By FRANCO PANIZO
Landon Donovan will start, but who will play alongside him is still a mystery.
The U.S. Men’s National Team will bid adieu to one of its greatest legends on Friday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, as Donovan plays in his final international match against Ecuador. It has already been confirmed that Donovan will be in the lineup for the momentous friendly as U.S. captain, but which Americans head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opts to trot out next to the 32-year-old attacker remains in question.
While Donovan will dominate all the talk leading up the match, Klinsmann is using the fixture as an important piece of the U.S.’s preparations for next summer’s Gold Cup. That means Klinsmann will likely field as strong a team as he can in an effort to move to 2-0 after starting this World Cup cycle with last month’s 1-0 win at the Czech Republic.
That said, the 22-man roster is still littered with fairly young and inexperienced players, which was evident at practice on Tuesday.
Just which players will Klinsmann choose to go with then? Here is a projected lineup SBI could see facing off against Ecuador:
PROJECTED USMNT STARTING LINEUP vs. ECUADOR
Some thoughts on this lineup:
Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando seem likely to split halves again, but the latter could get the nod after starting last month’s friendly on the bench and coming in after halftime. This approach would give Rimando a chance to play with a stronger unit while also giving Guzan a chance to show his skill when the game inevitably opens up after a flurry of substitutions.
In defense, World Cup veteran Omar Gonzalez appears to be a lock to start at right centerback. Who pairs with him is a bit less clear, but Tim Ream might be the preferred choice as his passing ability and calmness on the ball could complement Gonzalez’s physical nature well. On the outside, DeAndre Yedlin should earn his first U.S. start given that the only other marauding right back on the roster, Timmy Chandler, seems a safe bet to play at left back after a solid showing there against the Czechs.
Who to deploy in midfield, and where to deploy them, is one of the bigger questions Klinsmann faces. He may opt to go with a similar triangle to the one he used in Prague and tweak it by fielding the type of defensive presence missing in the Czech Republic. Alfredo Morales could serve as the No. 6, sitting and cleaning up behind the more offensive-minded duo in Alejandro Bedoya and Mix Diskerud that helped make up the Americans’ lone goal last month.
With Donovan guaranteed to start but only play roughly 30 minutes, Klinsmann may not want to deviate from fielding two wingers and a center forward at the top of the U.S. attack. Joe Gyau impressed out wide on the right in his debut in September, so he may get another look there while Donovan occupies the left and Jozy Altidore serves as the lone striker.
There will be six available substitutions in this friendly, but one of them will almost surely go to the backup goalkeeper. Julian Green should also see the field, as he is a natural fit on the left side and could replace Donovan near the half-hour mark. Klinsmann may then choose to wait and see how the match progresses before deciding who else earns caps. Do not be surprised if John Brooks, Michael Orozco, Greg Garza and Joe Corona all see the field in the second half.
What do you think of SBI’s projected starting lineup? Do you see Donovan deployed out left in a 4-3-3 formation? Who should get the nod in the midfield?
Share your thoughts below.