Under different circumstances, a manager might follow an underwhelming performance by sweeping out the lineup, punching up several changes ahead of such a significant, absolutely critical contest.
But U.S. under-23 manager Caleb Porter has his hands tied to some extent. (See the previous ProSoccerTalk post for how Porter and his side were left to fight with a shorter stick, roster-wise.)
Beyond the FIFA-related roster vagaries, the U.S. is a man down due to Juan Agudelo’s unfortunate knee injury. Otherwise, promising backups aren’t exactly falling off the U.S. bench.
Take the situation at striker, for example. Agudelo, the promising Red Bulls’ marksman, was clear and away the best U.S. choice among Porter’s trio of choices.
Teal Bunbury and Terrence Boyd are the other possibilities for topping Porter’s 4-3-3 arrangement – but neither was particularly effective Saturday against Canada. So it’s probably on Bunbury again, even if he failed to find the passing lanes or to open up the Canadian defense on the dribble. Otherwise, the coach would be leaning on a young man (Boyd) who doesn’t even start for his club, Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, where Boyd is a reservist.
Porter’s only other option is playing Joe Corona or Brek Shea at striker rather than at their more comfortable spots, attacking midfielder and left winger, respectively. Honestly, that one sounds like a reach.
Moving into the midfield, Jared Jeffrey struggled to make an impact Saturday. But Porter’s No. 2 option, the Philadelphia Union’s Amobi Okugo, seems more prone to picking up cards and didn’t add much upon his introduction Saturday. So, where does that leave things?
We’ve covered the unimpressive situation at center back. It is what it is; Perry Kitchen and (especially) Ike Opara simply have to rise and be bigger, more focused and just a little meaner than they’ve been over two matches.
The situation at outside back probably doesn’t need much attention. Zarek Valentin looked better Saturday as a right back than he did previously on the left. He was more a factor going forward than Kofi Sarkodie against Cuba.
Speaking of the left, one of the few bright spots of Saturday’s loss to Canada was Jorge Villafana’s solid attacking along that side. So the outside back situation isn’t a problem.
Finally, does Porter make a change in goal after Bill Hamid’s costly error, favoring Sean Johnson instead? Best guess: I doubt it. There’s a reason (whatever it might be) Porter made the choice of Hamid over Johnson in the first place. And so long as Hamid can keep his nerve, I suspect he won’t go up casually for anything inside his six-yard box tonight. Not a chance, I’d say.
Bill Hamid; Zarek Valentin, Ike Opara, Perry Kitchen, Jorge Villafana; Jared Jeffrey, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona; Freddy Adu, Teal Bunbury, Brek Shea.
If the Americans can manage the match and not succumb to debilitating panic, they’ll get a goal eventually and probably win along the lines of 2-0. The key is patience; they can’t get stretched by pouring players too far forward, too early. It’s about managing the match and understanding they only need to win by one, not by three or four.