The U.S. has a handful of games left on the calendar this year, the first of which will be played today in Gothenburg against Sweden.
I tried to take a look at what the games mean in my latest PE column (it ran yesterday but just now getting around to posting it here).
It's a friendly, yes, and I've said multiple times that these games are meaningless. Actually, I think the results are meaningless but the games themselves, players' and the team's performance, all carry some sort of meaning. A match like this is important for players like Jonathan Bornstein, who hasn't played in Europe before, though he did play in the Maccabiah Games in Israel at one time. This game is important for players like Charlie Davies and Sal Zizzo as it's their chance to show their worth and earn some respect.
It's also important to the regulars, to show that they can pull out results in the Old World. After all, the U.S. has had a poor record in Europe. It's good that the U.S. has three of their four games remaining in Europe, and if the fourth is on American soil, what better team to play than Brazil?
As far as the Sweden match goes, I would expect Bob Bradley to field a full-strength team at the start and then make a multitude of changes during the second half. It seems clear at this point that Bornstein is the clear-cut number one left back. Three MLS players were originally called into the game - one is Landon Donovan, who will set a new goal-scoring record when he bags his next goal; the other is Pablo Mastroeni. Both players have been a part of the last two World Cups.
Some of the US players need to have good performances to atone for previous games. Among them:
- Brian Ching. There are five forwards on this squad: Donovan, Zizzo, Davies, Kamani Hill and Ching. It seems the three aforementioned youngsters could be in line to challenge for forward spots during this cycle and beyond. This is Ching's opportunity to distinguish himself and let Bradley know that he's worthy of starting on a consistent basis. Ching has been somewhat disappointing this year. He missed on many scoring chances during the Gold Cup; he botched a breakaway that could have put the US up 3-1 on Mexico and he put away one of at least a half-dozen chances against Trinidad earlier in the tournament. But Ching connects well with Donovan and his passing ability cannot be overlooked.
- Oguchi Onyewu. Overall, Onyewu had a shaky Gold Cup. He's long been tabbed as the pillar of the American defense, but so far in his two years as starting central defender Onyewu has been more hype than anything. He's easy on the eyes as his physical presence in the back is what you would expect from a central defender. But he gives away set pieces with foolish fouls sometimes and is slow to react at others. Nery Castillo blew past Onyewu as Castillo set up Andres Guardado for a goal in the Gold Cup final. Perhaps we got spoiled watching Eddie Pope effectively man the backline for a decade, but Onyewu needs to raise his game quite a bit more.
- Steve Cherundolo. It seems like Cherundolo is one of the dependable guys, someone you can pencil into the US lineup for any game at right back. But we have seen him play just once under Bob Bradley. While his absence was felt at times during the Gold Cup, overall Bradley did well to plug the hole at right back with players like Frankie Hejduk, Frank Simek and Jonathan Spector. Cherundolo needs to remind us all why he should be the number one right back since he's had virtually no action for the US in the last 13 months.
As far as a starting lineup, well, I'll take a stab at one.
Tim Howard in goal
Jonathan Bornstein, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo across the back
DaMarcus Beasley, Pablo Mastroeni, Benny Feilhaber and Clint Dempsey in the midfield
Landon Donovan and Brian Ching up top.
That seems like the strongest, though young Michael might get the nod over Mastroeni.