Due to the vagaries of the international calendar, pundits have pointed to this fixture as a last chance to impress for players on the fringe of the United States national team. Here is a brief timeline of what has happened since:
3. The game was moved to Cyprus. The car of the president of the Cypriot Referee’s association was summarily destroyed with a car bomb.
5. Russia invades the Crimea for the umpteenth time.
Since the invasion, the match has been reported as canceled and un-canceled. It is game on as of now, and despite the diminishing importance of this game due to a pretty massive geopolitical crisis, I will enjoy taking the long lunch for this one.
Ukraine was a single goal away from ending France’s streak of World Cup appearances and has a plethora of young talent plying their trade in their underrated domestic league. How well will they compartmentalize the strife at home for the match at Papadopoulos Stadium?
Assuming they play to their paper, this will a good challenge for the non-MLS Yanks on the periphery. Danny Williams and Juan Agudelo come to mind for me immediately. Their two chief rivals for a ticket to Brazil (Beckerman and Wondolowski) probably have a leg up on the depth chart at the moment, but a good showing for either here will give Klinsmann pause. Using the analogy of the job interview, all things being equal, the guy in the sharper suit gets the job. All of Klinsmann’s comments regarding players testing themselves at the highest level (European leagues) lead me to believe that a good performance here paired with good form for the rest of the season will earn Williams and Agudelo a roster spot at the expense of the aforementioned.
Brek Shea and Sacha Kljestan are in more of a do or die situation in this one. Kljestan has been doing too much bench surfing lately, so he needs something near spotless here due to the depth in the middle. Will he even get the minutes in the middle that he so desperately needs?
Shea is only in this conversation because of the lack of depth wide. Had we abundant talent from out wide, he would have to bide his time until the next cycle. Since that is not the case, he will get a chance yet again to show his quality. He has shown the ability, albeit maddeningly inconsistently, to break down a defender one-on-one and add a wrinkle on the left that the US currently lacks. His odds are markedly better because of necessity but are still long due his schizophrenic form.
How does one handicap a match like this given the geopolitical crisis and the composition of the USMNT squad? We have never beaten the Ukraine in our previous meetings (0-2-1), but those matches were all over 20 years ago. If we subtracted the Ukraine’s chaotic situation and the change of venue, I would be hard-pressed to predict victory for the Yanks despite a devotion to overlooking their shortcomings. With the intangible advantage of home field gone, the messy state of affairs in the Ukraine, and the US having an edge in preparing for the World Cup, I like the US to break the duck with a 2-1 victory.