The Jurgen Klinsmann era of USA Soccer is a few months away from hitting full stride. The Americans begin CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in June and today’s match against Italy will be their first true test of 2012. With a “B” strength side (I prefer JV but "B" team is the going phrase around the world) recording wins Venezuela and Panama in late January, the last time the USA fielded their top senior side was during two-match trip to play at France (L, 0-1) and Slovenia (W, 3-2) in November 2011. Klinmann’s squad might have turned a corner in that 3-2 win at Slovenia several months ago, scoring three first half goals and breaking out of a scoring slump (1 goal in 5 matches) in the process. Thanks to injuries, the USA will feature most of their top senior players, but also a few youngsters that will need to pick up the slack and make the most of their opportunities.
GK – #1 Tim Howard (Everton), #18 Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), #23 Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEF – #2 Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City), #3 Carlos Bocanegra [C] (Rangers), #5 Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland), #6 Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), #15 Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), #21 Clarence Goodson (Brondby)
MID – #4 Michael Bradley (Chievo), #7 Maurice Edu (Rangers), #12 Fabian Johnson (1899 Hoffenheim), #14 Brek Shea (FC Dallas), #16 Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), #19 Daniel Williams (1899 Hoffenheim)
ATT – #8 Clint Dempsey (Fulham), #9 Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), #17 Jozy Altidore (AZ), #20 Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy)
INJURIES – Timothy Chandler, Oguchi Onyewu*, Jermaine Jones, Jose Francisco Torres, Stuart Holden*, Landon Donovan^ (*-indicates long-term injury, not selected for squad / ^-indicates illness)
The starting lineup isn’t too hard to predict, assuming that Klinsmann is throwing out his most experienced lineup. Howard should start in goal with a back-four of Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Spector and Goodson deployed in some fashion in front of him. The midfield is the most exposed with all the injuries and this is where I would make one interesting move. I would put Bradley and Edu in the center, with Kljestan and Shea at the wings, which would bump Dempsey up top to striker with Altidore. I expect the midfield to be rotating around a little bit anyway, but I’d stick with those four as starters because I think it gives the USA their best creative midfield and puts their best finisher (Dempsey) up top. Another option (and the one Klinsmann will likely do) is to drop Dempsey back to the midfield for either Kljestan or Shea and start Buddle up front. This isn’t exactly a deep bench for the USA, as the six outfield players I don’t have starting (including Buddle), have only 30 caps between them (Buddle and Parkhurst have 10 and 11 respectively and Boydhas yet to make his debut). Several of these call ups (Shea, Boyd, Williams and Johnson) were called up from the Olympic camp, perhaps to get them more first team experience, though Brek Shea likely could have made the squad without the injuries. The fact that Donavan and Dempsey still haven’t played together since Klinsmann took over as head coach is being a little overblown in my opinion, but there are still three warm-up matches before WC qualifying starts (Scotland, May 26 / Brazil, May 30 / @ Canada, June 3) and I highly doubt that Donovan missing a friendly in February is going to affect this team in any way.
I’m not going to type the mostly domestic 23-man roster Italy has selected for this game so here are the highlights: Forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano will both miss the game with injuries. Man City forward Mario Balotelli was not selected for the squad. The Azzurri midfield paring of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi is one of the best and most experienced (150+ combined caps) in the world and keeper Gianluigi Buffon could
probably play until he is 44.
The USA is 0-7-3 against Italy all-time, however, five of the last six meetings have been decided by one goal or less, the exception being the last meeting between these sides at the 2009 Confederations Cup, a 3-1 Azzurri victory. This is the first real test for Klinsmann’s new style and mentality and he has a roster that is capable of deploying his new attacking style. The USA has always had problems creating chances (and finishing for that matter…) in the run of play, but Klinsmann was brought in to solve that. The USA has never been the best team at possession, preferring to put men behind the ball and out working opponents to create chances. Expect to see a little more individual play with the USA midfield that will create runs for the wingers and strikers to create chances and shots against a stout Azzurri defense. Also, expect the USA to press a little higher up than in the Bradley era. If Klinsmann wants the USA to attack the game, then I don’t expect to see eight or nine men behind the ball every time Italy has possession. But that doesn’t mean the USA can neglect the defensive side of the ball. The Italian midfield is still pretty good and considering I’ve seen about a thousand goals scored in Serie A this season, let’s just assume that any Italian striker can find the back of the net at the moment, if given the chance. This is a veteran USA defensive corps that has
been working out some kinks for what seems like the last ten years. A strong showing by the backline will only breed confidence going into the summer. Also, expect Tim Howard to play the full 90 minutes. As much as I like Guzan and Rimando as backups (likely Guzan will be named as a substitute with Rimando heading back to RSL preseason camp and not making the trip), when playing against world class opponents, you should keep your world class keeper in the net.
OTHER USA MATCHES
The WNT starts the 2012 Algarve Cup today in Portugal when they play Denmark. The WNT will also play Norway on March 2 and Japan on March 5 as well as a final match on March 7 against a TBD opponent. The Men’s U-23 Olympic squad will play against Mexico’s U-23 in Texas later tonight. The US Olympic squad begins qualification for London on March 22 against Cuba then Canada and El Salvador on March 24 and 26 respectively with the knockout semifinals on March 31 and the final on April 2.