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USMNT set for tough test in 2015 opener vs. Chile

Dempsey Jones USMNT (USA TODAY Sports)

Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

 

By FRANCO PANIZO

Jurgen Klinsmann scheduled a number of tough opponents to challenge his U.S. Men’s National Team during the six months before this summer’s Gold Cup.

The first test of 2015 comes on Wednesday, in unfamiliar territory, against an opponent that should offer a difficult challenge even without its World Cup stars.

The U.S. opens a busy 2015 on Wednesday evening, visiting a Chile team that is comprised completely of domestic-based players. The match at Estadio El Teniente in the central city of Rancagua marks the U.S. team’s first on South American soil against South American competition since the 2007 Copa America. The friendly will give Klinsmann an opportunity to see both veteran mainstays and unproven talents in a hostile environment, and potentially in a new tactical system.

No, Chile does not have the game-changing likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. But combine the rowdy atmosphere the home crowd is likely to provide with a squad of in-season Chilean players hungry to impress ahead of this summer’s Copa America – which is in their home country, no less – and you get the type of recipe that even an Iron Chef would struggle with.

“We know that those are all very ambitious players,” said Klinsmann. “They want to prove to (manager Jorge) Sampaoli that they belong in the first group, they want to impress the players that are right now in Europe. We expect a very aggressive, a very energetic Chilean team and we’ve prepared our team for that. Hopefully, we hold our ground and go in the other direction as well.”

Chile’s squad includes several players seeking their first cap, but also boasts some talented veterans such as former Liverpool striker Mark Gonzalez and long-time Serie A midfielder and 2014 Chilean League MVP Jaime Valdes. Promising young striker Juan Delgado is one to watch in the Chile attack, while veteran defenders Gonzalo Fierro and Jose Rojas (the lone member of the 2014 Chile World Cup team on the current roster) should anchor the defense in Chile’s preferred 3-5-2 system.

The friendly could be Klinsmann’s debut of a new formation for the Americans. The U.S. has spent portions of its month-long training camp working on a formation that includes a three-man back-line. It’s a completely different look than what the Americans have used under Klinsmann, or any head coach for much of the past decade, but one that might be worth experimenting with given the options available.

Several of the U.S.’s top stars are at Klinsmann’s disposal, including Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. But the U.S. head coach has also summoned lesser-proven players and promising prospects in an effort to further evaluate the talent pool. The blend of players has made for a roster that is strong down the middle but lacking out wide, which is why a variation of a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation may be deployed.

That setup would require the U.S. to have three players at the back who are both strong defensively, and good passers. Klinsmann said last fall that he thought Jones could serve as a centerback this cycle, so the New England Revolution Designated Player is a good bet to serve as the anchor of the defense. Fellow World Cup veteran Matt Besler also appears likely to draw a starting nod as a left centerback, leaving Steve Birnbaum, Matt Hedges, Shane O’Neill and Perry Kitchen to battle for the final slot in the back.

In terms of the attack, Altidore and Dempsey are good bets to spearhead the attack, with Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud expected to reprise their recent partnership in central midfield. The Bradley-Diskerud tandem has produced mixed results playing in a 4-4-2, but a shift to a 3-5-2 could help add a third player to the central midfield mix.

Lee Nguyen – the only player on the current roster to have played in the U.S.’s last non-World Cup match in South America nearly eight years ago – could earn his first start under Klinsmann after showing well in his cameo vs. Colombia in November. Nguyen was one of the better attacking players in MLS last season, and possesses a good combination of technical quality, confidence and flair that could match some of the Chileans.

Whatever lineup Klinsmann settles on, he will be hoping for a good result to start 2015 on a good note, especially after seeing the U.S. end 2014 with a whimper. His players will be eager to not only impress their coach, but start a busy year in style.

“We’ve been putting in a lot of work. We’re excited to play,” Dempsey said. “We’re ready to go out there and have fun and play a game. I’m sure it’ll be an exciting one, and we’re looking to kick start 2015.”

Comments

  1. This will be the first game in years that I can’t watch.
    3 PM PT kickoff – we’re at work.
    No stream online to watch the replay.
    No scheduled replay on Foxsports1 or Univision.

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  2. I understand there are legitimate concerns about JK constantly tinkering with the lineup and the lack of cohesion. I share some of those concerns as well.

    But I can’t help but wonder if some of his most vocal critics are the same people who criticized Bob Bradley for his rigidity. “Bunker Bob”

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  3. Funny how we went from “What do you think of this squad? Think the U.S. should steamroll this Chile team? to “USMNT SET FOR TOUGH TEST IN 2015 OPENER VS. CHILE”

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  4. I will be watching closely and truly hope JK gives Lee the start and if not, at least half the game. I think in the game against Columbia, things started moving when he came on. We need to see if he’s the one that can get the ball to Jozy and whoever else. Beyond that, he can score himself anywhere near the goal area. I will be totally mad if JK only gives him a cameo as he did against Columbia

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  5. Hey guys I am an American that lived in Rancagua two years ago. Sadly I now live in Copiapó so I won’t be at the game. I just wish for a great game between the two but of course I love my home country more than my adopted country (Chile). The stadium is great. It was built by Americans back when they owned the teniente mine in Rancagua (time of Pinochet) to keep Rancaguans happy. They recently finished remodeling it last year and it is a great place for futbol. Don’t expect problems with the grass. Too bad I am not there :/. Also, when I was living there O’Higgins won the title! It was awesome! The city is just so passionate for soccer!

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      • Bernardo O’Higgins was the “liberator” of Chile, one of Simon Bolivar’s acolytes. He was the bastard son of an Irish man and Chilean woman, and eventually met with an untimely and ugly death. Nonetheless, he’s their George Washington and his name is pretty much everywhere. The team is 13th in the current Chilean league table.

  6. Amazing that the last time we played anywhere in South America was the Copa in ’07 (World Cup aside). Time passes by so fast. I’m looking forward to possibly seeing this new formation, and hope it succeeds. Having said that, I won’t jump to conclusions after one game if it doesn’t look good coming out the gate…

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    • This is actually a truly strange game in the context of “what we usually do” around this time of year. As you’ve said, we very rarely visit South America— almost never for a mere friendly. We will also have a surprisingly large contingent of experienced, first-choice players for a January friendly, though guys like MB and Jozy have not played a whole lot of soccer in the last 6 months.

      Who knows what we are going to get? The Chile side could be very good, in spite of not having their big-name stars. It’s my understanding that their domestic talent pipeline is quite robust and I expect they will get a solid advantage from their home support and stadium.

      But I will be optimistic. 3-1 to the good guys…. Altidore with a brace and Deuce with the other..

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      • We will see a lot more of South American teams when Europe begins playing that Euro country league thing in a couple years and we can’t find any games against them.

      • Yup. North, Central, and South America will need to get together a lot more often to combat that stuff and stay internationally competitive…

    • It’s only amazing in as far as how little initiative the US has shown towards testing themselves against some of the stiffest competition and most hostile environments in soccer. I get logistically it’s probably not ideal. But can’t imagine why we wouldn’t schedule away friendlies against the likes of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil more often. Enough of the Slovenias, Scotlands, and Azerbaijans of the world. Wish more Nats went down South to play as well.

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      • Because we make money on home games.

        Because teams are happy to play away games here for soccer weather and vacations.

        I think a mix of confidence builders and competence testers is ideal. I don’t know if this run of ties and losses we have against better opposition teaches people how to score, win, close games, etc.

      • Under Klinsmann we have played more high-profile friendlies than we EVER have. Sure occasionally we play Azerbaijan or Ireland (not that it even went well), but overall we play a much tougher friendly schedule than ever before.

    • You can argue you get more out of a long trip like this than Camp Cupcake followed by cozy home friendlies, which other teams are happy to schedule since the US is a pleasant destination. Kind of like when we sent the team to the Copa all those years back. A few looked decent — your keepers — and some people looked unsuited to task. I’d rather see a marginal player implode under pressure now than fool us in an easy game and get to Wondo’s level of responsibility before he lets you down.

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      • Yikes. That dude will always be remembered for tying the MLS scoring, but unfortunately he’ll be remembered more for his blunder on the world stage. Sad…

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