Key Issues That Will Shape USA's Clash with Czech Republic
The United States men's national team is going back to work this week. A friendly with the Czech Republic in Prague (Wednesday at 2:15 p.m. ET) is about as far as one can get from the intensity of the USA's round-of-16 loss to Belgium in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. The Czechs did not even qualify for that tournament.
Consistent with the USMNT's normal operation, the battles that will shape its match with the Czech Republic emanate mainly from off the pitch. As their recent World Cup performance illustrated, once the Americans get around to playing, they usually do a pretty credible job.
It's the angst and aggravation leading up to their matches that can wear on the Americans' supporters.
Life Without Tim Howard
Tim Howard's performance in the Americans' epic loss to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup's elimination round inspired Internet memes and made him temporarily one of the most famous athletes in America.
So, naturally, Howard is taking a year away from the USMNT.
In an unrelated story, Howard has conceded 10 goals in three matches for Everton in the English Premier League, and the Toffees presently sit 17th out of 20 in the league table. Did Howard leave his goalkeeping soul in Brazil?
That is no longer the USMNT's problem, as Brad Guzan is now set to claim the job. Perhaps permanently.
While Howard has been spraining his back picking the ball out of the Everton net, Guzan is unbeaten through three matches with Aston Villa, who are third in the league table ahead of clubs like Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Can Villa's run last? Not hardly. But at 29, Guzan may be ready to lead the USMNT into its next World Cup run.
Short at the Back
The USMNT back line will be terribly thin for this upcoming friendly with the Czech Republic.
Lalas went on to note that Cameron would not be replaced, leaving the Americans with six defenders for the match with the Czechs. One of those six is not 2014 World Cup breakout start DeAndre Yedlin, who is not on the roster for this match. DaMarcus Beasley will similarly not be in Prague.
Cameron would surely have started had he been fit, so the weight will fall on players like John Brooks and Timmy Chandler.
Youth to Be Served in the Midfield
As with the back line, the USMNT midfield will be missing many of its biggest and most veteran presences against the Czech Republic.
Neither Michael Bradley nor Jermaine Jones will be in Prague for this match. Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea all figure to play significant roles, but American supporters are probably only tuning in to see one USMNT midfielder, and it isn't any of those guys.
Julian Green is on this roster, and after his electrifying turn at the 2014 World Cup against Belgium, the only sensible response (other than elation) was annoyance that Green did not feature before he scored.
USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann has no reason to wait any longer. Green should start, and he should be granted leave to create, attack and score.
Green's time should be now, starting with this friendly against the Czech Republic.
More Pressure for Jozy Altidore
Maybe Joe Gyau, Jordan Morris, Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood are the future of the USMNT, but if you can pick any one of them out of a lineup, you are way ahead of the average American soccer fan.
Jozy Altidore, named the captain versus the Czech Republic, is a familiar face with a great deal still to prove.
Altidore was carried off the pitch in Brazil early in the Americans' first 2014 World Cup match versus Ghana and did not play another minute in the tournament. His injury called into even sharper focus Klinsmann's decision to omit Landon Donovan from the American roster.
It will be Altidore the Americans look to for goals against the Czechs. And for Altidore, this match is a huge first step on the long road back to asserting himself as the Americans' dominant force at striker.
The Battle Against Complacency
Klinsmann was typically smart in composing his roster for this friendly with the Czechs in that he stocked it with young players.
The men who carried the Americans' banner into the 2014 World Cup could be excused for not really feeling like ramping themselves up again two months later for a friendly in Prague.
The young players (Green, Brooks, any striker not named Altidore) will be hungry to make an impression on Klinsmann and lay the groundwork for being mainstays in the American side.
But 2018 is a long, long way away.
After the dizzying height achieved by the USMNT this past summer, this friendly against the Czechs carries all the excitement and thrill of a tax audit.
Klinsmann will have all he can handle coaxing a performance out of this youthful side when its best players very recently had the World Cup in their sights.