USMNT: Why Americans' Friendly in Russia Is Not a Meaningless Match
Even for dedicated USMNT fans, this soccer match almost has too much going against it.
It's a midweek friendly, and at first glance, a particularly meaningless one at that. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 a.m. on a workday, and neither Landon Donovan nor Clint Dempsey is playing.
So why should anyone care when the United States plays at Russia on Wednesday? Glad you asked.
It's true that nothing is on the line. But instead of talking about who's not playing, let's focus on who actually is in the squad.
Fullback Timmy Chandler is back with the team for the first time in 2012. At long last, Chandler is reportedly ready to commit his international future to the U.S. (per USA Today), and that's a good thing for Jurgen Klinsmann's team.
Here's what Chandler told USSoccer.com about the drawn-out saga:
I understand that a lot of people in the USA may be unsure because they think I have said [I’m committed] in the past. All I can say is that I am clear in my head about the commitment moving forward. This was about me being ready to accept the responsibility of being a part of the National Team and everything that goes with it, and now I am ready. I hope I will get chances in the future. I am in 1,000 percent.
American fans are right to question Chandler. He has been away from the team for almost a year, and the U.S. could have used him during that time.
With that said, any and all who have seen Chandler play for the U.S. and Germany's Bundesliga know that he makes a fine addition to the American talent pool. Now it's time to see what he can do, starting with Wednesday's match against Russia.
Also returning to the American squad is forward Jozy Altidore, who was snubbed for the final World Cup semifinal-round qualifier against Guatemala. Klinsmann said at the time that Altidore "can do much, much better" (via USSoccer.com), and if he plays against Russia, Altidore will have his first chance to prove it.
The exciting part is that Altidore has been proving it in the Dutch Eredivisie, where he scored this goal for AZ Alkmaar over the weekend. As the U.S. continues preparations for the final round of World Cup qualifying, Altidore's form will be an interesting subplot.
Besides Chandler and Altidore, other names worth watching in the U.S. squad include midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who continues to shine for Anderlecht, but doesn't get much love from Klinsmann, and defender Carlos Bocanegra, who, at 33, is approaching the age at which he might need to hand off the captaincy.
In other words, this match is about individual performances and how they might fit in with the team as it (hopefully) heads toward the 2014 World Cup.
What's more, Russia is a solid European team with several exciting players. The roster for Wednesday's match includes up-and-coming forward Alan Dzagoev, who lit up Euro 2012 despite Russia making a disappointing early exit.
After that disappointment, Russia hired former England coach Fabio Capello and now lead Group F in UEFA World Cup qualifying with a perfect total of 12 points. Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, by comparison, have only seven points after losing in Moscow.
Wednesday's match will be in Krasnodar, but the atmosphere should still be tough for the Americans. So will the competition, and that should be enough to hold most fans' interest.
If it's not, though, there's this, via Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl:
Plus, I'm fully expecting the night will conclude with some sort of vodka-drenched feast in which U.S. Soccer officials will extract the promise of a first-rate training base in Russia for World Cup 2018. (And you think I'm joking.)
Joking or not, Wahl is right to suggest Wednesday's seemingly meaningless match might just produce something of value—whether it's on the field or off.
Now, about those Russian beverages…
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