a possibility that both will play a half as the No. 3 job remains open. But D.C. United fans shouldn't bank on seeing Bill Hamid, who replaced Horvath on the roster, making a cameo; not after Klinsmann told reporters that the 25-year-old is now "number six or seven" on the positional depth chart.