JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 18: Landon Donovan of the United States celebrates scoring his team's first goal with Clint Dempsey and imagines what it would be like if they never played together after the 2011 Gold Cup. Michael Bradley gazes into the gaping maw of eternity. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Months after their last FIFA open-date friendlies, the United States returns to the field tomorrow to face Italy in Genoa. The results under Klinsmann have been hit or miss. When the defense is shored up, the offense disappears and vice versa. Some of that is learning a new system, and some of that is due to the lack of depth that injuries has exposed. In an effort to torture fans, fate has intervene on behalf of the Italians to deliver sickness and injury to the following players that would be in camp sans injury: Oguchi Onyewu (knee, out eight weeks), Landon Donovan (Bronchitis, out for Italy match), Stuart Holden (still recovering from multiple knee injuries), Zac Whitbread (habitually injured, hamstring), Jermaine Jones (Calf injured while receiving yellow card in practice, I assume), Jose Torres (hamstring), Eric Lichaj(Just returned from hip surgery), and Tim Chandler (hamstring).
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
You can break this roster into four camps (and the injured players for perspective):
Old Timers:Cherundolo and Bocanegra 2
2014 Locks: Dempsey, Howard, Bradley, Altidore (Jones, Donovan, Onyewu) 7
2014 Probables: Shea, Johnson, Edu (Chandler, Lichaj, Holden) 5
Experiments and Works in Progress: Everyone else (9)
That means the rest of the players are fighting for 9-11 roster spots (including the two backup keepers) for Brazil. Don't expect those old timers to bow out before 2014, but hopefully Chandler or Lichaj has taken over right back and we've found anyone to play center back. Of the players on the list, the most to gain are the center backs. Behind Boca and Gooch, no one has established themself as the third choice or given the injuries and/or age of those two number three and four should be ready to take over. Tim Ream looked much better in his Bolton debut and solid against Chelsea(despite the scoreline), so despite his absence from the roster, he should be included in the mix.
After the jump, some key issues for the United States (hint, they haven't changed since 2006) and an Italy preview.
Hello, Terrance Boyd
The newest young phenom at forward is here; let the premature coronation begin. I jest partially, because we are so terribly desperate for goals or even a semblance of offensive threat. Boyd is an unknown, due mostly to his reserve status with Dortmund. Keep in mind this isn't Ricardo Clark riding the bench in the 2nd Bundesliga, Dortmund is Germany's top team until they are unseated from that perch. He's too young to count on (sound familiar?), but he scores goals and that's initially foremost of what we want from young forwards.
The problem with United States forwards of late has not been athleticism or potential. The argument against the great US hopes (specifically Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore) has been an inconsistency on the field. Johnson's due to his confidence and Altidore due to lackluster training. Last week, AZ Alkmaar manager Gertjan Verbeek publically sounded his disappointment in Altidore's progress on the training field and Jozy responded by scoring a brace. Let's hope Altidore finds some of that touch tomorrow, but first he must get the type of service that he recieves at Alkmaar on a far more consistent basis.
Again, we find ourselves without a left back, even worse our top three right backs are out of form (Cherundolo) or injured (Chandler and Lichaj). Enter Jonathan Spector, the one future right back, now interchangeable 23rd man on a World Cup roster. Don't be surprised to see him playing on the left. The surest option is to play Fabian Johnson there, hopefully providing enough offense to negate defensive lapses. The only other options are playing a pure winger (Shea) or centerbacks (most likely Bocanegra). The former provides us with no defense and the latter with little cover or veteran presence in the middle. If Whitbread gets called in (unlikely), I would feel better about Bocanegra moving over, but if Goodson and Cameron are the center backs, watch out Timmy. Spector has slowly been correcting the problems he had back in 2010 when he completely lost his mojo and starting spot to Cherundolo. I hope Klinsmann gives him a shot as opposed to weakening our team in other areas to cover at left back.
4-4-1-1 and 4-1-2-3
Klinsmann's formation should be familiar to us, because it is so similar to how Sporting KC plays. The midfield is a narrow triangle. In attack, only one player holds and the other pushes up. In defense, the box-to-box midfielder drops as do the wingers to form two banks of four. In defense, Dempsey should occupy the deep lying playmaker, while acting as the hub of the offense. With Donovan and Jones in camp and Shea gone, the lineup was simple. Jones holds, Bradley is the box-to-box, Dempsey is the number 10, Johnson on the left, and Donovan on the right. Now, anything could happen. While my personal hopes involve getting Kljestan on the field, I expect Edu or Williams to replace Jones, Shea to take up the left wing, and Johnson to be on the right. Due to the lack of any traditional right wingers, anything could happen.
Klinsmann's Formation (My hopes in parentheses):
Cherundolo Cameron Bocanegra Johnson(Spector)
Williams(Bradley) Dempsey Shea(Johnson)
DEFENDERS: Ignazio Abate (AC Milan), Davide Astori (Cagliari), Federico Balzaretti (Palermo), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Angelo Ogbonna (Torino).
It is with great sadness that I inform you of Mario Balotelli's absence and in correlation the complete lack of fun in the Italian squad. Also, the Guiseppe Rossi injury takes all of the unreasonable hatred out of our viewing, leaving us to discuss an Italian squad on its merits. Like France who I fiercely denounced, the Italians burned out of the 2010 World Cup. It wasn't quite as embarrassing, but it was sad to watch Italy try to win the 2010 World Cup with it's 2006 team. In response, a coaching change was made and the Italian squad easily qualified for Euro 2012 undefeated, winning eight matches and drawing two.
Italy will come out in a similar formation to the one I proposed above for the United States. Their width will come more from the fullbacks than the United States who drop their wingers on defense. This creates a like for like situation that may bog down the game. Or we could have two teams intent on not playing wing defense bombing up and down the field. As a fan, I prefer the latter and expect the former.
Given the injury problems they have, the starting lineup could go any way. I'll guarantee only that Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon are on the field, and apart from that it's anybody's guess. I would start Chiellini and Barzaghli in defense, but Ogbonna might start as well. Maggio's as close to a lock on the right and Matri and Giovinco are the most in form strikers not born in the 1990's. However, expect Borini (the 90's kid), to make his debut. Outside Motta, I find the other midfielders interchangeable, perhaps out of laziness but more because Pirlo and Motta dictate the play. Dempsey should be on Pirlo anytime he tries to dictate play from deep and whoever the holding midfielder is should be focused no Motta.
Prediction: Italy 2-1
1-0 would be the safe bet, but I want to see some attacking by the United States to get a goal. That will in turn yield another goal.