The last time we saw Jurgen Klinsmann and his American charges they played gritty, unattractive football in Russia and managed a draw from the jaws of sure defeat against a Russian side playing extremely good football. Michael Bradley showed his ever-improving quality with a howitzer of a goal and Mix Diskerud scored his first goal and in so doing set him self up to be scrutinized heavily by the boss in what was, for the Yanks, a compressed Camp Cupcake. Since that time, we haven’t really heard much from the States– news from the January camp has been largely muted except whispers of fine shows from the aforementioned Diskerud, Matt Besler and Dynamo forward Will Bruin. This makes tomorrow night’s proceedings at the new Houston BBVA Compass Stadium. What else makes it interesting? Well..
The last time we saw a team from the United States play Canada was late spring of 2012 when Caleb Porter’s charges played with the tactical imagination of a toddler just introduced to building blocks , falling 2-0 to the Canadians and putting their Olympic qualification in grave danger, danger that would become death days later against El Salvador. It was, given the talent on the American U-23 side, an embarrassing setback for the Americans, one that Jurgen Klinsmann himself called “inexcusable” at his postgame presser in Jacksonville, Florida later that month. Caleb Porter exited stage right and landed in Portland, where he’ll try to recapture his Akron Zips magic in MLS– and hey– it can’t be much worse than the Olympic qualifying tournament, can it?
Meanwhile, the United States senior side had also struggled against Canada, tying 0-0 in a match early in 2012 that had all the drama of a D-List Hallmark Channel Christmas film. To say the United States looked silly against the Canadian midfield in both matches is putting it gently; to say it was a wake-up call for a Klinsmann team that was about to begin World Cup qualifying and likely was still patting itself on the back for taking down Italy in Genoa and beating Scotland senseless in Jacksonville is to state fact. It was a result that had many thinking Canada might be finally ready for a breakthrough and a trip to the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying finals– and in fact, many wrote as such in the match’s aftermath. Of course, that was before…
The last time we saw Canada– (no one saw them play and lose, badly, to Denmark, let’s be honest) they were getting shellacked by Honduras by the unthinkably embarrassing scoreline of 8-1- a combination of mental errors, lack of class and internal strife within their footballing federation boiling over into a disastrous failure which saw the Canadians out of World Cup qualifying before the Hexagon, which of course begins next week. Gone is Stephen Hart, who more or less took the fall for the players who were most responsible for the failure in Honduras, and in, at least as a stopgap between now and this summer’s Gold Cup, is Colin Miller, manager of FC Edmonton. Miller will lead a largely untested group of players into Houston tomorrow night after an abbreviated camp. The Canadian federation also made some internal changes in the aftermath of the Honduras debacle, and what you get tomorrow– young team, new faces, interim coach- is all indicative of a reset. And it’s indicative of a match the Americans, even with a weakened Camp Compressed Cupcake unit, should win handily.
The Series: United States lead 13-8-10. The Americans are 10-1-6 (including a PK victory) against the Canadians in the United States. This is the first match between the two sides in the Great State of Texas.
Weather: Upper 50’s and falling at kick. 40 percent chance of rain, but that should come before kick.
What will we see out of The Yanks?
This wasn’t exactly the usual Camp Cupcake that we’ve seen in past January’s from the national team, but it’s nowhere near the full first team USMNT either. At this point Jurgen Klinsmann should have sifted through the new recruits and pinpointed the prospects with potential. This being the game before the final hexagonal round of World Cup Qualifying begins, I can’t see Klinsmann fielding a gang of new guys with no regard for their execution of his core values. Most likely, what we’ll see will be a grab bag of national team vets that have earned trust to some extent, and players with a lot of potential like Omar Gonzalez. I look for Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman to make starts on a wing and in the defensive midfield respectively, while Josh Gatt probably should get an opportunity to run the other wing, but there are risks with that (see below), so you have to wonder what the match is about for Klinsmann.
In defense, it’s a pretty safe bet that Matt Besler will start after a nice camp– after all– if Gonzalez is getting the “play with Geoff Cameron so Bocanegra doesn’t always have to” run out then Jurgen likely will give option “B” a run out too. It would be purely conjecture to speculate who will man the wings– Alfredo Morales should get a look if the “closed-door friendly” against Club Tijuana is any indication, but beyond that we don’t really know.
At forward, if we’re sticking with Klinsmann’s core values (caveat coming), then Will Bruin is probably the guy we’d go with, just because he’s had the massive camp, he’s playing at home and he’s probably a slightly better target player than Juan Agudelo at this point. Chris Wondolowski wouldn’t be our guy, but there’s our caveat: the assumption now is Klinsmann prefers the 4-3-3, with Beckerman lying deep and some players on the wings who don’t suffocate each other (in this case– Graham Zusi, Brad Davis), a target man and a let-loose forward. Gatt with Zusi isn’t the best fit– but it’s the one we’d like to see if the match is, as it should be, about giving a few auditions but emphasizing roles with the qualifying tournament looming. College football analogy? If Jurgen Klinsmann is Nick Saban and about “the process”, then it’s Gatt, who will need to coexist with Graham Zusi at some point in the qualifying tournament.
What to watch for from Canada:
Not much, maybe some semblance of respectability? Dwayne De Rosario isn’t getting any younger, but he and Tosaint Ricketts should figure prominently into the Canadians plans, as should Lars Hirschfeld in goal, but the reality is outside of MLS familiarity, the Canadians don’t hold many cards here. Whether you agree with the firing of Stephen Hart or not, you certainly can’t argue that this experimental Canadian lineup looked any better in its four nothing loss to Denmark under interim manager Colin Miller. Honestly, most of you won’t be arguing anything with respect to the Canadian national team anyway. But know this: while the USMNT will field a team littered with both known quantities and untested national teamers who will be asked to thrive within the confines of a relatively established system, Canada will field a team of prospects and cross their fingers. I’m not saying they can’t shock the Yanks, after all this ain’t exactly the US first team, but Canada should probably just be happy the NHL is back.
US Player to Watch: Will Bruin
The Houston Dynamo forward has an amazing chance to capitalize on a great camp, and a crop of forwards in front of him who don’t score many goals for country. Jozy Altidore is firing on all cylinders for AZ in Holland, but we’ve had to settle for watching his solid hold-up play and better ball movement for the US. That’s progress, but it’s not sexy. Herculez Gomez has been great for the states, creating chances for others and scoring one immensely important free kick goal in qualifying. But where have those clutch goals been on a regular basis like the ones he’s been scoring at club level for years? And what if Will Bruin continues scoring goals the way he’s been? Against MLS competition, against new USMNT teammates in camp, and against Liga MX competition… Will Bruin channels Rod Tidwell, “I smoke all these fools!”
More talented than Gomez? Less talented that Altidore? I don’t know. But I do know that Will Bruin is at least as good, if not better, than the other target forward candidates (Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski, Juan Agudelo), and I do know that Will Bruin can steal the starting job from both Altidore and Gomez, and beat out the others, if he starts knocking them in and doesn’t give Jurgen a choice in the matter. This is a huge audition on home soil. Also, keeping with the Tidwell theme– we demand a Bruin goal, and a Dancing Bear!!
Canadian Player to Watch: Dwayne De Rosario
Come on, who else was I going to pick? This is the Canada junior team for the most part, with the exception of guys like DeRo and Hirschfeld. Toronto FC”s Kyle Bekker (man the US fans will have fun with that guy if the Dred Pirate start) was a bright spot in the Denmark match no one watched, but Colin Miller is essentially throwing a bunch of crap against the wall and seeing what sticks; well we all know what De Rosario brings to the game, and more often than not that’s goals and assists. Not against the US though, which is why I’ve been saying Canada’s best player is due for a strike. He’s also probably due for more touches than usual in this match, for however long he actually plays. DeRo is always a playmaker, but he’ll likely play safety blanket for Canada’s new trainees in this match as well.
Prediction: USA 2 – 1 Canada
Maybe De Rosario gets his goal, but the Yanks win the match. At least one goal for Will Bruin who officially enters himself into the USMNT striker competition. Doesn’t take much. Enjoy the match and go USA!
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on the Twitterz at @TYAC_Jon.