Welcome back to the world of US soccer friendlies! On hand this January day, we have one of the most confusing fixtures in a while. January and February friendlies tend to see Camp Cupcake end with a whimper rather than a thud, but with more key national teamers plying their trade in MLS than anytime in recent memory, this USMNT is much more than that usual collection of “has beens,” “might bes” and “why the hell not, he’s earned it’s.”
Dempsey. Altidore. Bradley. Jones. They have all made the trip down to Chile for what seems like a stern test early in what promises to be a busy year. Despite of lofty FIFA ranking of No. 14, the other La Roja bring a weak squad of domestic-based players, partly because the game does not fall on an official fixture date, partly because Chile’s best team is nearly entirely composed on soccer exports. The squad set to face the Yanks only boasts two members of last summer’s World Cup squad — 33-year-old backup goalkeeper Johnny Herrera and defender José Rojas — and 10 of 20 players who have ever been capped.
All of this combines with a constantly in flux USMNT talent pool to make this game either a vital building block for a hectic 2015 and World Cup cycle or a spineless blip on the radar. So many questions!! What formation will Klinsmann go with? Which young prospects will get to run with the big boys? Is that even the right way to think about it? Can Jozy find his touch? How will Bradley be deployed? Is Jermaine Jones really a centerback? We might not have many of the answers, but that’s never stopped us from sending our preferred team sheets Jürgen Klinsmann’s way before.
Dan Popko: Nick Rimando is not all that far off of Brad Guzan’s pace for the true No. 1 jersey, so I see him getting the early game time while Klinsmann is still in “figure out what I have to work with” mode.
Steve Fogarty: Looking towards the future, Sean Johnson is probably the right choice to start in goal. However, it is clear that Rimando is the better player right now, and deserves to start, and probably go the distance, in this match.
Fogarty: I’m intrigued by Klinsmann’s experimentations with a five-man back line, as teams must constantly adapt and try different formations. I’m going to use this lineup for this game. If used it could be a huge success, work in progress or catastrophic failure. The three central defenders feature two givens: Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler. I believe Shane O’Neill has the leg up on the third spot, based off his 2014 experience with Camp Cupcake. For the wing backs, I have chosen DeAndre Yedlin on the right and Mix Diskerud on the left. Diskerud has shown the ability to adapt to different positions, and his underrated defensive ability will be on full display here.
Popko: So many formation questions in need of answering. Also, that Mix selection just blew my mind. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Klinsmann goes with the suddenly en vogue five-man back line (thanks for nothing, Lous Van Gaal), I’ve seen it fail too many times at the club level to feel comfortable going with it if I’m calling the shots — even if it does play to many of Jones’ (and Yedlin’s) strengths. Let’s see that vanilla four-man defense! I’ll stick with much of the same personnel, going Yedlin-Jones-Besler from right to left. As has often been the case with the United States over, well, forever, there is no real left back in sight. The most experience option on the roster for that spot might legitimately be Brek Shea. Alas, I can’t subject myself to that decision. Instead, I’m looking to the strange decision to list Perry Kitchen as a defender. Clearly, Klinsmann wants to find a spot on the field for him. For me, that will be left back, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him deputizing Jones as the third centerback with the license to step forward and strengthen the midfield as well.
Popko: Who plays in this spot — and how the shape of the midfield and forward line play out — is almost entirely dependent on what you think Michael Bradley should be doing. I’m inclined to go with the tried and true 4-2-3-1 formation, but the lack of real wide players outside of Yedlin and Shea (another sign that maybe the 3-5-2 is what we’ll really see) makes that a real challenge. Of course the other real option is Bradley atop the diamond, *shudders*. Let’s go with a two-man pairing here. Bradley is better as the one with more freedom, so I’ll leave it to the youngster Wil (what happened to the other L, Wil??) Trapp to do the dirty work.
Fogarty: I really like the combinations at Klinsmann’s disposal for this area of the field. Bradley and Trapp is my favorite pairing as well. Kitchen would do the job here, but as Popko mentioned, the boss has him listed as a defender.
Fogarty: I’m going with Lee Nguyen as the man that orchestrates the attack. I could see Bradley, Dempsey and Diskerud in this position too, but Nguyen should be rewarded for his 2014 MLS campaign.
Popko: While Fogarty can content himself with naming just one man to this spot, I’m left fretting over three names with no particularly promising combinations. Dempsey will have to fit in somewhere, so I’ll let him figure out things back in the center of the park, more a withdrawn second forward than true attacking midfielder. You expect that Yedlin will bomb forward and join the attack on the right a fair bit, so that position will not need to fulfill the same width requirements, which is why I want to give Mix the chance to fill Graham Zusi’s shoes. Across the field is where I’m really close to handing a start to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but alas, someone will have to step up. I don’t want Shea to just walk into the starting lineup, so I’m going with one of the most exciting uncapped players in this team: Gyasi Zardes. Though he has played centrally this past season, he has spent some time as a wide player in the past. If this line of three can stop from all wanting to drift inside at once, it could be good!
Popko: Who does this team have that could do with finding a goal against a third-rate Chilean side? Oh yeah! Jozy Altidore! (And Bobby Wood, but let’s forget about that one…)
Fogarty: Altidore is a must start in the 839th attempt to get his confidence back. I’m pairing him with the always reliable Dempsey, although I’d like to see Zardes get extended minutes in a road match.
Dan Popko’s Preferred XI (4-2-3-1)
————— Rimando —————
Yedlin — Jones — Besler — Kitchen
——— Bradley —— Trapp ———
Diskerud —– Dempsey —– Zardes
—————- Altidore —————-
Steve Fogarty’s Preferred XI (3-5-2)
———– Rimando ———–
— O’Neil l– Jones — Besler —
Yedlin —————- Diskerud
—– Bradley —— Trapp ——
————- Nguyen ————
— Altidore ——— Dempsey —