It should take you less than 10 minutes to get from Riverside Dr. in Windsor, Ontario to Ford Field in downtown Detroit. The tunnel between Windsor and Detroit will get some use today as Canadians stream to the US hoping for a little revenge from a controversial Gold Cup semifinal in 2007 that saw the US hold on for a 2-1 win. While that match may have been a case of the US looking ahead to the potential final with Mexico, tonight’s provides its own set of challenges.
For one, Canada isn’t bad. They’ve got capable midfielders and dangerous attacking players coming from the mids and the wings. The guy we’ve been hearing about the most is central mid Dwayne DeRosario. DeRo is essential for Canada’s success, but another midfielder may be just as important: Atiba Hutchinson. Hutchinson (pictured) was the “scorer” of the tying goal that wasn’t against the US in ’07, but as the Shin Guardian preview points out, Hutchinson is the kind of dependable player you need in the midfield. Nothing flashy, but a steady player from whom positive plays flow. Up top, look out for Josh Simpson. The USMNT has had constant problems on the wings of the back line and this year is no different. Jonathan Bornstein seems likely to start again and if Simpson manages to line up his opposite, look out. The US will likely pair the more solid and experienced Steve Cherundolo on that flank and use Cherundolo’s offense to keep Simpson busy.
Another challenge for the United States will be bouncing back on short rest from the beatdown they received from Spain over the weekend. More on the lineup in a second, but it’s doubtful that someone like Juan Agudelo gets a start tonight after playing big minutes Saturday. A lot of younger players got the nod against the World Champions, but it was still an emotional letdown to get blown out 4-0. At the same time, as Clint Dempsey put it the game was “a little kick up the backside.” For a team expecting to win the Gold Cup, maybe a humbling loss is just what they needed to refocus and get a little angry.
In the group stage, I’m looking for more than just wins from the US. The Yanks have a ridiculously good record in the opening stages of the Gold Cup, having never lost. The US needs to fix some things they’ve struggled with dating all the way back to the World Cup, including starting fast and imposing its will on the game. The slow start plagued Bradley’s team in South Africa, giving up early goals to whoever wanted them and playing from behind for long stretches. The group stage is a perfect time to start a new trend. The US also wants to possess the ball and flex some muscle against inferior competition. Part of taking the next step in world competition is dispatching of your weaker local competition with ease, something that hasn’t happened consistently enough recently. Canada will present the biggest challenge in this arena, so if the US is dominating against the northern neighbors, it’s likely to continue through the group stage.
So how about the lineup tonight? Bob Bradley is usually fairly predictable, so many think you’ll see a lineup featuring no field player who went 45-plus on Saturday, but that leaves out Ream, Spector, Lichaj, Kljestan and Agudelo. Certain guys are locks: Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Michael Bradley will start in the midfield. US Captain Carlos Bocanegra will be on the back line with Steve Cherundolo, and Jozy Altidore will start up top. A few questions remain: who starts as a holding midfielder, Maurice Edu or Jermaine Jones? Is Bradley going back to Bornstein and Onyewu despite their deficiencies? Who starts up top with Altidore?
Jones has performed at a higher level than Edu this year, but Bradley really likes to go to Edu. Really, you don’t lose much either way here as either player would fill out the midfield nicely. Unfortunately, Bornstein is likely to start again furthering my suspicion that he is blackmailing Bradley with some dirty pictures. I’d love to see the youngsters Ream and Lichaj start again after the experience gained against Spain, but if I had to guess I would say Bornstein, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo will be your back four. Possibly Clarence Goodson in place of Gooch. Up top, Chris Wondolowski is the only true forward on the roster outside of Agudelo and Altidore. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Wondolowski start and Agudelo to come on early in the second half.
I really think this will be a great match, with Canada surprising people and giving the US a run once again. Both teams have their biggest questions on the back line, so the ball will find the back of the net a few times. Prediction: 3-2 US.