The Dragons will field several European stars, lead their UEFA World Cup qualifying group and are unbeaten in nine consecutive games. With the 19th-ranked Americans on an 11-game winning streak of their own, someone's streak is sure to end on Wednesday.
Clint Dempsey was not called in for this match as he settles in with his new Seattle Sounders team. USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's first public comments on his captain's transfer were generally positive, though the coach mentions several times that Dempsey will face a challenge maintaining his high performance level.
For Clint it’s a challenge, coming from one of the top leagues in the world, coming back to the U.S. and being back in MLS where we still have to work on a lot of things. Clint himself has set the highest benchmark for himself over the last year. He became our captain and he has to keep that benchmark and he knows that. I told him that over the last two years that he’s got to go for the next level. Obviously we want the best Clint Dempsey ever and that’s what we’re going to push him toward as we begin to look toward Brazil. He has set a high standard for himself, and it’s up to us coaches to make sure he keeps that high standard.
The most intriguing question heading into the match is who will start in Dempsey's #10 role. At the Gold Cup Klinsmann pushed his #10, Landon Donovan, up high to create more space in the crucial zone 14 where the Nats' opponents were packing the defense.
We should not expect the Dragons to park the bus in zone 14 like Honduras or El Salvador. So it is more likely to see the U.S. use a #10 in the base 4-2-3-1 system. But who will it be?
Smart money is on Mikkel Diskerud. Mix had a fantastic Gold Cup and is very comfortable playing in the advanced central parts of the field. Joe Corona and Sacha Kljestan are also candidates for this role.
It is also possible that Klinsmann will drop the withdrawn striker and revert to the three holding midfielders in a 1-2 triangle he used against Jamaica last Fall. However, that experiment ended in dismal failure despite the presence of three talented players: Danny Williams, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.
It is more likely we will see Bradley and Jones playing the 2-line and pivoting off of each other. This has been Klinsmann's more recent trend when both players are available.
At right back Michael Parkhurst returns after a solid Gold Cup. But, Klinsmann is bringing Brad Evans across the pond to push some competition at this spot. Noticeably absent are European-based fullbacks Steve Cherundolo and Timothy Chandler.
With DaMarcus Beasley staying home after a grueling summer for the Nats, someone will get a chance to impress at left back. Fabian Johnson could be the fans' pick at this point, though in his last few games for Klinsmann he was dandy at left wing. Danny Williams will try to show he is ready for fall qualifying after his move to the English Championship side Reading. Edgar Castillo makes the long transcontinental trek and may get one more chance to prove himself at the position.
In central defense, multi-tool defender Geoff Cameron will likely get one of the spots. Michael Orozco Fiscal is a technically gifted player who could be a good matchup choice against the gifted attacking line of the Dragons. Tim Ream is called back for what will be his last shot at impressing the USMNT coaches. But the most intriguing prospect is 20-year old John Anthony Brooks. The 6'4" Hertha Berlin starter is a favorite topic among USMNT fans who are anxious to see his chops.
Klinsmann has many wing options and has shown he will use any versatile player in the outside attack. We've seen nominal defenders like Fabian Johnson do well in the role as well as forwards like Eddie Johnson. Midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Kljestan have also manned the wings for Klinsmann before.
Jozy Altidore will start up top as the target forward. One of the remaining forwards on the roster—Johnson, Terrence Boyd, Aron Johannsson and Bobby Wood—will sub for Altidore. But don’t be surprised if some of the young guns get a few minutes on the wings.
The Nats' top two goalkeepers join the team. Tim Howard will likely get the start but many, including yours truly, think Brad Guzan is in better form. U-20 starter Cody Cropper will get to carry their training bags.
Here is my starting XI based on who I think Klinsmann will start rather than who I would want to start. Keep in mind that with extra subs available the USMNT coaches will no doubt put player evaluation ahead of the 11-game winning streak. Expect anything from Klinsmann and Co.
(Michael Orozco pulled out with a groin injury. I replaced him with Brooks in the starting XI)
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard.
Left Back: Fabian Johnson
Center backs: Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks
Right back: Michael Parkhurst
Holding Mids: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones
Left Wing: Danny Williams
Attacking Mid/Withdrawn Striker: Mix Diskerud
Right Wing: Eddie Johnson
Striker: Jozy Altidore
Who do you think will start? Who will the subs be?