U.S. changes expected vs. Colombia

Monday October 11th, 2010

Change was in vogue as the United States tied Poland on Saturday to open a pair of fall friendlies. And there will surely be more as coach Bob Bradley's Americans complete the back end of the set Tuesday against Colombia at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

Colombia will have an extra day to rest following a 1-0 win over Ecuador at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on Friday. It was the latest promising result for the South American mid-tier side, which narrowly missed a berth for South Africa 2010. Mexico had to work hard for a 1-0 win over Los Cafeteros last month, and the Colombians had defeated Venezuela 2-0 four days earlier.

The opposition looks roughly equivalent in strength to Poland, which tested the United States adequately in a 2-2 draw in Chicago, a contest more notable for the personnel and formation adjustments than for the meaningless result itself.

The most significant U.S. changes for Tuesday's friendly outside Philadelphia (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and Galavision in Spanish) should come along the back line, where Bradley could even start an entirely new back four. Jonathan Spector and Heath Pearce are options to replace left back Carlos Bocanegra, who has returned to his French club. Changes in the middle seem likely, and no one would be surprised to see a new man on the right as well.

Oguchi Onyewu -- still a bit rusty in spots, to no one's surprise -- was probably stretched to play the entire 90 minutes Saturday. So he seems less likely to line up again three days later. That would mean Clarence Goodson or Michael Parkhurst in the middle -- or perhaps both.

Bradley could partner one of them with Maurice Edu, although the choice to insert the Rangers midfielder along the back line remains difficult to unscramble. (Well, it's difficult to unscramble unless perhaps Bradley has very little faith in Nos. 3-6 on the center back depth chart, which could be the case.)

Everyone agrees that the U.S. player pool continues to develop, and everyone seems to see a promising crop of young center backs. So what's the point in potentially weakening another position, center midfield, to add one more body into the center back fray?

Edu looks like the No. 3 option at holding midfielder at the moment. That's a fairly important role if the United States is going to use two screeners in front of the back line, just as Bradley chose to do over the weekend. Edu seems a better option by some measure over current No. 4 choice Ricardo Clark. Still, Bradley seems committed to the experiment.

"Obviously, we know that with his club team he plays in the midfield and we'll continue to try to look at the talents of all our guys and figure out good ways to put them on the field," the U.S. coach said of Edu. "I thought, all things considered, in one of his first starts with the national team in the back, there were some good things."

Whoever lines up at center back will surely be tested by highly regarded young Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who hits prolifically for Portuguese powerhouse Porto. Falcao, whose signature is darting little runs in behind the defense, supplied his team's late goal in Friday's win over Ecuador.

"If he gets in a footrace, he usually does pretty well," U.S. assistant Jesse Marsch, who was in charge of scouting Colombia, said Sunday night from Philadelphia. "It usually leads to chances, or to him getting fouled in and around the box."

Marsch said the United States can expect to see midfielder John Javier Restrepo around the ball on most Colombian possessions. He's the primary link for Giovanni Moreno, the Racing Club (Argentina) attacker who usually plays behind Falcao in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1.

Colombia's young side is once again under direction from Hernan Dario Gomez, who took the country to France '98 (its last appearance in the finals). Gomez's assistant, Leonel Alvarez, was a standout at Dallas and New England in Major League Soccer's early years.

Back on the U.S. side, Bradley liked what he saw from debutante midfielder Jermaine Jones, whose first U.S. appearance went about as well as it could have, one moment of killer indecision in the back notwithstanding. Jones will need time to become more familiar with teammates, to better coordinate movement with and without the ball. On Saturday, he and holding partner Michael Bradley seemed to prefer the safe approach, protecting defensive shape rather than seeking optimum offensive spacing in most cases. So they may have been a little too close together at times.

Two others could make their international debuts Tuesday. It may still be a little early for the 21-year-old Eric Lichaj (pronounced LEE-high, according to U.S. Soccer) to start, but he could certainly make a second-half appearance. FC Dallas attacker Brek Shea also could get his first cap. Shea, 20, has enjoyed a breakout season on the left side of the FC Dallas midfield. But he did play previously as a forward on the U.S. under-20 side, providing one more option there.

Pearce and Shea give Bradley the opportunity to make over the troubled left side, where neither Bocanegra nor left-sided attacker Benny Feilhaber could do much more than hold his own Saturday. Feilhaber once again demonstrated that he is far more effective as a substitute; he can and has changed the game as a replacement, but he had very little impact as a starter against Poland.

Stuart Holden's 30 minutes as a central, attacking midfielder weren't as memorable as his busy opening hour on the outside. Still, Bradley could be tempted to examine what Holden can do in the middle, where he's playing currently for Bolton (although in more of a two-way role for the EPL club.)

Then again, Holden could be even more dangerous as the Americans find themselves on a better pitch Tuesday. The temporary grass field in use two months ago in New Jersey against Brazil was painfully slow. And last week's thick, narrow field at Soldier Field was similarly subpar. PPL Park, the nifty new home of the expansion Philadelphia Union, should provide a more useful surface (and certainly a wider one).

Eddie Johnson was the only attacking player on the U.S. roster who didn't get minutes Saturday. So he could see time -- and he would relish an equal supply of chances as what Jozy Altidore found against Poland. Altidore struck early, but his misfiring near goal otherwise was among the U.S. moments to forget at Soldier Field.

"He was active, worked hard, took the first goal well and had some other chances that made a difference in the game," Bradley said of Altidore. "It's nice to see him get on the score sheet because that's something we need him to do on a more consistent basis."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.