Nashville SC to play preseason friendly in Birmingham

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Here’s a picture of Bolu Akinyode. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

From club release:

NASHVILLE (January 16, 2019) – Nashville Soccer Club will be the opponent for USL Championship expansion club Birmingham Legion FC’s inaugural home friendly on Saturday, February 16 at 4 p.m. CST at BBVA Compass Field. The friendly will be a precursor to the two regular season games between the clubs in the 2019 USL Championship season.

“I’m delighted to have such a challenging game as part of our preparations,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “Birmingham have recruited well and have a wealth of experience on their technical staff, I expect our preseason game will be the start of a competitive rivalry.”

Legion FC are one of seven USL Championship expansion teams this season, and one of four joining the Eastern Conference. The club will play in a newly renovated BBVA Compass Field, home to the University of Alabama-Birmingham soccer teams, which will hold around 7,500 fans. Nashville is scheduled to play at Birmingham on May 22 in the USL Championship regular season and will host Legion FC on September 17.

“We learned a lot about our team last preseason by taking on top USL competition, and expect any group led by Jay Heaps and Tommy Soehn to be among the league’s elite this season,” said Nashville SC VP of soccer operations and technical director Mike Jacobs. “It should be another good test for our group.”

Limited tickets to the game will be available for Nashville SC fans. Details on how to purchase tickets to the game will be announced in the coming weeks.

Not a ton to react to here. NSC played multiple regular-season opponents in the preseason last year, as well. It’s a reasonable road trip if fans would like to make the trip (and while there’s a mention of tickets being reserved for Nashville… come on, they aren’t selling out 5,000 seats for a friendly).

It’ll be a good first measuring stick against the expansion team, too. See the full Nashville SC schedule here.

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Nashville SC to get preseason taste of Louisville City

Nashville SC hasn’t shied away from testing itself in friendlies – the Boys in Gold took on a number of MLS teams (Atlanta United, Chicago Fire, Orlando City SC) prior to the inaugural season last Spring. They’ve already announced a game against New York City FC before season two and will also take on Montreal Impact in Florida.

Now, we also know they’ll be taking on the reigning USL Champs. You know, the team whose record-setting 2018 goalscorer… now suits up in Music City.

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Cameron Lancaster will be wearing a different shade of Gold in 2019.

There’s probably not too much to read into the scheduling – NSC also scheduled USL favorite FC Cincinnati in last year’s preseason – beyond that the team wants to get competitive games under their belt before the season begins.

That they won’t play the two-straight USL Cup Champions (will the name be changing with USL’s new nomenclature?!?! USL Championship Cup Champions?!?) in the regular season until July 6 is a boost. The closest thing to a local derby can be played in preseason, because both sides will have played more than half their regular-season schedules by the time they meet again. Each team will know what the other brings to the table, but the style of play and personnel usage will have shifted by the time they meet up when it counts. Last year’s friendlies were alternately taken seriously (first half of most games, entirety of one or two of them) and with an eye toward evaluating and developing depth. I would expect this game is played in the same mindset.

It’s also positive to see as many contests as possible between these two teams: they played three times in the regular season last year, and again in the US Open Cup with Louisville taking a 2-1-1 series win overall. They’ll play only twice during league play this year (USL expansion has seen every team in the East get a home-and-home with their conference-mates, rather than last year’s unbalanced slates). They’ll be in different leagues in 2020 and beyond when Nashville moves to MLS. It’s nice to get as much of it as we can before that change.

Hopefully, NSC will turn the tide in the series, starting Feb. 9 in Bradenton. It’s high time for Lancaster to find the back of the net for the first time in the rivalry.

Nashville SC adds preseason friendly against Louisville City FC

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(Courtesy USL)

From club release:

NASHVILLE (January 4, 2018) – Nashville Soccer Club will renew its rivalry against two-time defending USL Cup champions Louisville City FC earlier than expected in 2019. While the matchup isn’t on the USL Championship regular season schedule until August, the teams will meet in the preseason at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. on February 9 at 2:00 p.m. CT.

Nashville and Louisville met four times last season, three in regular season play, and in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The teams split the regular season matchups, as each won once and the sides played to a draw once. In the Open Cup, Louisville beat Nashville to advance in the domestic tournament.

The preseason contest will also serve as Nashville SC forward Cameron Lancaster’s first game against his former club. Lancaster spent the last four seasons at Louisville City, leading them to back-to-back USL Championship titles in 2017 and 2018 before becoming the second signing with Nashville MLS. Lancaster has been loaned to Nashville SC until Nashville MLS begins play.

IMG Academy is a popular destination for many USL and MLS teams during preseason training camp, and Nashville SC will be making its second trip there in as many years. Last season, Nashville SC played twice at IMG, picking up draws against the Chicago Fire (0-0) and Ottawa Fury (1-1). In addition to the Louisville City game, Nashville will play the Montréal Impact on Feb. 6, although that game will be held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakeland, Fla.

More analysis later. It’s cool to play the best (especially with Nashville wanting an early measuring stick), and an opportunity for Lancaster to get acclimated to his new team while playing against his old one.

United States MNT January camp roster

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With big news breakin’ yesterday, I didn’t have much chance to get around to this. Now is the time to rectify that. Here’s the roster for the annual USMNT January camp:

GOALKEEPERS (4): Alex Bono (Toronto FC/CAN; 1/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 5/0), Tyler Miller (LAFC; 0/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

DEFENDERS (10): Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 2/0), Greg Garza (FC Cincinnati; 10/0), Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 0/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 4/1)  

MIDFIELDERS (10): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 23/2), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 17/2), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 142/17), Russell Canouse (D.C. United; 0/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 6/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 5/1), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 5/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 11/0)

FORWARDS (3): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers; 0/0), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 0/0), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 40/6)

It’s usually an MLS-heavy camp, with only the Scandinavian leagues chipping in from time to time (like the United States, they’re out-of-season, and this camp doesn’t fall during a FIFA International window), and the 2019 edition will be exclusively from Major League Soccer.

With friendlies planned against Panama (Jan. 27 in Phoenix) and Costa Rica (Feb. 2 in San Jose, Calif.), this will be your roster for the next two opportunities to watch the Yanks prepare for the Gold Cup and beyond.

The keeper of the future seems to have already been anointed in Zack Steffen, and the new Man City man (who will be on loan back to Columbus Crew during the first half of 2019) is in the mix. I’d expect him to start one of the games, and split another with one of the other keepers – though with Gregg Berhalter being very familiar with the young man who he’s been coaching for a few years, we may see more (all of both games) or less (only one appearance – though needing caps to get a work permit for City, at least showing in both is likely) of him.

The defense is generally inexperienced – 18 caps across 10 players, with more than half of those earned by FCC’s Greg Garza – but some of the players have been called in during the second half of 2018, including right back Reggie Cannon, and centerbacks Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman. If you don’t have the opportunity to call in European players on account of the timing, this is a group that probably represents the best of the domestic pool. I’d love to see young Philadelphia duo Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty get some time together, as I rate both pretty highly (while holding some reservations about the 5-10 McKenzie’s ability to play CB at an international level).

The midfield is actually pretty strong in comparison to what you’d see if players overseas were available: the likes of Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Marky Delgado, and Wil Trapp have been called up even during international windows over the past year, and while Berhalter may not have the exact same opinions of where they stand on a depth chart as Dave Sarachan did, certainly they have international experience and at a much greater frequency than the defenders. Add in Michael Bradley – the third-most capped player in USMNT history – and this group has tons of experience.

The way the midfield is constructed (assuming Berhalter’s marriage to the 4-2-3-1, while not set in stone, sees him at least try to install it in his first camp) should be interesting. Is a double-pivot of Michael Bradley and Also Michael Bradley Wil Trapp in the cards? (I’d prefer to see Russell Canouse in one of those spots at least for a while) Who’s the creative No. 10? There are options there – Marky Delgado, Sebastian Lletget, and it’s interesting to see Corey Baird listed as a mid, since I basically consider him a pure center forward – though obviously not as inspiring as if you could call in a guy like Christian Pulisic. There is wing talent – I’m an Arriola guy for sure – though similar to the central attacking mid, maybe not the depth that makes you sad to remember European-based players are unavailable.

I’d like to see Jeremy Ebobisse and Christian Ramirez get most of the time up top. Regular readers know I’m actually a pretty good Zardes guy (and that’s before you take into account the chemistry that he has with his now-former club coach, seeing him break out of a slump to have a huge 2018 under Berhalter with the Crew), but at the same time, you generally know what you’re getting from him. I’ve always been high on Ebobisse and have wanted him to get opportunities with the MNT, and I’d like to see Ramirez have a chance to earn future call-ups with in-game performance, as well.

Try to win?

2018 was not a good year results-wise for the USMNT. A 3-5-3 record with ten goals for and 14 against is bordering on historically bad, at least if we only go back to the modern era (post-1986). I’d say it wasn’t necessarily Dave Sarachan’s job to win – have been considering a post exploring whether he did a good job by different metrics, actually, based on things other than results – but I’d also say that it’s Berhalter’s job to return some of the positive vibes around the program just as much as it is to prepare for the more-distant future with this first camp. Fans need to be brought back in.

However, the diehard fans at the very least are realistic about what the January camp is. Panama should be beatable (even the cursed Bruce Arena USMNT went 1-0-1 against them in World Cup qualifying last year), but Costa Rica is a true test, even with a full squad. Expecting a result with a B-team is unfair. They should strive for it, sure, but not be upset not to get one if that’s how it turns out.

As implied in the roster breakdown, I’m cheering mostly for squad rotation and the chance to see some of these younger guys show that they’re up to the international level, even if it’s largely for depth when the full squad is available. If that costs a 1-1-0 or 0-0-2 record, fine. If it’s worse than that (especially in a way that is not fun to watch), I will say something like “that is lame” and move on with my life.

Nashville SC to host New York City FC in preseason

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From club release:

NASHVILLE (December 17, 2018) – Nashville Soccer Club will kick off its 2019 season in exciting fashion as it will host New York City FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) at First Tennessee Park on February 22, 2019 at 7 p.m. CT in a preseason friendly. Tickets to the opening home game on the schedule are currently only available to 2019 Nashville SC Season Ticket Members.

“As we ready ourselves for the 2019 season, we need top competition to prepare our group,” said Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. “I am delighted that we have been able to include this matchup in our preseason schedule, and I hope our fans come out and support us against some of the best competition in Major League Soccer.”

Nashville SC VP of soccer operations and technical director Mike Jacobs added, “New York City FC offers us a great opportunity to test ourselves as we prepare for the 2019 USL season, while also bringing in another Major League Soccer team for an exhibition match here at First Tennessee Park.”

Last February, Nashville SC opened its record-breaking season with a friendly against Atlanta United FC of MLS at First Tennessee Park. That game kicked off a year that included the United Soccer League’s (USL) inaugural season ticket record, an average of nearly 10,000 fans at home games and a USL Cup Playoff appearance in 2018.

NYCFC finished its 2018 regular season with a 16-8-10 record and was the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, advancing to the conference semifinals. The Bronx-based club has maintained success since joining MLS in 2015, making the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs each of the last three seasons.

Nashville SC season tickets are available now. To purchase a 2019 Nashville SC Season Ticket Membership, visit NashvilleSC.com/seasontickets or call a ticket representative at (615) 457-8200. Single game tickets to this game and other games in the 2019 season will go on sale at a later date.

With our sample size of one, this obviously means you can go ahead and crown NYCFC the 2019 MLS Champion.

All kidding aside, it’s very cool to bring top-flight teams to Nashville (and I think more exciting to have them in First Tennessee Park, even if the capacity is obviously not what Nissan Stadium can provide). They finished third in the Eastern Conference, lost in the conference semifinal to eventual champion Atlanta United, and while David Villa is no longer there, certainly there will be a test at the highest level available in our country. It’ll be interesting to see if NSC looks like it belongs on a competitive field with an MLS team – it’d be fair to say they didn’t in that particular fixture last preseason, but that was the first time on the field together, and Atlanta United was obviously a different animal.

It’s a Friday game, which is something of a downer, but I’d still expect FTP to be packed out.

England 3, United States 0

So that pretty much stunk. England dominated early, let its foot off the gas a bit in the middle (and still didn’t concede), and then finished strong to hold off any hopes of the Americans making things look pretty on the final scoreboard.

Yay.

The Americans came out with something pretty close to a first-choice group (given the options available), whereas England was young. See?:

Lineups

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Match events

  • 25′ ENG GOAL – 14 Jesse Lingard (right foot), assisted by 11 Dele Alli
  • 27′ ENG GOAL – 2 Trent Alexander-Arnold (right foot), assisted by 7 Jadon Sancho
  • 45’+1 Half time
  • 46′ ENG Substitution – On 21 Alex McCarthy, off 1 Jordan Pickford
  • 58′ ENG Substitutions – On 22 Eric Dier, off 3 Benjamin Chilwell; On 16 Jordan Henders, off 11 Dele Alli; On 10 Wayne Rooney, off 14 Jesse Lingard
  • 62′ USA Substitution – On 4 Tyler Adams, off 16 Julian Green
  • 70′ USA Substitution – On 23 Kellyn Acosta, off 20 Wil Trapp
  • 73′ ENG Substitution – On 23 Ruben Loftus-Cheeks, off 8 Harry Winks
  • 76′ USA Substitutions – On 14 Sebastian Lletget, off 8 Weston McKennie; on 15 Kenny Saief, off 11 Tim Weah
  • 77′ ENG GOAL – 9 Callum Wilson (left foot), assisted by 4 Fabian Delph
  • 79′ ENG Substitution – On 19 Marcus Rashford, off 9 Callum Wilson
  • 88′ USA Substitution – On 18 Shaq Moore, off 19 Jorge Villafaña
  • 90’+3 Full time

Thoughts and observations

This game was – as much as any other under interim coach Dave Sarachan – marred by… being led by interim coach Dave Sarachan. That’s not a rip on him specifically (though obviously his specific choices in the situation were not ideal), as much as the concept that an interim guy doesn’t have a specific plan. Is he building for the future? Is he trying to get a result? Like so many of the Americans’ friendlies in the past year, he just sorta came out coaching the game, with no designs on a bigger picture – while also not really making the lineup and tactical choices to best ensure a result.

Each choice by a manager has to be for one purpose (build to the future) or the other (win the dang game), and all too often Sarachan has been stuck in between, ending up doing neither. With no specific system to install or tactical plan to build for the future, there’s really no excuse for it.

Some of the choices in the starting lineup were shining examples of this:

  • Brad Guzan as starting keeper. I understand (though don’t much care for) the fact that he’s going to remain a part of this squad into the future. In a game like this, however, he’d either give you the far better chance to win the game, or you try a younger guy. I don’t think he was the former, so go for the latter. Horvath wouldn’t have done worse on the three goals – which I don’t think were Guzan’s fault – and you’re giving him international experience and an opportuntiy to show his club that he deserves to be playing.
  • Julian Green as the No. 10. I do get wanting Pulisic on the wing (where he plays for his club team and has built comfort), but we’ve seen a lot of Green in various roles over the past few months. He hasn’t done a whole lot to separate himself as the option that gives the team the best chance to win on a given day, nor has he shown much that indicates he’ll be that in the future. I’ve been a Green supporter (more like defender) for a while, but in this game at the very least – and going forward more generally – this didn’t seem like an implementation that had much purpose.
  • Trapp and McKennie next to each other in the central midfield. You sort of have a good central defensive mid and then a similar (but not as good) version of same next to each other, if you’re not going to let McKennie release forward a bit. Two No. 6s is fine, if not ideal. For one of them to be Trapp if you’re going to have both be strictly defensive… meh. I do understand (despite a lot of bitching about it around the USMNT-verse about it yesterday) not starting Tyler Adams. His job is with NYRB, and to risk injury by giving him too many minutes in an overseas exhibition match while his day job is on the brink of entering its stretch run is silly. But either play Kellyn Acosta next to Trapp/McKennie, or at least let McKennie push forward a bit. He did have that opportunity a bit later, but if you’re gonna get a three-spot put on you with two CDMs, might as well free one up the whole game anyway.

Goal analysis

A little film breakdown here on some items about the goals. First, Christian Pulisic has somewhat inexplicably been blamed for the first one on account of his failed attempt to score on the other end creating a break. First, uh, not only was there not a counterattack by England off the shot, there was a secondary break for the USMNT that led to a goal kick after Bobby Wood’s attempt went over the bar. That’s no counter-attack.

Secondly, the finish has been roundly criticized, but I don’t really see it. Yes, Pickford made the save, but it was a pretty nice save on an attempt to finish that doesn’t deserve the grief it’s gotten.

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See the ball between Pickford’s right elbow and right knee.

The best finish ever? No. But bad? Certainly not. As a side note, check out Wood and McKennie there. Wood made the right choice in not playing Pulisic’s initial ball forward (he was probably being held onside, but couldn’t see that), but he needs to keep playing after that and either give Pulisic a passing option – if only to create space for the shot rather than actually receive the ball – or be ready to make a play on the rebound if Pickford saves the shot across the face of goal. Pickford’s save pushed the ball back in Pulisic’s direction, yes, but Wood couldn’t have known that before the shot. He needs to be in the right spot, even if it hindsight shows it wouldn’t have accomplished much.

ANYWAY, Pulisic was one of a couple players culpable on the ensuing goal. The live shot of it was poorly directed so you couldn’t tell what the heck was going on, but fortunately ESPN gave us a replay of the wide angle afterwards (I had a nice little video breakdown but UEFA doesn’t believe in fair use):

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This mostly boils down to neither Wil Trapp nor Matt Miazga trusting DeAndre Yedlin defensively (they’re both positioned to take care of a run from Alli on the assumption that he’s going to toast Yedlin), and Pulisic not getting back to help cover Lingard.

IMG_BE63DBBDAC41-1Trapp is giving directions, and while you can’t really tell who they’re for, context would seem to imply Yedlin (calling him off, and saying to sink while Trapp takes the man mark) or maaaybe Miazga (telling him to stay deep in front of the goal, which he does). Both Trapp and Miazga are in positions where they’re not accomplishing much – you could argue Miazga is remaining in position to cut out Sancho’s run if McKennie can’t do it – and it seems to be because of that lack of trust in Yedlin. In the abstract, they turn out to be wrong: Miazga can’t recover quickly enough to stop Lingard from getting off a good shot, Trapp isn’t in position to shut down any passing or dribbling options for Alli that Yedlin doesn’t theoretically have taken care of already. But if you assume the context of thinking Alli will get past Yedlin if he wants, they’re trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, in some ways.

Pulisic could certainly help by getting back defensively into that passing lane to Lingard, or at least being in position to help on Chilwell if the ball is played back. He seemed to be frustrated with his giveaway that started the offensive opportunity, instead of embracing the chance to make up for it (he’s also more used to having less defensive responsibility in a three-man mid/forward line than as a wide mid in a 4-4-1-1, which was among the many reasons the team played better when the look became more of a 4-2-3-1).

The second goal was a more overt ball-watching opportunity by Tim Weah, which again was putting a player (forward/winger) into a position (left midfielder) that gives him responsibilities he’s less comfortable with, particularly defensively. Neither Pulisic nor Weah is used to the defensive role that comes from being the wide guy in a flat-four midfield, and it was curtains on both of those.

Other thoughts: As I mentioned above, the Julian Green thing is done for me. A 4-2-3-1 with Pulisic in the middle (while he doesn’t play there for Dortmund, he’s mentioned that’s where he’s comfortable for the United States, and the opportunities he had in this one showed he doesn’t need to be isolated on the wing to win one-on-one dribbles… or several in a row) and Weah/Saief on the wings. Depending on how you want to play and who you have available, That’d be Saief on the left and Weah on the right with more stay-at-home fullbacks behind them, or with the balls-to-the-wall experience that is Antonee Robinson (who left this camp with injury) and DeAndre Yedlin at fullback, flip the sides so Weah is inverted.

I’ve been thinking it without wanting to say it for a while, but I saw others mentioning it yesterday (so don’t give me any credit for it, since I needed others’ courage to put it out publicly), but… is John Brooks… not good? He certainly hasn’t played well lately for the US, even with Sarachan mostly giving him the opportunity to get comfortable next to Miazga. Mark me in the “worried” column, and I certainly want to keep a closer eye on his performances going forward to confirm or (preferably) disconfirm the thought. Give me some CCV on Tuesday, though.

I’ve seen complaining about Tyler Adams not starting on the field (addressed above already), with the comparison to Wil Trapp, who also played in the NYRB/Columbus series. Yo, his team lost and he doesn’t have more season to not be worn out for. “They both had long seasons” doesn’t make sense as a hilarious roast of Sarachan when Adams’s season is still in the present tense.

Pulisic’s finishing has been criticized, and I addressed the one play above, but there were other instances that have been cited, too. I’m not thrilled about it, of course, but given this is just his second appearance with the US in 2018, he’s been banged up a bit (and otherwise out of action with Dortmund thanks to great performances from the guy who played right wing for the other team in this one), and it hasn’t been a persistent issue in the past. His take-on form was great; I’ll believe that it’s worth his finishing/end-product form being a little off unless and until that becomes a persistent issue.

Kellyn Acosta has a good beard.

As I mentioned at the top, this stunk. The gameplan wasn’t good, some individual performances were mediocre (or worse), and the key moments all went England’s way. To a certain extent, that’s what happens when you play against a World Cup semifinalist (albeit one who was playing a bunch of guys who got minimal time – if any at all – in Russia).

It’s more depressing because these teams were on relatively even footing in the international world just a few years ago. The US lost steam by getting old without having new guys step up (or without that next generation even existing to be able to step up), missing the World Cup, having a couple coaches who were flawed in opposite ways and being unable to survive the whiplash of switching between those flaws, etc. No need to relitigate all of that.

Largely, this could (almost certainly would) have gone better – or at least been more productive for the future – with a permanent coach in place, and a plan to either “do what we’re gonna do and win this game doing it” or “let’s use this as a scratchpad to build for the future and develop our style along with some young players.” Sarachan, for the vast majority of his time in charge, has done very little of the former, and an underrated amount (but I’d say still not enough) of the latter.

Preview: USMNT v. England Nov. 15, 2018

Another international break means another chance to see the Red, White, and Blue in action. England is the day’s competition.

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Here’s a different recent game. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

The Essentials

Opponent: England (No. 5 FIFA World rankings, USA is No. 23)
Recent form: ENG: W-D-W-L-L (two UEFA Nations League matches, a friendly, and the World Cup). USA: D-L-W-L-D (all friendlies)
The Line: England -370, +459, USA +1079
Time, Location: Thurs., Nov. 15 • 2:00 p.m. CDT (8:00 p.m. local)  • Wembley Stadium, London
Event: International friendly
Weather: 53ºF, 9% chance of rain, 91% humidity, 5 MPH SSE winds
Watch: ESPN2 (English), UniMas (Spanish)

The Three Lions

England has called in a pretty strong squad: 14 of 26 players were on this Summer’s World Cup squad, including Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. One of the players not from the Summer’s side is DC United striker Wayne Rooney, who will certainly start in what has the appearance of being his testimonial match.

For a team that is ranked No. 5 in the world per FIFA (though one can make an argument that the ranking is a bit inflated), a fairly young United State team will have a tough ask to beat them.

England largely went with a 3-5-2 formation at the World Cup, a contrast with the traditional 4-4-2 that they’ve been known for over the years (though obviously it worked out fairly well, with a fourth-place finish the team’s best since 1990). They went with the same formation in their September Nations League loss to Spain and October draw against Croatia, before switching to a 4-3-1-2 (or 4-diamond-2) in beating Spain during the October window.

I’d expect you’ll see the 3-5-2 that they’ve been working for quite some time, given that the United States doesn’t have the athletes and skill to beat them through a five-man midfield like Spain did in September.

The Yanks

This is the strongest squad we’ve seen called up in quite some time, primarily because of the presence of one specific player: Christian Pulisic. The rest of the group is fairly similar to what we’ve been seeing with a few exceptions:

  • Keeper Zack Steffen withdrew from camp after suffering an injury in Columbus Crew’s MLS playoff loss to New York Red Bulls (he was replaced by Jonathan Klinsmann).
  • Left back Antonee Robinson has suffered a training injury and will not be available for either friendly.
  • Striker Josh Sargent arrived in camp with a minor injury and may not be available Thursday (though his sounds a bit more minor, and I would expect him to be available for one of the games, yeah?)

With Pulisic in the middle (or on one of the wings), though, the Americans have more attacking punch than we’ve seen in a while. You’d prefer that so much of the team’s ability to actually score goals wouldn’t be dependent on the presence of one player, but that’s where we are at this point in the cycle. As always, none of this matters because the Americans don’t have a permanent coach right now – let’s get to work announcing Gregg Berhalter now that the Crew are out of the playoffs.

Here’s the full squad of callups (from USSoccer.com):

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 59/0), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge/BEL; 2/0), Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin/GER; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (10): John Brooks (Wolfsburg/GER; 35/3), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 1/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Swansea City/WAL; 6/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 1/0), Matt Miazga (Nantes/FRA; 10/1), Shaq Moore (Reus Deportiu/ESP; 3/0), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic/ENG; 6/0), Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers; 19/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 56/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 3/1)

MIDFIELDERS (12): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids; 21/2), Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 7/1), Luca de la Torre (Fulham/ENG; 1/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 5/0), Romain Gall (Malmö/SWE; 0/0), Julian Green (Greuther Fürth/GER; 14/4), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 3/1), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 6/1), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 21/9), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 3/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 9/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA; 7/1)

FORWARDS (2): Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen/GER; 5/2), Bobby Wood (Hannover 96/GER; 43/13)

Projected lineups

Based on the above, here’s what I’d bet on.

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This, to me, is the game of this trip that the United States would rather put out its best XI and try to get a result (not that they don’t care about Italy, but can be a bit more experimental against a team that’s less of a traditional rival). With two squad regulars (Robinson and Sargent) on the shelf, you’ll see the next-best option at their spots – though I’d contend Wood is seen as the top striker right now anyway. Not having Robinson in this one might not be all that bad – his defensive deficiencies are not something I’m interested in seeing against Raheem Sterling.

While I’d prefer not to see Guzan in this one (or honestly, in a serious match – friendly or not – for the national team any time there are other options), I think Sarachan will go with him given the absence of Steffen.

Predictions

1-1 draw.