By FRANCO PANIZO
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The U.S. men's national team's busy summer is well underway, but the real action is about to begin.
The United States will play the first of its five matches in the coming weeks against Scotland at EverBank Field on Saturday night, and the game (which will see the U.S. team wear their new home jerseys with names and numbers on the back) will provide another chance for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to finetune things while also getting an opportunity to see some of the relatively newer faces on the team.
That will especially be the case up top, where Klinsmann will be missing regulars Clint Dempsey (groin injury) and Jozy Altidore (not yet in camp). Their absences open the door for forwards like youngster Terrence Boyd and in-form striker Chris Wondolowski to make a case for playing time down the road, and strong performances against a defensively-discplined Scottish side that was close to qualifying for Euro 2012 could go a long way in convincing Klinsmann they are ready for bigger roles.
"Whenever our players are not available that's the big moment for another one to step it up," said Klinsmann. "Whoever is going to be on the field then up front has a point to prove. … There are kids out there that are pretty hungry. They want to show that they can score goals and that they have it inside of them."
There is also a question as to who will start at left back for the United States, as incumbent Timmy Chandler denied a call-up for these looming matches. Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson have both seen time at the position since Klinsmann was appointed head coach last summer, and botha re coming off fairly solid seasons in Mexico and Germany, respectively.
The former was the starting left back in the initial games under Klinsmann, but Johnson played there for the United States in a historic 1-0 win over Italy in February. Johnson played well there, and although he has also looked good as a midfielder, his near future looks to be in defense.
"He can play both midfield and fullback, but what he did over the last three months in Germany was quite cool to see," said Klinsmann. "He kind of became the best left back in the Bundesliga the last couple of months. That was highly noted there and also by the people in Hoffenheim where he plays, they praised him a lot, so we're excited about those options.
"We want to see more players coming in giving us more options and especially giving us more quality. If you saw him play left back in Italy, it was top class. He was calm on the ball, he always looked for solutions, he's not kind of panicking and kicks the ball out. He know what he's doing, so Fabian became a very important figure in our team and it's nice to see."
If Klinsmann is having selection headaches at left back, he might need some Advil when the time comes to decide on who to start at central midfield. The Americans are deep at the position, with Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu and Jose Torres all capable of playing there.
Who starts versus Scotland will depend on what formation Klinsmann trots out, whether it is a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or something else. But no matter who plays there, they will likely have the responsibility of pushing the tempo, keeping the ball and protecting the back four against the likes of Wigan Athletic midfielder Shaun Maloney and Cardiff City forward Kenny Miller.
That should not be a problem for the Americans given that all the central midfielders in camp are coming off or are in the midst of solid seasons with their respective clubs.
"We do get a lot of help from the holding midfielders on our team, which maybe people don't realize too much," said U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra. "Those guys work really hard and they make it really difficult to run at us. That's a very strong position on our team whoever plays there."
World Cup qualifying may be around the corner for the Americans, but positions all around the field are still seemingly up for grabs on the U.S. team. Locking down a spot for the remainder of the summer is surely on everyone's mind, and the match with Scotland will be a prime chance for players to do just that.
How do you expect the U.S. men's national team to fair versus Scotland? Hoping to see Johnson at left back? Who do you think will play up top?
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