The Yanks are back in South Africa, this time playing a match in which very little can go wrong from a USMNT fan’s perspective. Coach Bob Bradley is taking advantage of the relatively rare opportunity to try out a ton of new national team players in one friendly match. I’m looking at the South Africa friendly as 90 plus minutes of second half preseason NFL football. If the team sucks, these aren’t are key players anyway right?! If a couple guys perform really well, we can get overly excited about the future and proclaim Bobbo the greatest late round drafter, err, national team player selector, of all time. It’s literally all good, barring a serious injury of course (knock on wood now everyone). The only thing that sucks going into this match is the 2:30 EST kickoff. Thanks South Africa. You couldn’t start the game at one in the morning your time for my benefit? I put thousands of nonrefundable American dollars into your economy via South African Airways, and this is what I get? I hope Bafana Bafana gets Clarence Goodson hat tricked in the first half. I’ll enjoy watching that on my DVR.
Enough of my bitching, here’s the roster:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Dom Cervi (Celtic, Scotland).
DEFENDERS: Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa, England), Clarence Goodson (Start, Norway/Brondby, Denmark), Jonathan Spector (West Ham, England), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA/Tigres, Mexico), Tim Ream (New York), Gale Agbossoumonde (Miami/Estoril, Portugal).
MIDFIELDERS: Brian Carroll (Columbus), Robbie Rogers (Columbus), Eddie Gaven (Columbus), Mikkel Diskerud (Stabaek, Norway), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Logan Pause (Chicago).
FORWARDS: Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Teal Bunbury (Kansas City), Juan Agudelo (New York).
So what am I watching for? Glad you asked.
The Brad Guzan Bounce Back Performance: Guzan was unimpressive in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup and he hasn’t seen much national team action since. This isn’t an indictment of Guzan by the coaching staff, just a byproduct of Tim Howard still being the starter. But Brad is the American number two, and we’re used to him being consistently good, not leaking goals and looking bad as he did in the aforementioned friendly matches. Remember his early save keeping the Yanks level before they exploded against Egypt at the 2009 Confederations Cup? That’s the guy we want to see. This match will give Guzan plenty of opportunities to show off his positioning, instincts, and decision making, because we’ll field a back four that hasn’t played much together, if at all. No one will blame Brad if he concedes against a South Africa squad which is a hell of a lot closer to first team than ours, and he’ll most likely have ample opportunity to make some athletic saves.
More Eric Lichaj: The young sideback’s performance against Colombia in October was perhaps THE highlight of the last set of friendlies for USMNT fans who’ve been following the team’s left back situation/dilemma. Speed, defensive acumen, and selective overlapping runs into the opposing zone were all on display. More from the Aston Villan please. I’m ready for all Lichaj, all the time. I’m ready to commit to this guy as a Gold Cup starter. I’m completely irrational and hopeful, and I know it. But with a few more performances, my semi-mindless enthusiasm may become completely reasonable and justified. Here’s hoping. It’s not like I’m asking the kid to supplant Sergio Ramos. Also on the defensive side, watch out for Jonathan Spector’s first minutes of first team football in the last two months, and the Clarence Goodson first half hat trick of course.
Robbie Rogers Taking The Next Step, Not The Next Stepover: We all know Robbie’s fast, we all know he’s talented, but we have no idea if he’ll ever become a smart enough player to take his game to the next level. Columbus Crew fans will tell you that he can (or has), but in frustrated, hair pulling moments, they’ll tell you all about why he won’t (or never really did). It’s time for Robbie to look at some other guys in his “USMNT class” and get a little pissed off. Stuart Holden’s a key figure for Bolton, Sacha Kljestan and Maurice Edu have both kicked the ball around in the UEFA Champions League, and Charlie Davies is almost ready to start knocking them in again for Sochaux in France. It’s time for Robbie to be more direct, be more confident in his considerable speed than his cheeky dribbling, and become a bona fide contributor on the international level. And that’s all I got to say about that.
Teal Bunbury: He’s a 20 year old Canadian-American who plays for the Kansas City Wizards. He’s from Hamilton, Ontario. His favorite American (Canadian, eh?) football team is probably the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He’s got a silly name, and as such, may be on the verge on being officially branded Turd Ferguson by the greatest blog of all time. But he did accept the USMNT call up, thus embracing the States over Canada, so I hope he scores a ton of goals. Why not?
The Matchup: A young and wholly untested American team will be facing off against a mix of first and second teamers for South Africa. But we’ve got a better program than them right? Yes. They are at home though, and will feature some of their most important players, including the pacy and dangerous Everton winger Steven Pienaar. I fully expect the young Yanks to have a storm to weather soon after kickoff, but the following 70 minutes or so should be more evenly played and just might turn in the Americans’ favor. It’s about the thrill of the unknown with this young team, and I can’t wait to… watch the gamecast online. Crap.
Prediction: Yanks 1 – 2 South Africa. We started playing better in the World Cup when I stopped predicting us to do well, maybe it’s a South Africa thing.
The Future: As you’ve probably heard, Bob Bradley scheduled the first match of 2011 for January 22nd at the HDC against Chile. This is a great job by Bobbo! Chile attacks with reckless abandon, and with enough finishing to advance past group play in the World Cup, and give Brazil and Spain a run for their money along the way. This poses a great test for the U.S. back four and the counterattack, because Chile and their “total football” South American-version of play will certainly leave themselves open to it from time to time. If we can both play our game and hold Chile at bay, the prospective Gold Cup final against Mexico and that annoying midget who plays for Manchester United whose name is heretoforward redacted looks even brighter for the Yanks.
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Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Associate Editor for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow his West Ham and Chicago Bear related musings on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.