U.S. aims to stop Argentina's Messi
The last time the U.S. played Argentina, in 2008, the result was proof that a 0-0 score line could still produce a thrilling soccer game. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard stood on his head, and a huge crowd in the Meadowlands saw the Americans survive going toe-to-toe with supernova Lionel Messi and his talented Argentine teammates.
Now here we are again: On Saturday the U.S. will face Messi and Argentina in a friendly at the Meadowlands before what may well be a sold-out crowd (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Univision). Here are five things to watch for:
GK: Tim Howard
The U.S. will likely need another big game from its longtime No. 1 keeper to get a result.
D: Timothy Chandler, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra
Steve Cherundolo's injury leaves a spot open at right back, which could give Chandler a chance to make his debut after a quick rise at Germany's Nurnberg. (Another option here is Jonathan Spector.) If Chandler starts, I could see U.S. coach Bob Bradley going with veterans along the rest of the back line, although Tim Ream might have a chance to start in place of DeMerit. Bradley could also opt to use Bocanegra in the center and Jonathan Bornstein on the left.
M: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones
Bradley hasn't been playing much at Aston Villa, but it's hard to imagine him not starting, not least because he brings the coach's vision and game plan to the field more than any other player. The U.S. could go with a 4-3-2-1 and use Maurice Edu alongside Bradley and Jones, but that would be a departure for the Americans, so I'm expecting Jones to get the nod ahead of Edu in a two-man holding midfield.
M: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber
Stuart Holden's injury opens the door for a player like Feilhaber, especially if Bob Bradley continues going with the lone-forward formation that he has been using lately. Dempsey could play as a withdrawn forward, or he and Donovan could reprise their wide roles from the World Cup if Bradley goes with two forwards. Whatever Bradley decides, the U.S. will use Donovan and Dempsey to try to strike on the counterattack against an Argentine team that might be vulnerable to it.
F: Jozy Altidore
Altidore only arrived in camp late Tuesday night, but that should be enough time for him to be ready for this game. If not, Edson Buddle is another option, as is Juan Agudelo. If Bradley starts the 18-year-old Agudelo, though, it will be confirmation that we're seeing a bolder U.S. coach these days.
GK: Mariano Andujar
Regular starter Sergio Romero is injured, which gives Andujar a chance.
D: Javier Zanetti, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Burdisso, Marcus Rojo
The ageless Zanetti can still be a threat going forward. Rojo got the start on the left in Argentina's last game, while Batista is still trying to find the right combination in the center.
M: Ever Banega, Javier Mascherano, Esteban Cambiasso
There is much more balance in Batista's midfield than there was under Diego Maradona, and it's no coincidence that Batista has rehabilitated Cambiasso, Zanetti and Banega, who were left off last year's World Cup team by El Diego. Javier Pastore, a rising star at Palermo, could get the nod ahead of Valencia's Banega.
F: Ángel Di María, Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Lavezzi
It must nice if you can leave Carlos Tévez and Sergio Agüero off your squad, as Batista has done, but the point is clear: The coach feels that Di María and Lavezzi are better complements for Messi. The U.S. back line is going to get a big test here, obviously.