USMNT Battles Slovakia: We Know Little

….of Slovakia that is.

Well, I started reaching my Slovakia column a full week or so earlier. Why? Not much is known about the Slovaks outside a handful of players

sestak

Sestak, celebrating: Let's hope the USMNT doesn't see any of this.

with a connection to the EPL (typically West Brom Albion who easily dropped a league last year) and Marik Hamsik.

Well, what do we know about the Slovaks?

• They are ranked #33 by FIFA in October (yes, we know Fifa rankings are the equivalent to playing darts after 10 white russians, with a blindfold…missing a thumb) up twelve spots from September.

• They qualified for RSA with a record of 7 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw.

• They had a very uneven path to qualification including a 4-0 trouncing by Wayne Rooney and company in March followed by a 2-1  win over Czech Republic–USMNT fans will remember the Czech Republic unfortunately very well–in April.

• While all the current hype is around Marik Hamsik (got any doubts, just click this link), they’re undisputed goal scorer with 6 during the 2009 trials was Bundesliga star Stanislav Sestak. The 26-year-old Stanislav (which is also my grandfather’s name I might add) has netted 9 times in 27 games for the national side, but get this….he’s beaten the keeper 23 times in 62 games for his club side VFL Bochum–impressive.

• On defense is a collection of EPLers and former EPLers led by Liverpool back Martin Skrtel and extending

hamsik

Hamsik, soon to be a household name

to West Brom’s Marek Cech. With ten goals against in qualifying the backfield is strong, but not infallible.

The anonymity of the players on the Slovak squad to USMNT fans and players alike, though, provides a good observation point for evaluation. How does the USMNT act and react….on the road…against a team where many of the Americans have seen a maximum of maybe one player who will take the pitch for the opposing side? A good lead-off match to the “friendly” season.

Let’s get right to our customary preview.

  1. TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
  2. 11 at the Whistle
  3. *Disclaimers

TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”

Overview: With Coach USA’s roster selections handicapped by MLS playoffs, the USMNT will be just looking for a positive result in this one under the guidance of his remaining regular starters and veterans.  In fact, more than half the starting squad that beat back Honduras for World Cup qualification will be absent from this one.

In a new time zone with the typical short period of preparation, look for Bradley to rely heavily on his most familiar players and to cautiously, but purposely introduce a few new starters and subs to get a peek at the potential for 2010.

» Mr. Robbie Rogers, please report to the starting line-up. Claim your ticket to South Africa now.

Let’s face it. The USMNT doesn’t have a whole lot of depth on the wing….and we mean true wingers, after Donovan and Dempsey, who is more of a forward. Holden looks ready to lockdown the right side, but who else is making a play for depth? Torres? Coach Bob has used Torres more often in the middle lately or on the outside when deploying a 4-3-3.

Robbie, it’s clear Coach USA is giving you a shot. And your cameo in RFK provided some flashes of what earned you that spot–although we remain unclear why you sat for more than a half in the Crew closeout game against RSL.

TSG is expecting you to start Saturday….and, with no Torres or even Donovan over the shoulder, produce.

(Actually I should be clear. Matthew at TSG is expecting you to start and produce. Here’s a little email exchange with my brother Monday:

Matt: “I already have the preview done for Slovakia — if you want, go take a read. Two words for ya: Robbie Rogers!”

Mark: “Rogers will prove once again he sucks when given too many minutes.”

So a divided TSG on this one, but I, Matthew, see Rogers as a player with a lot of attacking ability who can contribute.)

» EJ vs. Cunningham: Let’s get it on.

ej

Welcome Mr. Fan Selection 2006!

Coach USA will have a few days to see both. The two “elder” statesmen: Cunningham the MLS golden boot winner at 33 and EJ a vet of the 2006 World Cup have the leg-up on a spot as Charlie Davies recovers.

TSG has clearly not been a fan of Cunningham. One game on the international scene could change that for us.

EJ, for his part, seems intent to get back on the pitch for both club and country. If Eddie didn’t have a history of inconsistency, it would be easy to accept a part-time EPL player making and competing for both a roster and starting spot. Heck, that’s what the USMNT has with Jozy right now.

Let’s see if EJ’s reps abroad have improved his play, especially his feel for the game. We don’t get to evaluate Johnson, or Cunningham, above Donovan this time around with Landy still in LA, but here’s your knapsack, go start on the road to redemption.

» Can the Bradley-Benny! pairing recapture Gold Cup magic?

It was just a little bit more than 2 years ago during the 2007 Gold Cup run that Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber looked like a central midfield pairing for many years for the USMNT. While Bradley, though inconsistent, has held up his end of the bargain, Benny’s path to national team prominence has detoured through injury and, from reports, attitude.

With Ricardo Clark ailing, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones still shelved, and Kyle Beckerman going to be a “DNP-MLS playoffs,” it’s up to Feilhaber and Junior this round. The duo however is coming of a shaky start in the final World Cup qualifier game against Costa Rica as they lacked understanding in the middle and one or the other was consistently not where the other expected them to be.

Can they reclaim their magic? It won’t be the easiest route back as crashing through the middle for Slovakia will be the aforementioned Hamsik.

» Does Clint Dempsey shine or sputter in Donovan’s absence?

Clint is on an absolute tear in the EPL, weaseling his way to 3 goals in his last 3 EPL games after starting the campaign goalless in the first 8 matches. Here is an interesting stat on Deuce? Of his 17 EPL goals, roughly 30% of them have come in the last 15 minutes of the game. Another 23% have come in the first 15 minutes. What’s he doing in the middle there? Is this clutch or just energy, stakes maybe or mere interest level?

casey

Casey: Show USMNT fans more!

Regardless, Sir Deuce will be asked to carry more of the offensive load with Landon buddying up to Beck’s in LA for more MLS playoffs. How does this change Clint’s game? Does this change Clint’s game? Without Donovan is there more focus on Deuce from the other team defensively or does it open up his game?

» Make us believe Conor Casey.

Conor, you still have us at “Honduras.” We’ll give you the RFK game with a lot of emotion and nasty turf. Show us that you can contribute more than Brian Ching knockaround guy stuff up top. At this point, you’re the starter, play “as if.”

11 at the Whistle

G: Brad Guzan

D: Jonathan Spector, Chad Marshall, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein

M: Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Rogers

S: Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey

Subs off the bench: Cunningham or EJ, Kljestan

Disclaimers

  • Does Conrad get a start? Or even Goodson? in central defense.

Generally, I feel pretty good about the line-up above as the one the Coach USA deploys this Saturday. Having said that, there are nine defenders on the rosters and three of them play central back. Does Bradley investigate if Conrad still has it or if Goodson is coming along faster than he thinks?

Likelihood: 15%

  • Does Heath Pearce get in there?

If you’ve got Castillo coming (perhaps), you’ve got Frankie and Steve as your veteran back-ups and you’ve seen a highly up-and-down Pearce in the Gold Cup, why is he there? Does Coach B see something TSG doesn’t? Bornstein is in form, so it would be hard to keep him out of the line-up.

Likelihood: 5%

Remember that’s a 10AM EST, 7AM PST start on Fox Soccer Channel for this one. If you’re on the East Coast, you’ll get to experience a little bit of the joy Pacific coasters do in rolling out of bed Sunday morning and immediately putting on the early NFL game. Enjoyable.

Enjoy the game.

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30 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 1:01 AM

    I’m also wondering in this one if McCarthy also makes the 18 as there are 6, just a half dozen, middies on the roster.

    The only other option I would imagine is Frankie making the cut as he can technically play mid if need be.

    Reply

    • I think you’ll see JB slotting into the midfield if need be, he’s currently got more to offer going forward than Frankie. Dax, while showing promise against kids his own age, is just not ready for prime time. This is probably just a camp invite to show him what it’s all about and let him soak in the atmosphere.

      The real mystery will be who does Kljestan replace in the midfield when he comes in (in your hypothetical)? Does he replace Casey, pushing Deuce up top? Does he come in for Rogers or Benny!?

      Reply

      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/10 at 7:45 AM

        Benny, can swing out wide if need be. If I recall correctly he did that against El Salvador when Torres and Beckerman came off the bench.

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 9:37 AM

          I think when those guys game off Torres went wide and Benny stayed in the middle and we dropped a striker, no?

          I was watching the game in a bar in the middle of “Whoknowswhere,” Northern California Coast so I may be just completely off.

          Reply

        • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/10 at 9:46 AM

          Here were the subs:

          1) Holden for Davies

          2) Beckerman for Marshall

          3) Torres for Altidore

          For some reason I thought I remembered Feilhaber going outside. What I am sure of is the end of that game was disaster.

          Reply

  2. With a roster this decimated by the MLS playoffs and injuries, what do you think Bradley can take away from this friendly? Any sort of “team form” gained is like to disappear with half the squad sitting on the bench next game. Any individual performance, although possibly telling, will be rendered almost moot when certain players return (especially Donovan).

    To me, soccer is so much more than individual ability, it’s how that ability fits in a system with other unique abilities. Look at Barcelona this year with Ibra. Having a big, target man, space generating, passing forward has completely opened up Barca’s game because he is double teamed almost any time he has even the chance of receiving the ball. With Samuel Eto’o, a player like Pedro would probably not have any goals to this point in the season but he has scored 8, most as a proximate result of how the directness of his game complements the ability to Ibra to hold the ball and draw defenders, and distribute to open men. For a USMNT comparison, look at how the speed of CD9 opened up the midfield for Donovan, giving him more space to make runs at defenders and time to distribute balls upfield.

    Because of this, I’m hesitant to read into much that happens during this game. The only lessons I think can be learned here (with caveats):

    –Can we recreate a successful central defensive pairing if/until Gooch and Demerit return?
    (Can we read too much into a pairing without seeing how well they work with and communicate with Howard?)

    –Can Bradley and Benny develop some midfield chemistry already?
    (Is that a reasonable expectation without having wing support, space created by Donovan’s presence?)

    –Will Dempsey lead by example as one of the remaining senior players?
    (Can we honestly expect him give 110% considering the relative unimportance of this game?)

    To me, reading anything more into this game, especially the scoreline, will just be a waste. I, as you can probably gather above, even the ‘lessons’ are tainted. This could have been a game to really have some fun experimenting with midfield permutations. I guess we’ll have to take the bad of the MLS with the good.

    How about throwing Dempsey up top? Fuck it, we’ll probably end up doing it anyways in SA and its more time to develop some chemistry with Jozy. Besides, Deuce is good form right now, I say he puts away at least one goal if given that sort of opportunity.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/10 at 8:05 AM

      Agree with most things here. The next two friendlies are about hoping someone has a Stu Holden, Gold Cup-esque eye-opening performance.

      In the back, I’d like to see a Marshall-Goodson pairing in the middle for both games. Bradley knows what Boca is capable of in central defense and on the left side.

      I’d like to see Deuce up top, but wonder if he’ll get any chances with a mid-field that won’t have played much together behind him.

      Reply

    • I agree that the most we’re likely to gain from this experience is whether or not certain newbies step up and make a case for themselves. While it may not mean as much due to the absence of ‘first-teamers’, at least it will be a statement of intent and get them into the next camp. And, the Benny! Baby Bob pairing in the center should have the gauntlet thrown down on them. Without the wing support they’ll have to step up even more to control the middle of the park.

      Any chance Bobbo makes more than 3 substituions? Given that it’s a friendly he’ll be able to make 6…

      Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 9:12 AM

      Pat

      Good point on Dempsey. If you’re going to use him up top in the rotation eventually, you’d want to carry a few more mids (Beasley perhaps even) and see what Dempsey can do.

      Maybe Bob’s not going that route.

      Reply

      • What, not excited about Sasha on the wing? :)

        Reply

        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 9:27 AM

          Ha. I’m know I’m regurgitating some of yesterday’s discussion. But the Kljestan is just so frustrating in that he has the vision, the tools, the physique (for the most part).

          Yet he is careless, plays just atrocious defense, doesn’t hustle. I’m sure he is just still sulking after failing to get the transfer away from MLS. He’s sort of accepted his place and he’s living it up in LA.

          I probably shouldn’t pay attention to that guys twitterings, but TSG follows all USMNT players. If he’s not golfing, then he’s going to a movie, or traveling.

          At least Freddy and Maurice are out there talking about training and getting better.

          Boo on Sacha right now.

          Reply

        • Posted by Matthew N on 2009/11/10 at 11:20 AM

          Freddy and Maurice are talking, but that is about it. Sorry to throw Maurice under the bus there, but damn Freddy Adu is annoying. He just tweeted something at my phone buzzed while writing this. Riddle me this one… if you’re training like 50 times every day like you say you are Freddy, why are you still rotting on some B side in Portugal. Man I am a real hater lately.

          Reply

  3. Posted by Timmy on 2009/11/10 at 8:14 AM

    My enjoyment comes from rolling out of bed on the East coast on Saturday/Sunday morning and putting on the EPL on espn or La Liga on GolTV. No NFL fan here. Looking forward to the match on Saturday. I would like to see some US players step it up another level and take advantage of this opportunity. We will be watching.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Rob on 2009/11/10 at 9:06 AM

    What I’m looking for:

    1. Good games from Spector and Feilhaber to establish the depth.
    2. Connor Casey to get injured.
    3. Altidore to pop one in for more playing time at Hull
    4. A good game in general to watch.

    Too much to ask?

    Reply

    • I’d be happy just to see #4.

      Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/11/10 at 9:15 AM

      I can get on-board with #1, #3 and #4, but #2…c’mon…never root for injuries…especially to your own guy.

      Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 9:22 AM

      We need to get off the Casey-hater wagon.

      Before injuries Casey played in the Bundesliga and had a respectable goals scored to appearance record.

      After a few surgeries he is what he is and we also know that Bob Bradley loves a guy who can wear down defenses (like a big running back in football) and can accept the over the top ball when the USMNT is having trouble moving through the midfield.

      Beyond Caseys two goals against Honduras he game down with a slew of early possessions when the US was having trouble getting out of the back.

      Bob’s going to take a Casey or a Ching. Sure we’d all love McBride in that role the most but he’s not around. I was thinking that Bob also might have thought that Cooper could have been that guy but he’s not.

      Reply

  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 9:40 AM

    One more thing — having looked at all the players thus far to strike up top–the most in form and with the attributes most closely resembling CD9 has to be Findley, followed by EJ, then JC.

    I’m kind of excited for Findley given his current form — I have no allusions that he’s going to set any league on fire, but I can see him becoming part of the rotation.

    My recollections of EJ from seeing him mostly from 2005-2008 or so is that he really needs to develop that feel, he strays (not tests) offsides too much, though he does have a decent enough shot.

    I’ll reserve judgment as communicated above in the piece on JC. Fingers-crossed.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Dylan on 2009/11/10 at 10:21 AM

    I’m actually exicited to watch Eddie Johnson play. I am a fairly new US fan and have yet to see this guy on the pitch. From what I’ve heard he is super athletic and I’m curious to see what he can do.

    Reply

    • Posted by Berg on 2009/11/10 at 11:39 AM

      I’m excited to see if he’s changed at all over the last 2 years. He’s got some wheels but what I remember about him is that he, A) needed a ball to be almost perfectly played to him in order to do something with it and B) Looked disinterested in the game if he felt he wasn’t involved enough. He basically had to get some chances in the first 15 minutes in order to stay in the game mentally.

      Reply

      • Posted by Timmy on 2009/11/10 at 12:15 PM

        Several years back, he was highlighted as “The next great American forward.” Now he plays for the Fulham reserve team. I hope he does well, but my expectations are pretty low. Maybe he will prove me wrong. It will be interesting.

        Reply

  7. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 11:23 AM

    @MatthewN

    You need a pick me up.

    In regards to Mo, Freddy, Sacha communication

    I think my point was missed there. I don’t care if there message is “talk”–it shows that their mindshare (whether they act on it or not) is on soccer and improving. Kljestan (and Beasley) is decidedly off of it.

    Reply

  8. Posted by kaya on 2009/11/10 at 12:40 PM

    What’s an NFL?
    With a schedule like this: http://www.livesoccertv.com/schedules/2009-11-14/
    I don’t see myself needing anything but beer and a well connected tv come Saturday.

    Reply

  9. [...] Today, we have a decidedly more upbeat, airy poll for you, prodded on by TSG reader Dylan’s comments in our preview piece. [...]

    Reply

  10. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 7:01 PM

    By the way, what does it say about DaMarcus Beasley’s USMNT career if Frankie Hedjuk and Heath Pearce are traveling all the wa to Slovakia and the experienced Beasley is just a stone’s throw away?

    Reply

    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/11/10 at 9:03 PM

      Ouch. Totally forgot about Damarcus. Would Bob really want Kljestan over DB?

      Reply

  11. [...] the Land of the Free and Home of the Whopper: For you USMNT hounds who missed it, here’s the TSG Slovakia preview. I hope you, Dax, and Frankie all enjoy watching the [...]

    Reply

  12. [...] TSG’s full preview, check out USMNT Battles Slovakia. As an American of Polish (and Ukrainian) descent I would be remiss if I didn’t add that I am [...]

    Reply

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