World Cup qualifying is now a week away from kicking off for the US Men’s national team. After having been taught a soccer lesson by a young but stacked Brazil side, the Americans have made the trip up north for a CONCACAF pop quiz with neighboring Canada in Toronto on Sunday.
Our neighbors don’t boast a mega-star like Neymar, or other $50 million-caliber players like Hulk and Thiago Silva. Yet Canada is a team that, much like the United States, is preparing for World Cup qualifying and is heading into Sunday’s match looking to build some momentum as it tries to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
The USA’s 4-1 loss to Brazil last Wednesday wasn’t pretty, and certainly raised some questions about the defense and some of the team’s midfield options. Players such as Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu and Jose Torres will be looking for another chance to prove to Jurgen Klinsmann that they deserve to be in the lineup when World Cup qualifying begins in Tampa on Friday against Antigua & Barbuda.
The real question is whether they will get that chance on Sunday. Clint Dempsey should be back in the starting lineup, which should cost either Edu or Torres a starting spot. If Jozy Altidore can catch up on fitness after joining the team last Monday, we could see a 4-4-2 that leaves both Edu and Torres on the bench.
Then you have the central defense, where Oguchi Onyewu’s bad night against Brazil has raised fresh questions about whether he is going to be Carlos Bocanegra’s central defense partner in qualifying. Clarence Goodson could get a nod against Canada, particularly considering how well he did for the United States against Italy. Considering how Klinsmann was careful to point out that Onyewu enjoyed a stronger second half against Brazil, that switch isn’t a foregone conclusion.
The United States and Canada last met almost exactly a year ago, in the opening match of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup. That night in Detroit, the Americans cruised to a 2-0 victory on the strength of a dominating display from their midfield. The loss set the Canadians on course for an early exit from the Gold Cup, going out in the group stage.
On Sunday, Canada figures to be a stronger team, and a better challenge for US team that is also a better unit than it was this time last year. The Americans will still be favored, but facing a Canada side eager to snap a 14-match winless streak against their rivals to the South.
The United States has been thoroughly dominant against Canada, posting an 8-0-6 record with 11 shutouts since the last loss, a 2-0 defeat on April 2, 1985. The Canadians have given the US some tough battles though, such as the tightly-contested 2007 Gold Cup semifinal won by the Americans with the help of some calls that Canadian fans still talk about as being questionable.
The Canadians chances of breaking their winless streak against the United States suffered a big blow when dangerous winger Josh Simpson suffered a broken leg a week ago. Losing a player regarded as one of, if not the most dangerous attacking player on the Canadian roster, could force head coach Stephen Hart to do some serious shifting in his team’s preparations for their own upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Cuba and Honduras.
Even without Simpson, Canada still has some good weapons to test a US defense that had a forgettable night against Brazil. A projected forward tandem of Simeon Jackson and Olivier Occean has the athleticism and speed to trouble the American defender. Meanwhile, Dwayne De Rosario poses another threat, whether deployed as a second forward or attacking midfielder.
The American central midfield tandem of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones thoroughly dominated their Canadian counterparts in last year’s clash, and will need to have a similar performance to keep Canada from gathering any momentum at BMO Field, where the crowd should be provide plenty of support for the home side.
Canada will likely counter with a midfield including De Rosario, Atiba Hutchinson and Julian DeGuzman, as well as Will Johnson, a group that can battle well with the American central midfield, but one that might lose out on the flanks, particularly if Klinsmann deploys Dempsey and Landon Donovan on the wings.
The United States could have its full-strength attack available for the first time under Klinsmann, with Dempsey and Altidore available for selection after missing out on starting against Brazil as they each worked their way back to fitness. Whether or not Altidore is fit enough to be in the starting lineup, it seems a safe bet that Klinsmann will hand Herculez Gomez another start after his impressive showing against Brazil.
If Klinsmann can put Gomez, Dempsey and Donovan on the field together, the US attack should be able to create chances against a Canada defense that isn’t exactly imposing, but one that is better than either of the defenses the United States will face in this month’s World Cup qualifiers.
There is some question about whether Klinsmann might be tempted to rest several starters against Canada considering this match will be the team’s third in nine days. However, German coach has stated repeatedly that he is treating these five games as a tournament, and resting starters against Canada would mean having starters sitting a total of 10 days between the Brazil match and the Antigua & Barbuda qualifier.
You can also bet that Klinsmann wants to head into qualifying with some momentum, and that means trotting out as close to a full-strength squad as he can against Canada. Following up the blowout loss to Brazil with a disappointing performance in Toronto, would not be the way Klinsmann wants his team heading into World Cup qualifying. That being said, giving Canada confidence could wind up being something that comes back to bite the Americans a year from now, when the two sides could wind up meeting in the final round of World Cup qualifying.