By Jon Levy
Let’s put the Spain game squarely in the rear view. That’s what I’m writing to start this preview, and that’s what US Soccer should have already done. Two days ago. Or two minutes after the match ended; the sooner the better. It was a relatively pointless (if well intentioned) New England afternoon served with a side of crippling embarrassment. It’s cool; we all went to middle school, time to move on.
The Canada match marks the beginning of the team’s most important tournament for two years at the least. But I don’t need to grandstand about the importance of reestablishing regional dominance over Mexico and the also-rans, nor do I need to preach about the golden opportunity that qualifying for the 2013 Confederations Cup represents. You’re here; you get it.
What to watch for from the Canada:
Canada is coached Stephen Hart, who’s in his second stint in charge of the national team. When Hart was segueing from his playing career into management, he briefly served as a player coach for an amateur side sponsored by famed Halifax drunk-food purveyor, King of Donair. That’s like being sponsored by a less healthy gyro joint, admirable to say the least! Sadly, his teams’ playing styles are generally less exciting than the greasy pseudo-sandwich.
This particular version of the Canucks plays a very basic and organized 4-3-3. I know that might sound a bit oxymoronic to some fans who view the 4-3-3 formation as semi-exotic, but never underestimate the power of a manager to extract monotony from something seemingly so forward thinking. This isn’t an indictment of Hart though. He knows the players on his roster make the 4-3-3 the right choice, but that any lapse in defensive focus or organizational priority will result in disaster. Canada isn’t a team like Germany or Chelsea that can run a three man midfield and expect to win the possession battle and control the pace of most games.
You can expect the Canadians to employ a deliberate attack, and to bring their defenders forward cautiously. They know the Americans have the edge in skill, and should refuse to give Deuce and company anything easy. Likewise, the Canadian attackers will wait for the American backline to make a mistake, and a familiar face to MLS fans will be charged with inciting this misstep. It’s safe to say Bob Bradley will see Dwayne De Rosario coming a mile way, so the USMNT can probably avoid the Santi Cazorla treatment in this one. Spain match low blow, my bad.
What to watch for from The Yanks?
My burning question concerns what the US will look like given a sustained period of ball possession. I know everyone is speculating about whether they’ll employ Bobbo’s base 4-4-2, give the 4-2-3-1 another shot, or try a completely different formation (a 4-2-2-2 maybe?). But I’m more concerned with the type of soccer they actually play within any of the possible permutations. I’m sure Bob can find a way to impress the World Cup 2010 American flag drill plan on even the most complex looking formation, but he’s also shown he’s not averse to encouraging more aggressive movements out of the 4-4-2. As such, I’m resigning myself to being neither excited nor appalled when the American formation for a given match is released. We’ve see the USMNT first teamers play precious few matches together since last summer, and in the Spain and Argentina matches the boys barely possessed the ball. Meanwhile, they controlled the rock for the whole of the Paraguay match in March, and employed what seemed like three distinctly different offensive strategies. Would have been really nice for the starters to log 45 minutes against, say, Ireland, on Saturday, right? Nevertheless, The Yanks should take the field in Detroit with a ton to prove, and hopefully a ton to show us.
Unless the US offense proves completely ineffectual, the team should have more than enough opportunities to prey on a vulnerable Canadian backline. The defensive strength of The Canucks is in their organization, not in fielding the soccer versions of Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr.
And finally, I’ve arrived at my least favorite part of this preview, and one of the only relevant takeaways from the Spain friendly. Oguchi Onyewu is not a starter. Everything from his instincts to his lack of explosion and mobility seem to point to the fact that he’s no longer the player he was. The fan in me will still hold out hope that he was just made to look bad by a superior Spain team, but this preview is a forum for realism over fandom.
The news isn’t all bad for the USMNT though. Clarence Goodson has earned the start that he should rightly be handed on Tuesday night, and the only question that remains along the backline is whether Captain Boca will be deployed centrally or out left. I personally have more faith in young Tim Ream to deputize at center half than I have in Jonathan Bornstein to play his version of left back, but all bets are off for Coach Bradley when Jonny B’s in the reckoning. We’ll have to wait on that one.
Canada Player to Watch: Will Johnson
The Real Salt Lake badass/jack of all trades is just that, a badass, and a jack of all trades. He’s a guy who it has been fun from an MLS perspective to watch “Take the Leap” this year– and he could be poised for a fine tournament here as well. This makes him a wildcard and a possible wrench in the works for the US. Johnson will most likely start for Canada, but he’s the type of player who could make a huge impact as a substitute, and at multiple positions. The consummate wide man originally played wing forward for his national team, but has since switched to a midfield role, and has even been deployed at right back when needed for Real Salt Lake. His current position for RSL is left wing midfield, but the talented Josh Simpson usually starts there on the national team, so like Chuck Norris and Tim Tebow, Will Johnson could be anywhere! He could be behind you right now dude!
Given Canada’s low number of players that can actually pull a Kobe and “create their own shot,” the US should have a relatively easy time containing the attack. But, if apart from the obvious threat that the likes of Simpson and Dwayne De represent, our northern neighbors can force the Yanks to account for a dangerous runner and ball mover like Johnson, they may have a dangerous recipe on hand. Add the fact that Johnson has the fighting will of Clint Dempsey, and the Canadian number eight should be a marked man, no matter where he’s deployed on the field.
US Player to Watch: Landon Donovan
I’ve been writing match previews since Michael Orozco’s Olympic red card unintentionally became the impetus for launching this site in 2008, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never listed US Soccer’s biggest name as the player to watch. I haven’t been trying to go alternative, nor have I ever discounted the considerable talent that the USMNT vice-captain possesses. I just didn’t think I could tell you anything you didn’t already know about Lando. Of course he’s one of the most likely Yanks to score in any given first team match, but we’re finally in a spot where the odds of a Donovan explosion are escalated.
Number ten’s been knocked for “disappearing” on the pitch from time to time, and he pulled another disappearing act in the last set of American friendlies. He’s actually been pretty pedestrian in the US shirt since his great displays in South Africa last summer, and he was mercifully rested due to illness this Saturday.
I read all that as follows: Donovan’s legs are rested, he’s motivated by recent international form, and there’s nothing he enjoys more than dominating our fair federation (especially Mexico). Look for the Canada match in Detroit to get Landon on track for the rest of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Prediction: USA 3 – 0 Canada
Canada is good enough to draw the US. Hell, they’re good enough to beat Bobbo’s boys on a given day. But sometimes you get a feeling, and now is one of those times. This isn’t the fanboy in me leaking through, nor is it a well thought out expectation of American dominance. This is a gut feeling so strong that I’m not going to temper it with even a little intelligent conservatism. I know 3-1 would be a fine score line, but I think Timmy and his droogs are pitching a shutout at one end while Lando, Deuce, and even Jozy get theirs 100 yards away. Here’s hoping I’m a prophet.
Enjoy the match, and Go USA!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can and should follow him on Twitter, tonight and every night, at @TYAC_Jon.