Credit the shrewdness of Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer for this: a win over FIFA No. 21 ranked Ecuador in a normally-ordinary friendly would be a tough feat in any circumstances.
Turning Friday’s match into an amped-up crowd affair as a send-off for Landon Donovan is going to make it more difficult for La Tricolor. And in Klinsmann’s quest to become a seeded team for World Cup 2018, every win over a high-ranked team is critical.
For the record, according to FIFA’s ranking points calculator, even wins are going to drop the States to 900 points. That figure would move them from No. 17 to 20 in this months’ rankings. Two draws? No. 23. Two losses? No. 26.
Let’s cover our bases as it pertains to Friday’s opponent, Ecuador. First off, there’s going to be MLS representation on the visitors roster, as Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata will hope to earn his second cap in a group that includes just two other forwards (the highest profile being Enner Valencia of West Ham).
The deep midfield corps is highlighted by unattached Segundo Castillo and Dynamo Moscow middleman Christian Noboa. Nineteen-year-old Carlos Gruezo of Stuttgart got a call-up as well, with Ivan Hurtado and Walter Ayovi the biggest names in defense. Starting goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez will be there as well.
But some big names are not coming: Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, Jefferson Montero of Swansea and Felipe Caicedo of Espanyol are all staying away. In terms of big names not getting the call, this is significant and the American Outlaws should expect to be heavy favorites at home in a game of such emotional import.
The question of how they might line up is challenged by Julian Green’s continued rib struggles. Here’s an informed guess at the Starting XI, with the caveat that when Donovan comes off after 30 minutes, it will be to make way for Bobby Wood or Miguel Ibarra (with Chris Wondolowski saved as a late-game sub for Jozy Altidore.
Score: United States 2, Ecuador 1
Goal scorers: ECU- E. Valencia; USA- Gyau, Diskerud
Tribute to Donovan: fitting and emotional