Jurgen Klinsmann's USA travel to Czech Republic for their first friendly since a dramatic, successful FIFA World Cup 2014 campaign.
After reaching the round of 16 in Brazil, the team will be hoping to build upon an impressive summer of progression but must do so in the face of enforced changes and adjustments.
Tim Howard has decided to take a break from international football, and per The New York Times, will not be available for selection until next fall. Klinsmann was happy to grant him a leave of absence, so to speak, as he's got Brad Guzan to fill his shoes.
Jürgen Klinsmann @J_Klinsmann
Spoke a lot with @TimHowardGK & totally respect his position. Looking forward to watching him @Everton & having him available next fall !!2014-8-21 19:45:15
Guzan and Nick Rimando, Real Salt Lake's classy 35-year-old shot-stopper, will each get 45 minutes against Czech Republic, but the feeling is it's Guzan's job to lose.
As big a figure as Howard was in the camp, the drop-off in quality between he and his Aston Villa counterpart is minimal.
U.S. Soccer @ussoccer
From the press conference: #USMNT @J_Klinsmann has named @JozyAltidore captain for #USAvCZE2014-9-2 13:45:35
Jozy Altidore will captain the side due to Clint Dempsey's absence, but bar him and perhaps Fabian Johnson, this will likely shape up as a very experimental XI.
Refresher Course: What Did the US Do Well in Brazil?
Counterattacking, for one, was a clear and obvious strength of the USA's in Brazil.
They sat deep in two banks of four, closed the space in front of their own box and allowed their speed players to cannon forward when the coast was clear.
In particular, this unlocked the brilliance of Fabian Johnson, who despite playing on the wrong flank at full-back, seared forward on the right and caused all sorts of issues with his ridiculous pace.
Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman really impressed in the engine room, while Michael Bradley—although not in this 22-man selection—is the undisputed key player in the centre.
Who plays at centre-back is up in the air, but no matter the selection it is strong: John Brooks is promising, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler had good World Cups and Geoff Cameron is ever-present.
How Must the Team Improve?
Ball retention was a big issue for the US at the World Cup, averaging 43.3 percent possession through five games, per WhoScored.com. Granted, they tackled Germany, Portugal and Belgium, but they even got distinctly out-possessed by Ghana by, 62-38.
The 4-4-2 setup, based on defending stoutly and countering with pace, was not conducive to ball retention; it rarely created passing angles for players to utilise and relied heavily on running the ball forward, not passing it.
Altidore's hamstring injury early in the first game was a hammer blow for their chances of protecting the ball, as he was always the first look out of defence. His channel-running and muscular physique creates nightmare one vs. ones high up against defenders, and while Dempsey did a grand job filling in, the plan had to change.
Susceptibility at left-back has also been a problem, and Klinsmann must look to remove this clear weak link in his side over the next year. His distrust in DaMarcus Beasley saw Jones committed to a left-midfield role against Ghana at the World Cup.
With DeAndre Yedlin's emergence, could we see a full-back tandem of Yedlin/Johnson in the long term?