Landon Donovan looks to lead the US to an upset victory over Argentina on Saturday
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After a disappointing cancellation last month for the Egypt friendly, the United States men's national team hits the field for the first time since January
The last time out saw Bob Bradley field a younger, experimental side, and the 1-1 draw against Chile helped uncover several young talents on the international stage. In total, seven players got their first U.S. senior cap, including man of the match Zach Lloyd of FC Dallas. Also standing out in that matchup were second-half substitutes Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury, who combined well and eventually teamed up for a late equalizer when Agudelo earned a penalty and Bunbury buried it—so to speak.
This friendly features a much more familiar roster of faces for the U.S. Only two new faces are in camp: 20-year-old Nurnberg defender Timothy Chandler joins David Yelldell, a 29-year-old keeper for Duisburg, in selecting American eligibility over German. One can only hope they have as much impact as fellow convert Jermaine Jones, who has become a quick fixture in Bradley's starting lineup.
There's no doubt Argentina will be the toughest opponents the U.S. have faced since bowing out of the World Cup against Ghana. Sergio Batista has effectively filled the shoes of Diego Maradona, who stepped down after a disappointing early exit from the World Cup. The Argentines are currently ranked fourth in the FIFA World Rankings, and a quick glance at some of the names among their ranks—Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Javier Zanetti—shows justification enough for that ranking.
Tactics: Argentina | 4-3-3
Batista has favored the 4-3-3 since taking over last year, and this is just about the strongest lineup his team can field.
Messi plays the false nine role, dropping deep into play as he often does so well with Barcelona. Banega is the driver of a tight midfield three, with Mascherano in his traditional cleanup role. Di Maria and Lavezzi play inverted on the wings.
Batista has used similar lineups in recent wins over Spain and Brazil, but generally Messi has been in a wide role, off either Carlos Tevez or Gonzalo Higuain. Neither is available this match, however, so it will be interesting to see how the attacking three of Argentina link up and move off each other.
Another key to watch for Argentina will be how much width they can get. Cambiasso and Mascherano will often drop into double-pivot, with Banega in a freer role, but none get wide for much of a match. If Messi stays central, the only true wide player on the pitch is Di Maria, as Lavezzi is more a central striker. They may be forced to play quite narrow, as Zanetti offers little attacking impetus from the back. Youngster Marcos Rojo often features on the wing for Spartak Moscow, so he may provide the overlap play Lavezzi needs.
Tactics: United States | 4-3-2-1
The recent injury of Stu Holden breaks up a solid midfield attack, but the greatest area of depth for the Americans is central midfield. Maurice Edu should step in and provide a lot of what Holden offers, although he is not as able to move wide from a carrilero role. He and Bradley should play the shuttler spots on either side of Jermaine Jones, who offers deep play-making and ball-winning abilities.
Bob Bradley has favored lone-forward attacks since the second half of the loss to Ghana this summer, and he's enjoyed some success in this lineup when his best 11 are available. Jozy Altidore has seen more time at Bursaspor than he had at Villareal, but his rust could be an issue.
Donovan and Dempsey provide support to Altidore, with both alternating deep drops into the midfield to help retain possession.
The back line will likely continue to be an experiment of sorts for Bradley. The biggest questions for the U.S. to answer before the Gold Cup are along the back line. The Chandler call up indicates Bradley is still interested in finding a right back for the future. Eric Lichaj was omitted from the original 18, so Bradley must have had Chandler starting in mind, unless an out-of-form Jonathan Spector gets the start.
- Jones v. Messi: Messi loves to get near the center circle and make his runs from deep. That's the territory Jones will be navigating. Athletically, Jones matches up well, but he's also important for the U.S. going forward. Balancing his attacking duties with tracking the world's best player will be no simple task, but if the referee allows for some physical play, Jones could fare well.
- Donovan v. Rojo: The best American player against the biggest question mark in the Argentinian side. Donovan is best for the Yanks when he is beating his man down the byline. It frees up space for secondary runs from the midfield, where Michael Bradley has made his name for the Americans. Rojo is quick, but Donovan is quicker and, for the first time in a long time, fresh.
- ??? vs. Mascherano: Messi's willingness to build up from the midfield starkly contrasts with Jozy Altidore's knack for staying high. This means, while Jermaine Jones will be dealing with the Barcelona pest, Javier Mascherano could have all day on the ball. This means Argentina may have the bulk of possession, but it also means Donovan, Dempsey and Altidore could be deadly on the counter. A speedier forward option (perhaps Juan Agudelo) late in the second half may favor the U.S., but they'll have to get through a large portion of the game unscathed.