Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
World Cup qualifying and its drama are in the rear-view mirror for the U.S. Men’s National Team. What lies ahead are the final preparations for the World Cup.
The U.S. is currently in Europe preparing for the first of its final two friendlies in its successful 2013 campaign. The Americans are set to pay a visit to the historic stadium that is Hampden Park in Glasgow to take on Scotland on Friday. The friendly will allow head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to further fine-tune his side ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil while also providing an opportunity to look at some fringe players.
Klinsmann has repeated in recent weeks that he fully expects a tough challenge from a Scotland side that recently missed out on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Some observers may be skeptical of that given the 5-1 drubbing the U.S. handed Scotland in May 2012 in a friendly in Jacksonville, Fla., but the circumstances surrounding that match made for a game that the Scotsmen cared little about.
That will not be the case again on Friday, not with the Scots playing in front of their boisterous fans and not with that last result against the Americans still somewhat fresh in their minds. Still, expect the U.S. to come out looking to dictate the tempo, especially with midfield ace Michael Bradley back in the fold.
Bradley has not played for the U.S. since an August friendly victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina, sidelined with an ankle knock sustained in pregame warm-ups in September’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. Bradley’s return should help the midfield, which surely will include Jermaine Jones, be more composed with the ball than it has been in recent games and that should make for a difficult day at the office for Scotland midfielders like Celtic’s Scott Brown and Stoke City’s Charlie Adam.
That improvement in possession should translate to more scoring chances for the American forwards, including Jozy Altidore. The Sunderland forward is currently in the thick of a scoring drought at the club level, but there should be holes to exploit against Scotland’s defense and chances to be had against whichever internationally inexperienced goalkeeper is given the nod (the three Scottish goalkeepers on the roster combine for 11 caps).
Two other American regulars who should see the field in Glasgow are left back DaMarcus Beasley and outside midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. The duo formerly called Scotland home while playing for Scottish powerhouse Rangers, and facing off against several old teammates should serve as a memorable moment.
The game in Glasgow is about more than the American regulars, however. Players like Sacha Kljestan, John Brooks and Eric Lichaj could also get a chance to stake their claim ahead of the World Cup. Brooks seems the most likely to receive a long look, especially after his promising showing back in August. But even that is no sure thing given that both Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez are in camp.
Regardless of who starts in the back, the U.S. defense and captain Tim Howard will need to be watchful of Steven Naismith. The 27-year-old forward should prove a handful for whoever he matches up against, though Howard should help in that regard given that he and Naismith are teammates at Everton.
Klinsmann wants that type of challenge, however, as he helped schedule this match to test his side and find more answers about his players seven months before they begin their World Cup campaign.
Given that Scotland will be at home on Friday trying to redeem itself after missing out on Brazil and losing to the U.S. last year by such a lopsided margin, the Americans should get just that.