Whenever I get the opportunity, I like to bring soccer to the blog. Starting this weekend, the U.S. Men’s National Team will play two exhibition matches on U.S. soil as early preparation for this summer’s Gold Cup tournament. This will be a preview of the upcoming games written for both new fans and established ones.
1. What is the Gold Cup?
The newer soccer fan may not know what this tournament is, and don’t feel ashamed if you find yourself in that category because it does not receive a lot of media attention aside from the hardcore blogs.
Anyway, the Gold Cup is a tournament for CONCACAF teams, the FIFA body responsible for North, Central, and Caribbean America, in which the winner will earn a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The 2013 Confederations Cup will be played in the summer before the 2014 Brazilian World Cup and will feature 5 teams representing the 5 World Cup qualifying FIFA regions (no Oceania) plus the defending World Cup champion (Spain)
You may remember that in the summer of 2009 the U.S. played in the Confederations Cup in which it placed second to Brazil after defeating Spain in the semifinals. It is a very important tournament for preparing for the World Cup against good competition, so the U.S. will be throwing out its A lineup this summer in hopes of qualifying.
I’ll have more on the actual Gold Cup itself as the tournament nears, but if you’re interested now you can explore the schedule and group draws here.
2. The upcoming friendlies
This coming Saturday, the U.S. will host South American powerhouse Argentina at New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. On the following Tuesday, the U.S. will play Paraguay in Nashville. The Argentina game will be broadcast on ESPN2, and the Paraguay game will feature on Fox Soccer Channel.
These are the only two exhibitions scheduled before the actual Gold Cup so look for the U.S. to play its A team. The U.S. views it as imperative to play in the Confederations Cup in two summers.
3. The U.S. roster
U.S. players finished their club commitments this past weekend, and have traveled to Cary, North Carolina to train for the week. Coach Bob Bradley, fresh off his contract extension through the next World Cup cycle, named 24 players to the first team.
However, injuries have forced an updated roster. Stuart Holden, a dynamic midfielder, and two defenders, Steve Cherundolo and Zak Whitebread, have been withdrawn from the roster due to injuries. Cherundolo and Whitebread are out for minor, nagging injuries which they need to rest for their remaining club schedules. The U.S. defense will miss Cherundolo as he has established himself as a stalwart on the back line.
The more troubling injury is that of Stuart Holden. Holden became one of the best midfielders in the English Premier League this season while playing for Bolton Wanderers. Holden was tackled by Manchester United’s Johnny Evans this past weekend resulting in a gash needing 26 stitches and surgery today to repair an (at this time) undisclosed knee injury which will keep Holden out for six months.
Holden was the victim of a broken leg from Holland hit-man Nigel de Jong in an exhibition before last summer’s World Cup. The young midfielder can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to international play.
These three players were replaced by one, Eric Lichaj. Lichaj is a promising young defender who figured to eventually take over for Cherundolo, possibly as soon as the 2014 World Cup, but he is probably not quite ready to step into a starting role this summer. He has shown some promise in the EPL this season with Aston Villa (and now on loan with Leeds United), so maybe he turns a few heads this summer.
The rest of the U.S. roster provides some familiar names as well as some new blood to keep an eye on. Two young names to watch are Juan Agudelo and Timothy Chandler.
Agudelo starred for MLS’ New York Red Bulls last season. The now 18 year old has made two appearances on the national team scoring one goal. He will push striker Jozy Altidore for playing time.
Chandler, 8 days shy of his 21st birthday, has dual citizenship in Germany, where he was born, and America. Thankfully, he has decided to play for the U.S., and he has lots of potential for the future. He starts in Germany’s highest league, the Bundesliga.
For more information about the ins and outs of the U.S. roster, check out the NY Times Goal soccer blog.
4. The Formation
Bob Bradley recently announced his intention to switch from his beloved 4-4-2 to a more offensive-minded 4-2-3-1. The injury to Holden, who would have starred as the center in the three line, may force Bradley’s hand, but let’s hope not. Bradley has some room to toy with this formation as well.
Tim Howard will be in goal. He’s the best the U.S. has, and there’s really no reason to leave him out. The back line is also pretty much set. Captain Carlos Bocanegra will start as a center-back. Oguchi Onyewu will likely be in the other CB. Jay DeMerit will likely set up as the right wing defender.
The wiggle room for Bradley comes at left back. Lichaj is the natural predecessor to the position, and I’d bet he starts there against Argentina. However, Chandler could see some time there (or another defender position given his versatility). Chandler provides a better attacking option than Lichaj so it’s something to keep an eye on.
In the midfield, the two line will be two defensive midfielder. Bradley has three players for two spots: his son Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, or Jermaine Jones. My guess is Bradley-Edu one game, and Bradley-Jones the other. All three are deserving.
In the upper midfield, Bradley will run three attacking midfielders. On the wings will be Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. They can each play either side and will likely switch at points throughout games. The middle midfielder in the three is where the loss of Holden shows. He’s America’s best option there.
With his absence, Bradley has some choices. He could move his son up leaving Jones and Edu in the back midfield. Michael is a good player, but he’s not the attacking option that naturally fits there. Bradley could try Benny Feilhaber who’s proven capable, but inconsistent. He could try Dempsey there.
Or, Bradley has a bit of a dark-horse in Sacha Kljestan as argued by The Yanks Are Coming blog. I like the Kljestan theory, who fell out of favor after a poor performance in the last World Cup cycle, but has since regained form while playing in Belgium. Kljestan is the offense-creator that the position requires.
Up top, Jozy Altidore will most certainly start. He needs to start scoring more goals from that position, but he still has a lot of upside and could potentially shine in the system. Agudelo will almost certainly sub in the games for Altidore. Edson Buddle is the only other striker on the roster, and let’s just hope he doesn’t see too much action.
Then again, if Bradley reverts back to the 4-4-2 because of the Holden injury, all of this becomes irrelevant. I really hope he stays with the new formation though because the 4-4-2 isn’t nearly as effective without Charlie Davies and the strength of the U.S. is the midfield so we should use it to our advantage.
Argentina will be the better team of the two the U.S. plays, but they certainly won’t be unbeatable. They’ll be good, but the U.S. has a chance.
Argentina announced that the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, would be suiting up for the friendlies. However, they also announced Carlos Tevez, a powerful goal-scoring forward, would not be representing the national team. The U.S. caught a bit of a break there. Still, the Argentines possess a very good team.
Prediction: Tie 2-2 (a little hopeful, but it’s possible)
Paraguay doesn’t strike the fear in the heart of opponents as Argentina does, but they are still a solid team. Paraguay will play its game taking advantage of mistakes and often capitalizing. This game, in a sense, may be more important because Paraguay is closer to the level of teams the U.S. will play in the Gold Cup (there are no Argentinas in CONCACAF), specifically Mexico.
Prediction: U.S. 2-1