Tonight’s U.S. national team match features key players from the squad that survived the 2014 Group of Death but then looked timid against Germany and Belgium. Here’s what Brian Sciaretta will be looking for.
October 14, 2014
TONIGHT THE U.S. NATIONAL TEAM will play its second and final game (8pm ET, ESPN) of this international window against Honduras, and with many World Cup veterans on the squad, it will be an opportunity to gauge the status of some key players a few months after an uneven tournament in Brazil.
Here are four things on my mind ahead of the match.
1. The core from Brazil reunites
The roster changes that Jurgen Klinsmann made following Friday’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador in East Hartford, Conn., have pretty much reestablished the core group of players that were on the World Cup team. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, and Alejandro Bedoya enjoyed significant minutes in Brazil and are now in Florida preparing to face a CONCACAF rival.
The question now: What can this group of Americans do tonight that they couldn’t do in Brazil?
The U.S. squad features many of the same players who were badly outpossessed by Belgium and Germany, and Klinsmann said he wanted a different mental approach from his team in order to challenge quality opposition. Honduras, ranked fifth in the region and 56th in the world, is not exactly a global power but it’s no patsy either. Controlling possession and dictating the pace of the game against a weaker opponent like Honduras won’t do much to address Klinsmann’s frustrations from the summer.
That being said, it will be interesting to see if the U.S. can dominate Honduras and play with a team that has a purpose. Four years ago, the team under Bob Bradley struggled following the World Cup and while this isn’t the first game after the World Cup, it is the first game for many of the key players. It will be interesting to see how they perform.
2. Fullbacks are the key
One area of the field that could potentially change under Klinsmann is the fullback position. DaMarcus Beasley was fine at left back in Brazil considering it was not his preferred position and he was only playing the role for the national team. Also, the Fort Wayne, Ind., native is 32-years-old and has to be considered a longshot for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Fabian Johnson is not with the American side for these games but at Borussia Monchengladbach he is playing his natural—and arguably best—position: midfield. (Yes, we know Berti Vogt’s position on Johnson’s position.) Over the last three years, Klinsmann has played Johnson in several positions so it would be incorrect to say he is a full-time right back and can never switch positions again.
So there are potentially two fullback spots up for grabs right now, providing DeAndre Yedlin, Timothy Chandler, and Greg Garza with golden opportunities to make their cases for spots in the starting lineup.
Yedlin and Chandler are natural right backs (Yedlin was in the midfield on Friday and Chandler has played out of position at left back for most of his national team career), and the door is open for them to inherit the position on a full-time basis.
Similarly, Garza has the opportunity to be the first natural left back the team has had in years. Historically it has always been a position that U.S. national team coaches have filled with out-of-position athletes, including Paul Caligiuri, Frankie Hedjuk, Bobby Convey, Eddie Lewis, Eric Lichaj, Johnson, Beasley, Chandler, and Carlos Bocanegra. But Garza is a left back, and if he can make the position his own it would be great for him and Klinsmann.
3. Mix Diskerud has the momentum
Right now, there is no more in-form American player on the roster than Mix Diskerud, who scored the United States’ only goal on Friday and set up the decisive strike in last month’s 1-0 win over the Czech Republic. He has earned positive reviews recently from Klinsmann, other American players, and members of the press.
Diskerud sat out all four games of the 2014 World Cup, never getting a chance to partner with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones on the game’s biggest stage. Will he get that chance tonight? And if he does, what will the Norwegian-American do with the opportunity?
Klinsmann has repeatedly said that he wants to see Diskerud add different elements into his game and step up into being a more aggressive player. How he handles himself with the core players will be an important indicator.
4. Miguel Ibarra could steal the spotlight
In the lead-up to the game against Honduras, Klinsmann said Minnesota United star Miguel Ibarra could potentially become the first non-MLS, domestically based athlete to play for the U.S. team since the turn of the millennium. Klinsmann also said that without promotion/relegation, it was tough to compare leagues like NASL and MLS.
When the U.S. faced Ecuador on Friday, several NASL officials made their way to Connecticut for the game. I spoke to a few of them and each stressed just how important it would be for their league if Ibarra played—even if only a brief cameo. Their take: It could transform the perception of the league as a whole.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ibarra make an appearance against Honduras after working hard throughout the camp. Should that happen, it will be interesting to see what happens the weeks and months ahead. Will more NASL players move to MLS in the offseason? Will other NASL players, including leading scorer Christian Ramirez, earn a call-up for the U.S. national team’s January camp?
Ibarra is in an unusual situation. Depending on your perspective, he shouldn’t be feeling much pressure because he hails from the U.S. second tier and expectations should be minimal. That said, he is representing an entire league right now, and his success—or failure—could speak volumes about the quality of the league and its players.
NASL officials will be anxiously awaiting the release of tonight’s lineup card.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.