….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
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
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.
- TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
- 11 at the Whistle
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.
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?
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
- 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?
- 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.
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.