The roster is in, Landon is out, and it’s time for the U.S. MNT to play some soccer, as they begin preparations in earnest with a series of friendlies leading into the World Cup opener on June 16 versus Ghana.
Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff will use games against Azerbaijan, Turkey, Nigeria and an unconfirmed match in Brazil on June 12 against Belgium, to finalize a starting 11 and hone tactics.
So what should we look for against Azerbaijan Tuesday evening in San Francisco? First off, and this may seem obvious, but who will play, and where?
Tim Howard is a lock in goal, but I count only five other definites with Ghana looming. We can safely assume Matt Besler in one of the central defense spots, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the middle of the park, and captain Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top.
That’s it, just 6 of the 11 starters appear to be decided. Competition is great, but shouldn’t this team be closer to settled by now?
So who will fill out the starting team on Tuesday? Klinsmann has reiterated his view that Geoff Cameron is a center back, will he partner Besler at Candlestick? Or is Klinsmann less concerned with Omar Gonzalez than most everybody else? If Cameron plays centrally in the first friendly then we should know that will be his position in Brazil, whether as a starter or sub.
Fabian Johnson is listed as defender and has said he expects to be used as a fullback in Brazil. But Klinsmann converted DaMarcus Beasley to fullback and Beas has yet to let him down, so he may be a starter in Brazil, his fourth World Cup.
Chandler, back in from the cold and fresh off of the injured list, looks to be the likely starter on the right, with youngster DeAndre Yedlin his only backup. But Johnson can also play on the right and if he doesn’t start Cameron could serve as Klinsmann’s security blanket and primary sub on the back line.
Graham Zusi might seem a decent bet to start wide right, although Bedoya could get the nod. On the left wing Brad Davis is expected to be used as a late game replacement, but he may be the only natural left sided midfielder on the roster. Johnson though, is probably the best on the team, and Bedoya can work either side.
In Klinsmann’s preferred 4-2-3-1 Clint Dempsey will line up behind Jozy Altidore. Restoring Altidore’s confidence is key to U.S. hopes, and Klinsmann can be expected to give the Sunderland struggler 90 minutes to work out the kinks, and to get reaquainted with Dempsey.
Here is who I see Klinsmann running out versus Azerbaijan, although as Landon Donovan and the rest of the American soccer world learned recently, reading the inscrutable German’s mind is no easy feat.