Under the lights in London, the United States men’s national team has a high-profile chance to make a statement against one of the best sides in the world.
Colombia looked as dangerous as any team at the World Cup before its awkward exit against hosts Brazil, and James Rodriguez’s star has soared since his break-out tournament.
So the States have to stop him while finding a way past a team coming off consecutive clean sheets against Canada and El Salvador. In fact, Colombia has lost just twice in 11 outings this year — both to Brazil — while outscoring opponents 19-5 in its last nine matches.
So, friendly or not, the States can make a decent statement in Europe today. Will they? Let’s look at five men who can make the difference for the USMNT.
Jozy Altidore — Why delay the inevitable? Altidore’s lack of performance and/or playing time at Sunderland has made him a lightning rod for criticism from United States supporters, which is both baffling and problematic. Altidore missed the majority of the World Cup after suffering an injury against Ghana, but has scored 11 times in his last 22 caps.
That includes a hat trick against Bosnia & Herzegovina and goals against Germany and Nigeria, so we’re not talking Eddie Johnson “racking it up against minnows” stuff. The fact remains that a strong performance either today in London or next week against Ireland should say, again, that “captain” Altidore is the States best strike option. His strength and powerful shot can be a problem for the Coffee Makers.
Brad Guzan — Perhaps he can get some goal support from his country after enduring a month without goals at Aston Villa, but either way he’ll be under the microscope against James Rodriguez and Colombia. As Tim Howard’s national team sabbatical reaches the quarter-pole, Guzan has a 1-1 draw against Ecuador and 45 minutes against the Czech Republic as his only appearances for the USMNT.
A strong showing against Los Cafeteros could serve to ignite a debate as to whether Guzan deserves a look at the No. 1 job even after Howard returns in Sept. 2015, and he’ll need to be good if the States are to hand Colombia a surprising loss.
Julian Green — Well, duh. Only 19 and handling some injuries this season with his club, Green hasn’t scored in 7 appearances for club and country since netting in extra time against Belgium at the World Cup. That doesn’t matter that much, though, because Green remains an exciting USMNT prospect who will have eyes glued to him for a long, long time. That includes today at Craven Cottage, where he can do what he did to Belgium. Goals against them and Colombia will make amends for a cold start to his loan at Hamburg.
Jermaine Jones — Here’s a man who’s being asked to play center back for his country while roaming the midfield for his still-active MLS playoff team. On top of that challenge, assuming he plays, Jones presumably has to win over his teammates in an international friendly where the States full complement of center backs are available for selection (Jazzed, Matt Besler and John Anthony Brooks?).
Yet his range and grit could be the USMNT’s best foil for Rodriguez and company. With the outside backs set to control the pace, Jones can lay the hammer down early and often — within reason, Mr. Caution — in establishing the tone.
Mix Diskerud — With his Norwegian season over, the sometimes-magical youngster has a chance to further establish himself as the future of US goal creation. Here’s the caveat: Lee Nguyen has been called-up into the squad and there’s Green to consider as well, so Diskerud has to really shine if he wants to lay a strong claim to his position.
These are the sort of games that can make and define a creator, going head-to-head with some of the more creative players in the world (and hemisphere, considering the looking Copa America Centenario). We’ll see what Mix brings to the pitch.