It is finally here. After a long and mostly unsatisfactory stretch of friendlies where the Yanks saved their finest play for last; after an Olympic Tournament that saw our young future burn brightly and fade tragically into the humid, Beijing night– we’ve reached the first semifinal group match of our trek to South Africa 2010. We play a Guatemala side that traditionally gives us trouble on its home turf. The Yanks are 1-4-4 in 9 matches historically in Guatemala, but the number is a bit deceptive. The 06 group played to a meaningless draw after securing qualification, and the 02 group did not lose, drawing instead to a Guatemala side that bunkered in, as one would expect the Guatemalans to do in Guatemala City tonight. A few thoughts on challenges before kickoff.
First, what to do at forward? Eddie Johnson is with the team and will likely be slotted in the starting 11. I can’t emphasize how strongly I disagree with this decision. He possesses tremendous speed but is horrible on the ball, has the worst first touch in the history of the world, and his recent inability to finish in the six cost the US at least a draw against eventual European Champion Spain. I’d like to see Brian Ching.
For all of Ching’s faults, he did manage a brace in opening round qualifying against Barbados. Ching makes intelligent runs and plays with rarely seen effort. All of these qualities are admirable and field-worthy in my opinion in the absence of Jozy Altidore, who remains in Spain partly due to Bradley’s deference to the club on its new transfer.
If Bradley were to decide to play Landon Donovan in a midfield role– then the other options up top, outside of Ching and Johnson are simply Clint Dempsey, who has struggled against elite sides but has excelled in qualifying matches stateside and makes the optimal choice.
Dempsey’s struggles can also be attributed at least in part due to fatigue following a long, difficult season in England — but he rebounded to score a brace against Barbados in the blowout. His other options are Johnson and Ching. One of these two players must produce now, because Bradley’s deference to Villareal won’t last forever and he is clearly the future of the side at the striker position. Johnson surely is running out of chances, and Ching’s age may impede him from being more than a mascot in South Africa. Either way– given the choice between frustrating talent and great effort, I’d play Brian Ching.
This is clearly the most difficult choice this evening, and the most worrisome one (outside of the condition of the pitch) given the strength of the American back to defend against Guatemala and its world class counterattacker Carlos Ruiz. A 0-0 draw will be an ideal result for the Guatemalans, and a stumble for the Yanks out of the block is more dire in this group given the uncertainty of a trip to Cuba.
Here is my ideal lineup to counter the 0-0 result:
This would be most ideal:
Klejstan for Clint, around the 60th minute
Adu for Ching, around the 50th minute, tactically bump Lando up
Hejduk for Pearce if tied late, 80th minute or thereabouts.
We win 1-0.