The U.S. men’s senior national team resumed preparation for this summer’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifying semifinal round with last Wednesday’s game versus hosts and four-time World Cup champion Italy at Genoa ( 2:45 p.m., ESPN 2, ESPN 3, Univision).
The game is the first in a lineup of international friendlies that includes Scotland on May 26 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville (TN) at 8:00 p.m. on NBC; a clash against five-time world champion Brazil at FedEx Field in Landover (MD) on May 30 at 8:00 p.m. (ESPN 2, ESPN 3, Univision); and versus Canada at Toronto’s BMO Field on June 3 at 7:00 p.m. (NBC).
Clearly, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to qualify the U. S. for its seventh consecutive World Cup finals appearance since Italia ’90. Klinsmann lined up some of the world’s top teams to test his best charges. The thinking here is to do battle against better squads than those in CONCACAF so as to make life easier during this summer’s qualifiers.
“We’re looking forward to having all the European-based players back in the roster and picking up where we left off with them from the Slovenia game,” Klinsmann said before the Italy game. “I’m excited about getting everybody together and challenging a world-class team like former World Cup winner Italy on their home soil. I think we have put a very competitive roster together…”
Klinsmann has a tough task ahead in selecting the best combination of players that will be most effective as a unit this summer and beyond. He has worries in every zone of the pitch except in goal, where world class goalkeeper Tim Howard is the sure starter; the No. 2 and No. 3 goalkeeper spots are still wide open.
There is a scoring drought that Klinsmann must deal with. The U.S. scored a mere seven goals in nine games since Klinsmann took over the team from Bob Bradley last July; although undefeated so far this year, the Americans scored only two goals in 1-0 defeats of Venezuela and Panama, which puts the German coach’s U.S. record at (4-4-1) four wins, four loses and a draw. Clint Dempsey is the leading scorer for his English Premier League club Fulham with 10 goals in all games, but he usually lines up in the U.S. midfield, and with next-best scorer Landon Donovan out indefinitely with an ailment, the scoring lens will be focused on Edson Buddle and Jozy Altidore, both of whom are experienced internationals, and newcomer Terrence Boyd, a member of the U.S. under-23 squad who is German-born and seeking his first cap at the senior level.
None of these forwards start for their European clubs; Buddle just re-signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy, where he was the leading scorer in 2010, but he has not produced in the German Second Division, where he played last season. Altidore comes off the bench for Alkmaar FC in Holland. Boyd plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany and obviously must be a promising striker to be pulled from the under-23 squad for a possible senior appearance. So, therein lies Klinsmann’s scoring dilemma; the U. S. is in dire need of striking power.
In midfield, I think Klinsmann dreams about composure and long periods of possessing the ball. In the past, the U. S. trumped defense in midfield at the expense of creativity, hence the lack of long periods of ball possession. Klinsmann has the midfielders to do well for this team, but the right combination is crucial. In these upcoming friendlies, he should encourage more creativity in central midfield by sticking with Jose Torres of Pachuca FC (Mexico) and former MLS rookie of the year Maurice Edu of Rangers FC (Scotland). Torres is a very good technical player and excellent distributor of the ball, while Edu is a very good two-way player who can focus more on defense and win balls; he also shows good vision and timing in his passing. Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona, Italy) is a solid defensive option in midfield and Freddie Adu (Philadelphia Union, MLS), who is with the Olympic squad, and Brek Shea, both left-sided players, offer offensive depth and midfield balance.
Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers FC, Scotland) is the only sure starter on a defense that allowed seven goals in nine games under Klinsmann, who would do well to eventually pair Bocanegra with midfielder Jermaine Jones in the middle on the back-four. Jones is one of five German-born players in the U.S. player pool. He did not play versus Italy because of injury, but he is fast, a strong tackler and a good distributor. Geoff Cameron (Houston, MLS), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland, Denmark) and Clarence Goodson ((Brondby, Denmark ) are in the mix for a spot at central defense, but none will be as effective as Jones. Oguchi Onyewu, the established international at central defense has been a liability since his serious knee injury prior to the last World Cup. Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany) and Jonathan Spector (Birmingham, England) are capable outside defenders who are vying for a permanent spot.
Boyd and Jones are among five German-born players that Klinsmann recruited for the squad, at the grousing of some, although few; the others are injured defender Tim Chandler (Borussia Dortmund), who is pegged as the eventual starter at right back, and Hoffenheim FC midfielders Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams, both of whom will be looked at carefully this spring. These players bring much experience from the German top league and will lend much-needed stability to the U.S. team in World Cup play. The U. S. kicks off World Cup qualifying on June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Guatemala and Jamaica are the other teams in the U.S. Group A.