Grant Russell penned this column. Russell is a journalist for STV (Scottish Television) and regarded as an expert on Scottish football and on homegrown rules and players eligibility. Russell also tweets frequently on the Rangers and the American contingent playing there.
Two-and-a-half years have passed since Craig Levein’s brave new era got underway, yet Scotland are still in a period of exploration as the national coach tries to find the formula which will take the team to its first major championship since 1998.
The right steps are being taken behind the scenes to overhaul youth development, something long overlooked but being addressed by the appointment of Mark Wotte as performance director.
As ever in Scotland though, there is an expectation of the short term to be equally prosperous. After failure to qualify for the 2012 European Championships, the man at the helm is arguably facing a make-or-break World Cup qualifying campaign, albeit with a public element frustrated to date with his approach and not necessarily from his bosses.
Levein, at least, will have the next 18 months to win over a largely sceptical public. The friendly with the USA is hardly whetting even the most committed Scotland follower’s appetite and only a spectacular result in Jacksonville will register with most.
The friendly with the USA also comes against a backdrop of internal strife in the Scottish game. Rangers dominate the headlines owing to their perilous financial state and their incredulity at a year-long signing ban placed upon them by the Scottish FA for failing to pay government tax for nine months.
There is also the looming threat of worse to come for the club, with a ruling overdue on a possible £75m tax bill and an ongoing investigation into whether payments to players were hidden from the football authorities for over ten years, something which could see them stripped of almost all of their titles won since 1998.
An international match would normally divert the focus temporarily. But the squad named by Levein, with one relatively low-key exception in Matt Phillips, has failed to capture the imagination enough to suggest the game in will be little more than a footnote.
Jordan Rhodes, one of Scotland’s two hopes of a superstar emerging in the near future, is instead with the under-21 selection for a more important European Championship game with Bulgaria. The other prodigy, Celtic’s James Forrest, misses the trip through injury.
Steven Fletcher, a respected and developing goal scorer who bagged nine in the English Premier League this season, remains in the wilderness because of a dispute with Levein.
Jamie Mackie, the man who threatened to thwart Manchester City in their title hopes in QPR’s final day fixture, misses out because his wife is expecting. Same too for Graham Dorrans, an established midfielder in England’s top flight, who could have used the match to enhance his own prospects of a permanent place in the starting team for the World Cup qualifiers. Likely starter James Morrison, another who impressed with West Brom tjis season, is absent through injury.