Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Heading into the final match of 2013, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has overseen a near-revolution in his side. During the calendar year, the U.S. won 16 matches, three more than ever before in the same time span.
But still, many questions remain.
The USMNT’s scoreless draw against Scotland last Friday brought about as few positives as there were negatives, and as far as Klinsmann and his staff are concerned, it was likely a wasted opportunity for some players to solidify a potential place in the U.S. squad for next summer’s World Cup.
Now heading into a match against Austria on Tuesday, it’s another chance for the USMNT to test itself against a solid European side that just missed out on the UEFA World Cup qualification playoff round. Klinsmann himself in his prematch press conference has called the match a classic 50-50 battle, one that will give him a much better determination about how much more the U.S. squad needs to grow before next summer.
After rather subdued performances from Eddie Johnson, Jermaine Jones, and Geoff Cameron, the tilt against Austria could be a chance to see Aron Johannsson, Mix Diskerud, and John Brooks all play together from the onset. Both Johannsson and Diskerud added sparks to the U.S. attack that seemed out of sync and uninterested, while Brooks had a promising debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina last August but hasn’t featured since.
Another player that should receive a good chunk of minutes at the Ernst Happel Stadium on Tuesday is forward Terrence Boyd, who plays his club soccer for Rapid Vienna in the very same stadium. The 22-year-old German-American has 10 goals so far in all competitions for Rapid and as we’ve seen in the past under Klinsmann, is likely to earn a chance to play major minutes against a number of his club teammates.
For Boyd, it’s a great chance to show why he deserves a place on the World Cup squad. In recent months, especially with Johannsson’s inclusion in the squad, Boyd’s has been challenged by other forwards such as Chris Wondolowski, Will Bruin, and Herculez Gomez. A strong performance with the USMNT could help improve his stock towards next summer.
While the focus will likely be on the American youngsters in the lineup, the USMNT squad must keep an eye out for two players who play in two of the top league’s in the world. Left midfielder David Alaba plays for Bayern Munich on a regular basis, and is easily the most talented and most visible player in the Austria squad. However, U.S. defender Cameron’s Stoke City teammate, Marco Arnautović, is another shifty player in the midfield who can cause the Americans some problems.
Klinsmann will find out on Tuesday whether makeshift right back Brad Evans is really up for the job next summer when he faces the likely relentless attacks down the wing from Alaba. The left-footed 21-year-old carries pace and tremendous control of the ball, something that has given right backs across the globe issues. The USMNT’s worry will be whether Evans—who had a sub-par performance against Scotland’s Craig Conway—can respond to such a big challenge.
Austrian midfielder Zlatko Junuzović and defender Sebastian Prödl have been ruled out of the match due to injuries, but otherwise Austria manager Marcel Koller plans on starting his strongest eleven players available.
The loss of Prödl could be a boon to U.S. forward Jozy Altidore, who hasn’t scored a goal in a competitive match for club or country since Oct. 11 in the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Jamaica. Klinsmann has preached patience for the Sunderland forward, who put in a workmanlike effort on Friday despite not receiving a lot of service.
In the end, the outcome will hinge on the performance of their veteran leader in goal, Tim Howard. With his shutout last Friday, the 34-year-old goalkeeper took his all-time count to 34, good for second-place in American soccer history, ahead of Tony Meola. Another strong performance from Howard and the defense in front of him could give the young forwards a chance to gamble when moving into the attacking third, something that was clearly lacking against Scotland.
Regardless of the result, the match will be a special moment for many involved. For Klinsmann, it will represent the end of a record year where the USMNT will finish with the best ever winning percentage in a calendar year. For assistant coach Andreas Herzog, it’s a chance to go up against his native country, where he holds the record for most caps all-time (103). And for Boyd, it’s a chance play against some of his club teammates in his home stadium.
For the final time in 2013, the USMNT will take the field, knowing that they’ve managed to raise the expectations among the fan base back home and proving that they are a strong enough team to earn a result away in Europe.