U.S. to make changes for Paraguay
Tuesday's friendly in Nashville comes with the usual roll call of unknowns: Who might play? Who will rise or shine? Which side can muster greater motivation, etc.?
But we can safely predict this about the U.S. meeting with Paraguay down in The Volunteer State: it won't look much like Saturday's night's memorable occasion in New Jersey, when Bob Bradley's U.S. team fell under siege for 45 minutes, then rose admirably to punch back after intermission for an
A coming wave of U.S. lineup changes will alter the look Tuesday, for one thing. As for the proceedings, the major shocker would be anything that resembled Saturday's unforgettable first half, when the Americans were lucky to bind three consecutive passes against the pressing storm that gathered on Argentina's talented side.
Paraguay is a quality South American team, one that hasn't missed World Cup qualification since 1994. Last summer's quarterfinal run represented its deepest push yet. Still, Paraguay is no Argentina, and Bradley's Americans are likely to share possession far more equitably. Goals won't come easy, but the home team will have the ball -- which means the match inside the Tennessee Titans' LP Field (8 p.m. ET, FSC and TeleFutura) won't look anything like Saturday's contest in New Jersey.
"Paraguay, as we know, is organized and has some very talented players," Bradley said after Saturday's contest, before traveling to Nashville on Sunday. "The turnaround is quick with the Saturday to Tuesday [schedule] so we'll think about some different changes and that certainly includes some of the younger players."
The Tuesday date (as opposed to Wednesdays, the more traditional placement for international friendlies or tournament qualifiers) represents a FIFA adjustment. The window for so-called double fixture dates now will be Friday-Tuesday rather than Saturday-Wednesday as before. So the Americans could see something like this again when World Cup qualification begins in 2012.
Bradley is sure to be especially careful with his European-based players, some of whom appeared tired upon last week's stateside arrival. That's no surprise considering the European grind for regulars like Clint Dempsey (in England), Carlos Bocanegra (France), Maurice Edu (Scotland) and Tim Howard (England). All four started against Argentina, so they seem like prime candidates for a night off.
Considering that Bradley brought two goalkeepers other than Howard, he's sure to use one or both Tuesday. Marcus Hahnemann would love the minutes considering his sparse playing time of late for Wolves in England. But the coaches would also like to see David Yelldell, the German-born 'keeper currently starting at MSV Duisburg from 2 Bundesliga.
In all, 10 players invited to camp last week logged no minutes Saturday. Only one of them has left the U.S. camp: Edson Buddle's German club Ingolstadt has a match Friday, so he already is back in Europe. That leaves Bradley with just two true strikers, Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo.
We're almost sure to see a little more of Agudelo, who is making it increasingly tough for U.S. Soccer officials bent on tamping down the brush fires of publicity he keeps generating. The 18-year-old striker has earned three caps and produced something meaningful in each outing: He scored in last December's debut against South Africa, earned the equalizing penalty kick earlier this year against Chile and then pounced on that fortuitous rebound Saturday to even matters against the mighty Argentines.
"Whenever you put him on the field you can tell he has confidence," Bradley said. "He's had a knack now for turning up in some good spots to get goals. We're pleased with the things that we see and I think most of all he has a good attitude about working on little things and picking things up from other players, so it's been a good week with him again."
Agudelo's teammate at New York, unflappable young center back Tim Ream, is another in camp who didn't play Saturday. He seems sure to start, and his smooth passing out of the back could help regulate one area begging for improvement from Saturday. U.S. defenders, Oguchi Onyewu in particular, struggled to distribute with composure. As for Ream's potential central partner, Bradley will have to ask Onyewu, Jay DeMerit or Carlos Bocanegra to play again after a brief recovery. Jonathan Spector could even line up at center back; he has some experience there and has become a jack of all trades recently for West Ham, anyway.
Jonathan Bornstein is almost sure to be stationed on the left, while Bradley's choice on right will be more interesting. Saturday's debut for Timothy Chandler was promising. Then again, Eric Lichaj's early U.S. appearances have looked similarly encouraging, so it's not an easy call.
Bradley has ample options in front of the defense since all three midfielders unused Saturday -- Mikkel Diskeruud, Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan -- have played in central and in wide positions for the United States.
Bradley has used a 4-2-3-1 arrangement for five consecutive matches. But at some point on most of those nights, the coach maneuvered his team away from that arrangement and back into a more familiar 4-4-2. And each time, the addition of a second striker seemed to help the Americans find a better way forward.
That's just how it unfolded Saturday, when the halftime shift helped Bradley's team gain a toehold on the match. The midfield found a bit more balance, and Chandler found room on the right while Altidore and Agudelo managed the occasional link in Argentina's end.
Even if Paraguay isn't Argentina, that doesn't mean things will come easy on Tuesday -- especially if coach Gerardo Martino's plucky side defends as bravely as it did last summer in South Africa. The Paraguayans opened their World Cup account by matching Italy in a 1-1 draw that would eventually help boot the aging, reigning champs after just one round. Later, Paraguay even stretched eventual 2010 champion Spain in a tense, 1-0, quarterfinal.
Paraguay's style under Martino has been predictable, even if his lineup selections haven't always been. They'll line up in a fairly standard 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders, tending to defend effectively in narrow blocks that do leave a bit of vulnerable space along the wings.
It's hard to say where all the typically stubborn Paraguayan defending went last Saturday when Martino's side was undone quickly in a friendly in Oakland. Mexico struck for three, including two by young scoring sensation Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, within the first 35 minutes and cruised to a 3-1 win.
It certainly wasn't due to Martino bringing a weak side; 10 of 11 starters on Saturday where with him last summer in South Africa. That includes Saturday's goal scorer Cristian Riveros, a backup this year at England's Sunderland. All three Paraguayan goal scorers from South Africa 2010 (Riveros, Antolín Alcaraz and Enrique Vera) are with the team currently in the United States.