USMNT Report: Settling the Debate in Cyprus

The USA’s European players have a chance to prove they belong in Brazil and that the USA can contend with quality National Teams
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, March 05, 2014

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

The United States Men’s National Team is about 100 days away from taking the field in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. And when the Americans tackle international albatross Ghana on June 16 in Natal, it’ll be the end of a journey that’s seen mediocre results against international foes, dithering squad moves by USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann and mostly success in a weak CONCACAF region.

All of that mediocrity can be laid to rest and forgotten with a positive result today against Ukraine, a top UEFA national side that barely missed out on a World Cup berth and is highly regarded internationally (they are the highest rated team in FIFA rankings not to make the World Cup at No. 18).

For the USA, this is a game to settle the debate on which international players should get to the big samba in Brazil, and whether the USA belongs among the top caliber international squads.

THE ROAD TO NOW: The USMNT kicked off 2014 with a friendly against South Korea, which ended with the Yanks sealing a 2-0 win off a pair of Chris Wondolowski goals. The squad for that match was mostly made of MLS stars, including some first-timers like 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee. Though the USA won, the team wasn’t all that impressive and was outplayed and exposed defensively for the majority of the match by South Korea.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: Klinsmann said this roster was specifically designed to help give the European players a chance at proving themselves.

“It’s a huge opportunity for all those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry to jump on the train to the World Cup,” he said. “We will get a good picture of them over those couple of days, and therefore, we left almost all the MLS players back in the United States.”

And with these European-based players joining the team, the former Germany National Team manager said the World Cup feels a lot closer.

“Now having the European-based players coming in for the Ukraine game, it gives you the feeling that the countdown is on,” he said. “We really count every day now to our first game against Ghana in Natal on June 16. It’s a long stretch of four years between World Cups, and once we get close to the tournament, it gets more exciting every day.”

ANALYSIS: The American side is happy this match is happening — it was almost cancelled due to the political unrest in Ukraine and the team’s alleged disapproval of traveling for the game that was initially reported — as it’ll give the Americans a chance to answer some final and very large questions with the world’s tournament awaiting.

Most importantly, this match should seal the deal on who Klinsmann values on the international front. This squad is mostly made of European players, many of which have played for the USA in the past. While there are newbies who are unlikely to join the team in the summer’s tournament, like Alfredo Morales and Will Packwood, Klinsmann is surely going to cover his bases and assure himself and the American fans that he’s bringing the right squad with him to the World Cup. Those who do well against Ukraine should burst the bubble and secure themselves a spot on the roster – this is especially true for players like Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo and Alejandro Bedoya, who have all featured for the USA at some point but still haven’t booked a place on the 23-man World Cup roster.

That said, Klinsmann hasn’t always stuck to the gameplan, so surprises are surely to keep coming moving forward.

The Yanks will have to contend with a very strong Ukraine team that lost 2-0 to France in World Cup Qualifying to miss the tournament. The squad is mostly made of Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv stars, and should prove difficult for the USA. Scorer Marko Devic and midfielders Taras Stepanenko and Anatoily Tymoshchuk will be especially hard to contest with given their skills abroad.

Any positive result for the USA would be a good sign for the Americans as they approach the April 2 affair with Mexico and the World Cup thereafter. Beating a foreign side as strong as Ukraine will not only offer the foreign-based Yanks a chance to go to Brazil, but it’ll also show that the USA is ready for the looming storm that awaits them down in South America this summer.

NEXT UP: March 5 – Friendly: United States vs. Ukraine, Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, Larnaca, Cyprus. 2 p.m. EST, ESPN2.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
HERB'S SPONSORS