Okay, maybe Jozy’s teammates in South Africa weren’t panicking over his ankle injury yesterday; no worries though, I was doing it for them. And from the looks of the blogosphere and social networking sites, I’m not alone. You can’t blame a dude for initially spiraling into a pit of despair though, not when ESPN originally reported that Altidore was sent to the hospital with a broken ankle. Way to do your legwork and practice responsible journalism four letter network.
So thankfully the truth of the matter is that our boy has a mild ankle sprain, but as you’re probably saying in your head right now (especially if you think in bad clichés), we’re not out of the woods yet. I didn’t have a chance to bring my own primary care physician to South Africa to assess him, but I trust adjectives like “mild” used by U.S. Soccer about a hair more than I trust “initial reports” on the Mickey Mouse sports media conglomerate. So let’s just say Jozy has a sprained ankle, and this is the same guy who was still feeling the effects of an ankle sprain in the 2008 Olympics after picking up the knock two months prior in the MLS.
So maybe the Yanks get a spry Altidore in the World Cup, maybe they get a reasonable facsimile, or maybe they get an absolute crap version of Josmer, or no Jozy at all! Either way, there’s a not a lot Bobbo and the boys can do right now other than rest the kid this Saturday. This is what I fully expect Bradley to do, and rightfully so. If Altidore does get minutes against the Socceroos the hearts of all U.S. Soccer fans will be lifted, knowing that a player of this importance wouldn’t be risked in a friendly if he wasn’t ready to rock.
But assuming that everything that can go right will go right is a fool’s errand, and I’m no fool.
So since the perilously shallow forward position is already the topic of the day, we’ll look at the strikers first in assessing how the USMNT’s going to approach the final tune up for World Cup 2010.
F: Twelve hours ago my take on this was that we were going to start Jozy Altidore alongside Not-Charlie-Davies. Meaning I wasn’t quite sure whether Findley or Buddle would get the start alongside Jozy. Now I’m going to say that both the Not-Chuck-D’s in question will start. The Yanks had their best half of The Send-Off Series (by far) when Dempsey was manning a wing middy spot with Donovan on the other side of the pitch, so unless we’re abandoning Bob’s trusty 4-4-2, we’ll start Findley and Buddle up top together. I’d suggest that Herculez Gomez might be a candidate for the start as well, but I kind of like the idea that we’re bringing that guy along as a super sub specialist, a stud pinch hitter, a third down back. Look for Dempsey to be moved up to forward late in the game as well once the Australian defenders are halfway to gassed.
M: We’re crazy to not start out with a tandem of Dempsey and Donovan on the wings, with tendencies to cut in and on goal of course. The only question is who plays on what wings. We’ve seen that once Bobbo classifies a midfielder as a double-wing* player the coach is keen to move the man from right to left on a whim. Beasley, Kljestan, Rogers, and of course the Donovan/Dempsey contingent are all examples of guys that Bobbo customarily flips from side to side. Dempsey was right and Donovan was left throughout qualifying, but they occupied the opposite spots in the second half last Saturday afternoon. Michael Bradley will certainly occupy one of the central mid positions, and Benny Feilhaber played himself out of consideration for the other spot against Turkey. Meanwhile J.F. Torres a.k.a. Gringo, had a virtuoso performance in the second half against the Turks, tracking back, starting the offense, and peppering the pitch with the types of moments of brilliance that go unnoticed by our newly minted water cooler World Cup experts. I think Gringo earned himself a start against Australia, but Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark are also still in the running for the final midfield spot despite the latter’s uninspired performance in the last match. Though Clark might be on the outside looking in now, despite his consistency in qualifying. So I’d look for J.F.T. and Edu to get a half each, Ricardo being a known quantity. Holden, Beasley, and Benny “The Maestro” Feilhaber will likely serve as wide player cover off the bench.
D: Now we’re getting to the easy part. It’s pretty much all figured out right now. Cherundolo, DeMerit, Gooch, Bocanegra. There ya go. Spector should serve as first off the bench for both side back positions Spec was outclassed thoroughly last Saturday by Cherundolo, mostly due to potentially costly mental errors. He’s still leagues better than Bornstein (literally) and should be inserted at left back if The Captain needs a break. Goodson is CB cover, simple as that.
G: Probably another full 90 for Howard against Tim Cahill and the Aussies. The media’s speculating quite a bit about who the backup is, but I think Bobbo’s comfortable with Guzan and will stick with him. Hahnemann can probably enjoy a pint or seven in the stands, we won’t tell.
The Opposition: As you may have heard, Australia is a very similar team to the USMNT. They defend in an organized and tenacious fashion and look to capitalize on counterattacks and well taken set pieces. Where America has the class of a Donovan to lay the ball in from a corner or free kick, the Socceroos have Tim Cahill, who masterfully creates chaos in the box and finds the ball in set piece situations at an alarming rate, especially given his height disadvantage. Add Cahill to Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill, and pretty much every Australian player I’ve ever heard of you have a pedigreed squad full of men who are up for the challenge of a savage Group D in this World Cup. Head Coach Pim Verbeek didn’t eschew any mainstays in favor of hot A-League up and comers, and his team could very well upset a relatively young Germany because of it.
This team is a lot like our beloved Yanks, but perhaps more importantly, they’re even more reminiscent of a team we could play in the first knockout round… Australia. It’s an interesting plotline for sure, but neither manager can afford to think about that crap right now. Expect a hard fought game between two teams that will look to play tight and physical in the coming weeks. Sadly I think the Americans will suffer from the absence of Altidore and fail to get behind the organized opposing defense. Look for a 1-0 loss or a 1-1 draw, but don’t get too worked up about the result no matter what transpires. This is just the pre-dinner cocktail (or seven) and we’ve got a three course meal at least on the way. Enjoy the game at an absurd hour tomorrow morning, and go Yanks!
*Also a badass run-heavy American football formation!
Tales of the Uninvited: Brazilian target man Adriano actually had no idea that Dunga left him off the World Cup roster. In fact the generally out-of-it striker doesn’t even know it’s a World Cup year. He’s not saying a word on allegations of heavy financial involvement with a ring of highly connected Rio de Janeiro drug traffickers, but Adriano did reveal to TYAC that his summer plans include hanging out with Fiorentina’s Adrian Mutu and former Dallas Cowboy Nate Newton. Adriano insists that the trio is not particular about what they “get into,” aside from the fact that dim lighting and house music must be in effect at all times. Editorially, it seems to me that the two soccer players could end up trying to sniff out goals for West Ham United come fall. No soldier left behind, Nate’s gonna love East London.
Jon Levy is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.