The United States gets one more tuneup before heading south for the summer for the World Cup in Brazil. Team USA has yet to put it all together and Saturday’s friendly against Nigeria should be the Americans’ toughest test yet.
When USA takes the field (4 p.m. Mountain time, ESPN, broadcast starts at 3:30 p.m.) expect to see the team that Jurgen Klinsmann will plan on starting on June 16 when the US opens against Ghana.
While this is the last friendly before the team boards a plane to Brazil, the US will get another match against Belgium in Brazil ahead of both teams’ openers in the tournament. That match will be behind closed doors with little to no media access, let alone public viewing. So this will be the last time to see what the US plans on doing personnel and strategy-wise.
So let’s see what we should be seeing.
1. The Starting XI.
The NFL might be getting rid of Roman Numerals but we aren’t. Learn ‘em, live ‘em, love em. Don’t know what XI is? Look it up.
The US needs to put the XI players it expects to start against Ghana on the field on Saturday. Nigeria is a team with a solid chance of advancing out of its group (Group F with Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iran). So the Super Eagles will want to give full effort ahead of their opener against Iran. The US is in the same boat, with an opener against a team it needs to beat. So Klinsmann must give the team every opportunity to jell.
Who does he start and where?
Goalie: Tim Howard.
Defenders: (Left to right) DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson.
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi
Forwards: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore
The back line is far from set, but Timmy Chandler at left back was horrible. Klinsmann might start him again to see if he bounces back or because Klinsmann is just stubborn and wants to justify bringing Chandler. But Beasley needs to start to see if he can still keep up with world-class competition after just turning 32. In the middle, Gonzalez and Besler should be reunited to see if they can recapture much of the magic they shared during qualifying. Besler and Geoff Cameron weren’t in sync against Turkey.
Against Azerbaijan, Bedoya helped Besley on the left side. Now he should get the chance to prove he can help whomever Klinsmann starts at left back.
2. The Possession Game.
Turkey had a lot of possession. Nigeria will look to do the same. How will the US handle it? If they choose to play off and let the Nigerians have the ball, will they defend adequately or get caught with wide runs that set up crosses as Turkey did effectively. If they choose to push to regain possession can the US get it back quickly? To be brutally honest, against Germany and Portugal the US won’t have a lot of possession. So learning how to defend is unbelievably important.
And when the US does get possession do they try and hold up play and make Nigeria defend? It’s more work to defend than to possess. The US needs as much possession as possibly, both here and in the tournament. So they need to take advantage when they have the ball.
This isn’t a fun topic (in more ways than one), but it might be the most important.
With all the injuries raining down on World Cup teams (France’s Franck Ribery was ruled out of the tournament Friday with a back injury), the US has to be praying to avoid the injury bug.
So far, so good through two games and weeks of training. Clint Dempsey was a last-minute scratch against Azerbaijan in the Americans’ first friendly because of a nagging groin injury. But Demspey bounced back and looked at top speed against Turkey a week ago, even nabbing a goal in the 2-0 victory.
On the flip side, if someone does get injured and is ruled out of the World Cup who takes his place? It’s an interesting proposition, especially if that player were a midfielder or forward. Would Klinsman turn to Landon Donovan? And can you imagine the chip on Donovan’s shoulder if he were to be recalled. Talk about something to prove.
We’d like to hear what you’ll be watching for in the friendly. Add your comments or join me on Twitter at @scottkaniewski5 during the US game for commentary and observations.