U.S. Men’s National Team
Five Questions for the U.S. Men Ahead of Peru Contest
September 03, 2015
THE UNITED STATES men’s national team takes on Peru Friday night at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. (7pm ET; Fox Sports 1, UniMas), its first game since a poor display at the 2015 Gold Cup. Questions abound as to whether head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be able to get the team back on track ahead of next month’s CONCACAF championship playoff against Mexico.
Here are five to consider ahead of the match.
1. How will the backline perform?
With a series of injuries hitting the fullback core—Timothy Chandler, DaMarcus Beasley, Brek Shea, and Fabian Johnson—Klinsmann called in seven defenders who prefer to play in the middle of the backline. The only true fullback on the team is Greg Graza, and he hasn’t featured regularly for his Liga MX club, Atlas.
What’s behind these personnel decisions? Hard to say.
John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado were the first-choice central defense pairing at the Gold Cup but neither performed particularly well. Are they still the default pair? Klinsmann has other options within this team.
Matt Besler has rejoined the U.S. fold after being left out of the Gold Cup this past summer. Will the Sporting Kansas City player return to the starting lineup?
Similarly, Geoff Cameron—who is finally playing his preferred central defense position at Stoke City after several seasons at right back—has not played for the U.S. in 2015 but could slot into several spots against Peru. Fullback, central defender, midfielder—Cameron’s role is up in the air.
Tim Ream could also fill in at left back in the upcoming friendlies. He has rarely played there for the U.S. national team but he featured there many times at his former club Bolton.
It will be a makeshift back four but it could offer clues as to how Klinsmann sees the defense ahead of the pivotal matchup against Mexico.
2. How will Guzan respond to pressure?
On Wednesday, Klinsmann made the surprising announcement that Brad Guzan would be the team’s starter all the way through the Mexico playoff game next month, ahead of former No. 1 Tim Howard.
Klinsmann indicated that Guzan overtook Howard during the latter’s yearlong sabbatical from international play. This is a gutsy decision from Klinsmann because Howard has looked great for Everton so far this season. Guzan, meanwhile, had an uneven Gold Cup tournament.
Faced with pressure to keep the starting role, Guzan will either step or step aside. This is the most intense goalkeeping situation the U.S. has seen since the 2002 World Cup when both Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel were playing excellent soccer and Friedel raised his game in the end to earn and keep the job in South Korea.
Of course, if Guzan starts against Mexico and falters, it will open up Klinsmann to all sorts of second guessing.
3. Is Alfredo Morales Ready Yet?
With Michael Bradley unavailable for the Peru match, it could be a massive opportunity for central midfielder Alfredo Morales.
Between the Gold Cup group and knockout stages, Klinsmann released Morales from the team, acknowledging his talent but adding that that “he is still kind of in a process to become real part of our team in a fine-tuning element. There are certain things still that don’t click yet and it will just take a little time.”
Klinsmann said Morales needed time but if he wasn’t ready during the Gold Cup, can he be ready for the showdown with Mexico on October 10?
The Peru match could provide a compelling platform for Morales: His father is from Peru and the Peruvian Federation pursued Morales before he opted to play for the United States.
4. Mix Diskerud or Danny Williams?
With Bradley and Kyle Beckerman unavailable, Mix Diskerud and Danny Williams should also see minutes in central midfield. It will be an important test for both players. Williams is finally healthy and continues to play a prominent role with English Championship side Reading. Meanwhile, Mix Diskerud is still part of the team despite his struggles with a disappointing New York City FC team.
Both have been on the verge of becoming integral parts of the national team but neither has manated to take the final step. Could this be their time to shine?
5. Altidore or Johannsson or both
Aside from Clint Dempsey—who led the Gold Cup in goals but received little help from his teammates—nobody on the U.S. attack force looked dangerous. Because Dempsey won’t play against Peru, the door is wide open for somebody to step through.
Johannsson, fresh off a transfer to Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, could claim a spot alongside the Seattle Sounder icon. Altidore has had a rough summer but seems to have regained his scoring touch recently with Toronto. Both have the ability to score at a high level and the questions is whether they can hit their stride ahead of the Mexico game.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.