Tomorrow night (or evening for those on the West Coast) the United States January camp team will take the pitch against Chile in a friendly where both sides are lacking all of their biggest stars. Chile is a good South American squad, normally second-tier behind countries like Brazil and Argentina, but with their former coach leading the team and not bringing many starters, this is a tough match to judge how far the U.S. is coming against international competition. And as has been stated ad nasuem, this is a very very young United States team, with a total of 23 caps.
However, January friendlies do tell a lot about the state of the national team, and as Steve Davis of Sports Illustrated notes here, otherwise mundane January friendlies do have a tendency to help a different player make a name for himself every year and become the new “hot” national team star.
So who could be the camp player who makes a name for himself against Chile?
The players who get the most attention are the goal scorers, but I will give you two candidates I think will have all the buzz on Sunday. Please note that my predictions and thoughts throughout this post come not from first-hand observation (as I do not live in California) but from following those people who have seen the camp up-close. I think in the back Anthony Wallace will have a breakout game. My projected starting left back has the opportunity to fulfill a need on this team. Jonathan Bornstein is probably your Gold Cup starter in that position, but it is not a deep one for the U.S. Wallace has the chance to impress and earn a chance for playing time if Bornstein fails, and he has to be ready to play against Esteban Paredes, the Colo-Colo striker who is the one legitimate star on the Chile roster.
My second candidate for “It” player coming out of this match is Mikkel Diskerud. He got some attention for his excellent play (and assist) in the South Africa match but I think this will be the game where he takes his profile to another level. I expect to see more of the smart distribution and ball control he showed against South Africa and win a definite call-up to the Gold Cup team.
Below is my best guess at the starters, and I will assume Bob Bradley will play a chic 4-2-3-1.
Keeper: If I am Bob Bradley, my keeper for important matches is Tim Howard without a doubt. Three of the four keepers in camp are about Brad Guzan’s age, so if I am Bob Bradley I want to see if Sean Johnson is long-term starting material, i.e. if he can eventually replace Tim Howard in 2018. Therefore, I want to get him the start today just to get a first look.
Back line: If Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez are not trotting out onto the field at 9:50 PM tomorrow night, I would be shocked. Those two clearly have a future with the senior team and are the most talented defenders in camp. As I mentioned above, Wallace gets the start at left back and I think Sean Franklin will hold down the right.
Midfield: In our formation, Bob Bradley will need two midfielders towards the back who can control play, so look for Jeff Laurentowicz to get the start and chance to prove he belongs on the senior team. I think team blogger Dax McCarty will start next to him but that is one of the positions where Bradley has a number of options.
I would put Mikkel Diskerud in the center of the triangle three up top, as I said to test his ability to direct the attack and set up the goal scorers. Alejandro Bedoya would be the starter if Bradley plays a 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2, but if he goes 4-2-3-1 look for Chris Wondolowski to get the start on the right, not only to provide a little more scoring but to give him a chance to prove that his MLS season was not a fluke. On the other side I expect Brek Shea to get the start; he’s an up-and-comer and the experience will serve him well if he really is a future USMNT star.
Forward: My forward in this formation is definitely Juan Agudelo. The guy has a ton of upside and I think the coaching staff really wants to see more of him in a game. Look for Teal Bunbury to as get playing time during this match.
Who would you start tomorrow against Chile?