Photo by ISIphotos.com
The U.S. men's national team is a day away from its crucial World Cup qualifier vs. El Salvador in Sandy, Utah, and a game that seemed so simple a few months ago is growing increasingly complicated.
Why? The Americans head into the match without the starting centerback tandem it established at the Confederations Cup. Oguchi Onyewu is suspended while Jay DeMerit is out with a groin injury. Those absences will likely result in U.S. coach Bob Bradley turning to Columbus Crew defender Chad Marshall and U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra.
So what will the Americans be facing on Saturday? It will meet a very different Salvadoran squad that won't quite have the all-out attacking approach it employs at its home stadium, Estadio Cuzcatlan.
El Salvador needs at least one point to climb closer to a challenge for a qualifying spot, and as much as a win would be a dream scenario, El Salvador has shown a penchant for being able to neutralize opposing' attacks on the road by virtue of a defense-first philosophy, or Central American version of parking the bus. In El Salvador's three previous qualifying road games, it has lost by identical 1-0 scorelines, which is evidence of the team's desire to keep the scoreline down rather than opening things up as it has done at home.
With that in mind, and with the visitors unlikely to send too many numbers forward, it probably makes sense for U.S. coach Bob Bradley to employ a more attack-minded approach to his lineup selection. With that in mind, here is a lineup we could see on Saturday.
USA projected lineup vs. El Salvador
This lineup would leave Jozy Altidore and Brian Ching on the bench in favor of Stuart Holden's energy on the wing, while Feilhaber would get the nod in a more attack-minded role than we're used to seeing in central midfield.
With Jozy Altidore's fitness still an issue, Bradley will need to choose between either Brian Ching or Clint Dempsey up top alongside Charlie Davies. Look for Dempsey to get the nod, partly because of his own struggles with handling defensive duties on the flank, and Holden's ability to provide valuable energy and service from the flank.
This lineup would also leave Steve Cherundolo on the sidelines. The veteran struggled against Mexico and Spector merits a chance after playing so well in the Confederations Cup. Seeing Spector line up on the left flank wouldn't shock me, but I see Bradley going with a natural left back in Bornstein.
Benny Feilhaber gives the midfield an added attacking edge, one we haven't seen much of since Sacha Kljestan's stock began to fade. It was clear all summer when Feilhaber got chances that he can make things happen. Even in the Mexico loss, while Feilhaber didn't make any standout plays, his presence (along with Stuart Holden's) did spark the offense and led to improved play from Bradley. Look for Feilhaber to do more attacking and Bradley to provide midfield support in front of the defense much the same way he did when paired with Sacha Kljestan vs. Trinidad & Tobago in last year's qualifying round.
Chad Marshall getting the nod shouldn't come as a surprise. He was a rock in the back for the U.S. Gold Cup team and should be able to dominate El Salvador in the air much the way Oguchi Onyewu would have been expected to (though El Salvador isn't likely to want the ball in the air too much).
Something else to think about when considering lineups for Saturday (and Wednesday) is the fact that nine Americans are a yellow card away from a suspension. Here is the list of those players: Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Conor Casey, Steve Cherundolo, Ricardo Clark, Jay DeMerit, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Benny Feilhaber.
What do you think of Saturday's match-up? Like the idea of some new blood in the starting lineup? Think Dempsey could be effective as a starting forward after doing so well there as a striker late in games during the Confederations Cup? Do you see Chad Marshall having a good game, or are you still worried about what you saw from him in CONCACAF Champions League play last week?
Share your thoughts below.