USMNT v Italy: Picking the Ideal Starting XI

February 20, 2012

Next Wednesday, the United States Men’s National Team takes on Italy in a friendly in Genoa.

After a series of up and down friendlies since taking over the team after the subpar performance in this summer’s Gold Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann will be looking to put together a solid first-team lineup in this important test for the Nats.

Assuming everyone who is healthy stays that way over the next week, here’s who should be in the starting XI.

Goalkeeper – Tim Howard

A no-brainer.

Center Backs – Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu

When paired together in central defense, the U.S. is very hard to beat.

Although Bocanegra is 32, he has shown no signs of slowing down, and has been one of the U.S.’s most solid defenders through Klinsmann’s reign, starting and captaining the squad for each game.

Gooch, whose move to Sporting Lisbon has been accompanied by a return to form, has looked like his old self since returning to the field with the Nats in the October friendlies.

Wildcard – Zak Whitbread

Whitbread, who has shown fine form with newly promoted English Premier League side Norwich City, should be close to full fitness returning from a hamstring injury and could receive his first call-up of the Klinsmann reign.

Outside Backs – Timothy Chandler and Steve Cherundolo

Timothy Chandler is one player who has seen his stock rise significantly since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the side in August and looks to have locked down the left-back for the USMNT for the foreseeable future.

Steve Cherundolo is one of the most experienced players on the squad over the last decade and shows no signs of slowing down.

Wildcards – Eric Lichaj and Michael Parkhurst

Eric Lichaj, who looked very solid in this summer’s Gold Cup, has finally returned to fitness with Aston Villa and adds versatility as he can play on the left or the right.

Michael Parkhurst, who has been a consistent performer for Nordsjaelland and who has played the last two years in the Europa League, is worth a look at outside back.

Center Midfielders – Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jose Torres

Assuming the U.S. will lineup in the 4-3-3 that Klinsmann has been partial to in most of his games in charge, here are the picks.

Michael Bradley has been one of the USMNT’s most consistent performers over the last five years and is having solid club season with Chievo in Serie A.

Maurice Edu has struggled to get in the team regularly with both Bob Bradley and Klinsmann, but is coming into his own as one of the most consistent performers for Rangers over the past few years. He deserves his chance to play himself into or out of the lineup.

After struggling for minutes under Bob Bradley, Jose Torres had several solid outings with the Nats in Klinsmann’s first few games in charge. However, shortly thereafter, Torres broke his foot in a Mexican Primera Division game. Now healthy and back in the lineup for Pachuca, Torres should make his return to the starting XI with the USMNT.

Wildcards – Fabian Johnson and Sacha Kljestan

Johnson was very creative in his first start with the team against Slovenia opening up chances for himself and his teammates.

Kljestan, usually considered a second-tier player for the national team, is quietly putting together an impressive season for Anderlecht in both the Belgian and Europa League.

Wings – Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan

If Klinsmann sticks with a 4-3-3, these two are the natural choices to play on the outside. If Klinsmann goes to a 4-4-2 (a formation the U.S. has seen much more success with), Dempsey could, and should, be pushed up top.

Both Dempsey and Donovan have enjoyed a great month of January for their respective clubs in the EPL.

Wildcards – Benny Feilhaber and Fabian Johnson

If Klinsmann goes with a 4-4-2 and uses Dempsey up top with Altidore, he will probably use Danny Williams out wide, despite the fact that Williams’ performances with the USMNT have been underwhelming at best.

Klinsmann has also shown an unwillingness to use Alejandro Bedoya, who Bob Bradley used frequently and who had a solid Gold Cup. However, since a move to Rangers this summer, Bedoya has not seen much game time with his club.

Brek Shea and Freddy Adu will be training with the U-23 in their Olympic preparations, leaving the U.S. short of options at outside mid if Dempsey is played up top.

Benny Feilhaber would seem to be the natural choice to fill the void. Another Bob Bradley stalwart, Feilhaber was recently called up for the January friendlies and may have done enough to keep himself on Klinsmann’s radar.

Another option, if Dempsey plays up top, would be to push Fabian Johnson out wide.

Forward – Jozy Altidore

Although his red-hot start in the Netherlands has cooled down somewhat, Altidore is still the team’s best option up top if the team plays in a 4-3-3 with Dempsey out wide.

In his recent games with the national team, Altidore has showed that he has continued to grow as a player becoming better at holding the ball, getting his head up and connecting passes.

Wildcards – Edson Buddle and C.J. Sapong

Buddle looked solid in his last game with the Nats scoring on a well struck shot early. He brings a great work ethic and a physical presence as well. On the downside, he’s certainly not the future at 30 years of age and recently returned to MLS following what could only be described as a semi-successful spell abroad in the Second Division of the Bundesliga.

Sapong looked good in the January friendlies, and, by consensus, better than Teal Bunbury, who started over him in both matches. He’s only 23, and can hold the ball up well, something the U.S. tends to need when it plays against top competition. The downside, of course, is that while Sapong did look good against an under-strength Venezuela and a youthful Panama, they are both miles away from the level of competition Italy will put on the field.

Sapong also faces competition from Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd, who were both recently called up to the U-23 camp that is convening at the same time as the Italy friendly. While Agudelo’s name in well-known, as is his potential, American fans need to start paying attention to Terrence Boyd because the kid can flat out play.

With the U-23’s preparing for the Olympics

Terrence Boyd, Joseph Gyau, Freddy Adu, Mix Diskerud, Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea.

Josh Gatt, who recently returned from injury, was not included on the Olympic camp roster because his club would not release him.

Time to start passing on

There will be calls for Klinsmann to call-up Jonathan Spector, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckermann, Michael Fiscal and Edgar Castillo based on some recent club performances.

All of these men, regardless of their club form, especially considering it is all against second-rate competition, have had their chance with the national team and proved they are not quality international footballers.

John D. Halloran

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