Whatever the case, we couldn't ask for a better barometer of where this team is at than facing such impressive opposition in the setting of next summer's big dance. Sadly, I, like many of you I'm sure, am prepared for that barometer to be smashed over Bob's shiny noggin, the mercury dripping over his Skeletor scowl as both he and the team get found out in a non-CONCACAF tournament. Remember Copa America?
So, with that cheery memory fixed firmly in our minds, let's talk about tomorrow's opener against Italy...
- USA captain Carlos Bocanegra is still recovering from a blow from the Bum Hammy Hammer against Honduras and may not be able to go.
- His Italian counterpart, Fabio Cannavaro, is definitely out, with Legrottaglie, another defender, ailing as well.
Things to Watch
- Will Bob outthink himself? Bob rolled out the 4-3-3/4-5-1 against Costa Rica to disastrous effect, but I think that's the direction he's headed against opposition he doesn't expect to impose his will against. He'll probably go back to the 4-4-2 against Egypt, but I expect Italy and Brazil will showcase the new, more conservative look. Bob's record in non-CONCACAF tournaments (admittedly, there is only the one piece of evidence) is pretty awful, but is that a sign that he doesn't quite measure up on the tactical and experience scales?
- Too many destroyers. Looking over the Italian midfield, I see a couple of creative types, but mostly destroyers. With Bob no doubt aiming to field two destroyers of his own, might we see a reprise of the Germany 2006 ugliness?
- Fullbacks R' Us. If said central midfield battle comes to pass, I expect the contest will revolve around direct and flank play, with the role of attacking, overlapping fullbacks coming to the fore. Admittedly, the Italians have a distinct advantage in personnel here, but if we can exploit the gaps in behind overconfident, rampaging fullbacks, perhaps there is an advantage to be gained by forcing central defenders to commit.
Line 'Em Up
Not terribly inspiring is it? But it's what I expect to see tomorrow, barring Bocanegra's full recovery. I don't think this is the time or the place to risk him. Hell, you've got to figure out if DeMerit or (shudder) Califf can be your emergency option against quality opposition, right? No time like the present. Some thoughts...
- Clark and Bradley can cover some serious ground, allowing Feilhaber to focus much more on his offensive production. In fact, I think we'll see Benny given a lot of freedom in his positioning. He can drop behind the holding pair to pick up possession, drift wide in support of the flanks, or push high underneath Altidore. The problem with that approach is that it could leave Altidore too isolated at times.
- The onus will be on Donovan and Dempsey to pinch in from their wide positions to support Altidore on direct balls and for the opposite side winger to make hard runs into the box in anticipation of the cross when his counterpart looks to take on flank defenders.
- This approach sees the forward trio and the holding pair expending a lot of energy. Fortunately, all boast generally good fitness, but where is the cover, particularly for Clark and Bradley, going to come from? Do you really want to see Kljestan at holding mid? With a quick turnaround (Monday, Thursday, Sunday), we're going to need to swap out some pieces. I wonder if we have the requisite cover.
So that's about the shape of it for me. In thinking about that last point, I do wonder if the midfield triangle with two d-mids might be more effective against Brazil than Italy, who seem to have many similarities to our roster, probably preferring midfield energy and the quick counter to sustained possession and prying open of defenses. Still, I don't expect that Bob will test that theory. Instead, I'm preparing for two mirrors to be held up to each other, with the higher quality one prevailing in the end. Here's hoping for a little surprise in my life...and not Copa America, Part Deux.