Points to ponder tonight as the United States meets Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla., where a crowd of more than 40,000 is expected to see the Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. team finally get their important May-June run of matches underway.
(Update with U.S. lineup: Tim Howard; Steve Cherundolo, Geoff Cameron, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson … Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Jermain Jones … Landon Donovan, Terrence Boyd, Jose Torres.)
The match is on NBC Sports Network at 8 p.m. ET.
The old problem that refuses to be fixed, left back: Whether Klinsmann’s choice is Edgar Castillo or Fabian Johnson (I suspect Johnson will get the call), this is a spot of particular interest. Then again, when hasn’t it been?
If one of these two can’t assertively lock down the deal, Jurgen Klinsmann might have to reach deeper into the personnel reserves; Eric Lichaj is probably next on the list. Given the way Klinsmann wants the team to play, with more proactive attacking and less reactive defending, I think we can safely say the days of Carlos Bocanegra as a stop-gap left back are long gone. Bottom line, it’s a big chance for Castillo or Johnson. Don’t forget, this has been Johnson’s spot lately at Hoffenheim in Bundesliga matches.
How does Oguchi Onyewu look?: This will be our first look at Onyewu in a national team shirt since last October, when he started in Klinsmann’s first win as U.S. boss, against Honduras.
As you watch, don’t just asses how Onyewu deals with Scotland’s strikers. They won’t be the best he’ll come up against over the next three weeks – not by a long stretch. Rather, watch for how many times he claims possession in a way that allows him then to distribute with clarity. And watch those passes closely. Is he connecting cleanly with midfielders? Is he doing so quickly upon winning possession, getting the attack moving and demanding that Scotland organize quickly? Is he varying the outlet efforts, with some into a forward’s feet, some out wide and some into the central midfielders?
Klinsmann mentioned Friday that Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson are right behind Onyewu on the depth chart, and no matter what happens tonight, it’s safe to say that Cameron owns a big skill edge over Onyewu when it comes to distribution. Goodson, too, for that matter.
Formation? I guess so: I know some people will be all Tweet-y and fired up over Klinsmann’s choice of formation. Me? I’ve seen enough tactical flexibility in his first nine months to declare that one match won’t tell us much about a bigger formation picture. Whatever we see today, that doesn’t mean that’s what we’ll see over the next two friendlies, nor in the qualifiers immediately after.
Klinsmann on Friday:
As I mention often, I’m not locked into one specific system. My overall approach is that I would like to go forward, be attacking-minded, have more possession, push up the back-four line higher and play out of the back. All of these elements that we’re getting to step-by-step, I think we see them coming along and getting better and better. Now if those elements come out of a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, or whatever system you want to choose, it doesn’t really matter.”
Who mans the center of the field? This remains a stacked position. Given Michael Bradley’s Serie A success and his clear impact on games in the U.S. shirt when involved under Klinsmann, I’d love to see the midfield assembly built around him. Given the lack of width on the roster, it looks like the arrangement will be heavy with holding mids and possession-oriented mids. That’s Bradley. The width will come from Steve Cherundolo on the right and from his counterpart on the left side of the back line.
Klinsmann’s other centrally stationed options: Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Joe Corona and Jose Torres. Torres and Corona would be used higher in the formation, as they are surely more attacker than defender.
And speaking of Torres: I really am curious to see if Torres can prosper in Klinsmann’s system? The Pachuca man fell off the side of the Earth, U.S. team-wise, after South Africa 2010. Then he was hurt for some of Klinsmann’s early matches in charge. So here we are. What have you got, kid?
Klinsmann will appreciate Torres’ ability to hold the ball, a skill lacking around some corners of the American player pool. Former coach Bob Bradley didn’t want a lot of jacking around with the ball; he wanted it moving forward. Klinsmann is more amenable to a little, er, jacking around. The only problem I see: how will Torres cope with a Scottish midfield and back line that will surely play as rough as the night’s referee allows?