The United States Men's National Team returns to Europe for another doubleheader of exhibitions, starting with the 1st of 2 World Cup 2014 Semifinalists, the mighty Netherlands. The Dutch bring a full strength squad in the thick of Euro 2016 qualifying with Arjen Robben (injury) being the only significant absence.
The US has brought a full strength squad as well minus the likes of Jermaine Jones, Jozy Altidore (both injury), and Clint Dempsey (personal), but generally, closely resembling what we will likely see when the Gold Cup opens in about a month. Here's three things I'm watching.
Have the US settled on a formation? During the Denmark match, the US ran out a flat 4-4-2 and were on the back foot seemingly the entire game with the Danes handily controlling the middle of the field. The 3-2 defeat was a flattering result in context. The Yanks looked considerably better in Switzerland less than a week later when playing in a 4-1-3-2/diamond 4-4-2 with a stay at home midfielder shielding the back line and the wide midfielders pinched in. Danny Williams played the '6' role that day, and I either he, Beckerman, or possibly Morales will line up like that today in what might serve as a base formation going through the summer. Or maybe Klinsmann will throw us another curveball (please don't).
The Forwards: Hopefully, in a month's time, Altidore and Dempsey will both enjoy a goal-filled romp through the Gold Cup, but minus the duo today, there's a big opportunity for the 4 forwards on the roster. Zardes has the look of someone who could play the role of Jozy's understudy, but he lack in the hold-up lay category at the moment. Wood has lead the lines at the youth level, but his time in Germany's 2 Bundesliga was uninspiring with club issues and relegation for FC Erzgebirge Aue low-lighting his season.
Agudelo and Johannsson are both less apt to play as targets, but both can, and both are pretty hot right now. One or both of these guys could cement a roster spot for the Gold Cup with some good play over heavyweights in the next 2 matches. I'm not sure they both start at forward today, but I'd like to see how well two of our trickier forwards play off one another.
El Guzano: It's been a while since we've seen the 'No.1' Goalkeeper play for the US (against Colombia last November), and after a tough season in the Premier League where he was benched for Shay Given at the end of the year, he may be in the shop window. He'll need a good showing in the friendlies (and the Gold Cup) to help him get out of Tim Sherwood's dog house at Aston Villa or to remind clubs in Europe in need of a keeper that he's a premium option.
The US U-23 (Olympics roster) has been taking part in the prestigious Toulon Tournament, and despite a mixed bag of performance and results, made it to the medal round thanks to some exceptionally friendly results yesterday. They'll most likely play England on Sunday morning, pending today's results in Group B.
Outside of the Netherlands match, most of the U23 performance was not easy on the eyes. This shouldn't really cause any alarm though as only 2 guys (Jordan Morris and Fatai Alashe) are getting regular minutes on the 1st team of their clubs (and only one if you discount the fact Morris is playing at Stanford). This team was destined to struggle with rusty players in place of eligible players like Will Trapp, Walker Zimmerman, Khiry Shelton, Jose Villareal, Luis Gil, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Anthony Brooks who are getting 1st team minutes with their club teams. Finding 1st team minutes will be of paramount importance for most of these players if they want to make the roster.
That's in large part because the U20 roster is stacked with guys who are consistently earning 1st team minutes with their professional club. Matt Miazga, Kellyn Acosta, Rubio Rubin, and Jordan Allen are virtual locks for the game day roster for their respective clubs. Paul Arriola, Desevio Payne, Emerson Hyndman, Bradford Jamieson, and Tommy Thompson have all received significant minutes this year as well and two guys in MLS right now that are getting minutes (Christian Roldan and Zach Pfeffer) didn't even make the team. Several of these guys will probably end up in the Olympic pool after the tournament. The US qualified for the knockout round after winning their first 2 games in Group A and looked game for a deep run in the U-20 World Cup.
Earlier this morning, the golden generation train came screeching to a halt, as the Baby Yanks got smoked by the Ukraine in Auckland, 3-0. This really was a perfect storm of awful. Payne and Miazga were both benched to avoid a second yellow card. Rubin didn't come in until after the 60th minute (and Jamieson struggled playing up top). The field was slick. The officiating was poor, and the tactics suggested that the Yanks would be happy playing for a tie.
An excellent free kick by Viktor Kovalenko (after a questionable foul call), a missed Hyndman penalty (after an even more questionable foul suffered by Allen) and 2 masterfully executed counters by the Ukraine (Kovalenko twice more), the US settled for 2nd in Group A. With Maki Tall out of the rest of the tournament with a foot injury, keeping Rubio healthy and out of trouble will be very important if the US are to advance deep into the tournament. The bright side is that they saved their worst game of the tournament (I'm hoping) for what was essentially a meaningless game. You'll get to enjoy at least one more early morning (2:30am CDT) on June 10th when they take on the Runner-up for Group C.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
DEFENDERS (7): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC),DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Danny Williams (Reading FC)
FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
There's plenty to discuss- do so below. I definitely suggest starting your weekend early today.