For the second time in six months the United States will face Sweden in a friendly. But this time, the game will be played at the friendly confines of the Home Depot Center and without any of Sweden’s stars that play outside of Scandinavia. The last time the US faced Sweden, the Red, White and Blue were in my estimation embarrassed. That match was the only time in the calender year 2007 where the United States looked totally outclassed for an entire 90 minutes, including the Copa American debacle. The performances in the Copa with a “B minus” squad were far superior in my humble opinion than the performance in Gothenburg this past August.
The United States team has seemingly adjusted to Bob Bradley’s more rigid style after some early bumps. Bradley’s predecessor, Bruce Arena was not only somewhat less tactically savvy but he also had less of a structure around training. Now Bradley with a squad made up almost entirely of MLS based players will face off with Sweden again. As we learned in August, Sweden can hold the ball for extended periods of time and lull the American defenders to sleep. With Danny Califf, the most experienced defender on this particular squad pulling up lame in training the other day, it will be critical for the experienced center back, Jimmy Conrad to step up. At times this past year Conrad looked lost with Kansas City. He has not looked particularly sharp with the US either lately, which is a concern for Arena. Michael Parkhurst who had a good Gold Cup and an even better MLS season will be available for this game as will Ramiro Corrales who has not been capped in a long time. Corrales had an outstanding year in Norway with SK Brann, making the PFA equivalent in Norway’s Best XI and helping lead his club to the domestic title and a champions League birth. Corrales was at one time one of the great hopes for US Soccer winning his first full cap at the age of 19, in 1996 (in a game I attended by the way against Bolivia at RFK Stadium). Corrales had fallen off the national team radar but now appears to be playing the best soccer of his life and it couldn’t come at a better time for the US. Eddie Robinson one of my favorites from MLS should also feature in this match for the US. Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor should split time at right back, with Wynne looking to cement a place in the qualifying campaign player pool.
Rico Clark returns for his first competitive match after his nine game ban from MLS. He should anchor the US midfield along with Maurice Edu. Coach Bradley likes to use two holding midfielders at all times thus allowing one to push into the attack if necessary. Kyle Beckerman can be an option in the 2nd half playing in an attacking midfield role or even out wide. Beckerman has the skills of a #10 but in the U.S. setup under Bradley a true central midfielder isn’t in the cards. So Beckerman either will have to play out wide or in a withdrawn striker role. Justin Mapp returns to the national team for the first time since a frustrating Copa America. with DaMarcus Beasley injured and Eddie Lewis in the midst of a relegation fight with Derby County, the next few matches could very well be Mapp’s last best chance to create an impression for the coaches. Brad Davis could also get some time on the left side although long term, youngsters Stuart Holden and Arturo Alvarez are better bets.
Landon Donovan could start at Forward or out wide on right side of midfield. Wherever Donovan plays he’ll be likely servicing Taylor Twellman or Jozy Altidore, both of whom are unproven on this level. Of course, Altidore is nine years younger than Twellman, but Jozy didn’t show much of anything in his senior team debut against South Africa, a match where Freddy Adu and Maurice Edu, also inexperienced on the international scene played very well. Chris Rolfe could also figure in the match, but Juan Carlos Osorio’s decision to use him as a Left Midfielder for Chicago late last season may deem him too rusty to play up top. Jeremiah White has finally gotten a long deserved call up after another solid season in the Danish League. He however is unlikely to earn his first cap against Sweden.
Rumors are abound that Brad Guzan will be jetting to Glasgow for negotiations with Celtic. If Guzan only plays a half, look for Will Hesmer or Steve Cronin to get a first cap. Can the US win this game? Sure, but given Sweden’s proficiency in holding the ball and the discipline in the attack, the US will be hard pressed to break down Sweden. Given the “B plus” nature of the match, a 1-1 draw is likely. For real time coverage of the match please visit the Third Half with CSRN’s Johnathan Starling beginning at 8:30 EST/5:30 PT Saturday Night.