BRENT LATHAM - Sunday, June 28, 2009
We're just hours from kickoff at Ellis Park Stadium, where the US is preparing for its first full international final at a FIFA event. The task looks huge, but perhaps not as monumental as making it here in the first place.
The Brazilians come into the match perhaps a bit tired. For the first time all tournament, the US will have the advantage of an extra days' rest going into the match, with the Selecao having played on Thursday night. Brazil is also saddled by the usual high expectations, while the US has nothing to lose here.
One aspect that will be interesting to see is the crowd. The South Africans turn out to be consummate front runners, and Brazil and Spain rank as the favorite teams here, ahead of even the Bafana Bafana on many people's list. Like the crowd in Bloemfontein, the fans here are likely to be behind the South Americans from the start, hoping for a multi-goal show. But as the US took it to the Spaniards, the crowd quickly caught underdog fever, chanting USA and shouting at every near miss. Perhaps the same will be the case today if the US keeps itself in the match.
The United States
The indications are that the US will have a decent shot tonight against Brazil. The team is gelling at just the right time, and the lineup should be almost identical to that against Spain.
The major missing piece is Michael Bradley, out with his red card suspension. He will be a major loss, as the US has no other two way midfielder to pair with Ricard Clark capable of carrying the defensive load against Brazil. The likely replacement is Sacha Kljestan, with Benny Feilhaber also an option, but either will be hard pressed to help out as much as necessary on the defensive end.
Another possibility is for Clint Dempsey, whose defensive work rate has increased greatly of late, to pay in the center, with Feilhaber out wide. No matter the alignment, with Junior out of action, it may be hard for Coach Bradley to force the Brazilians out wide as the US did against Spain.
I'll be back live twittering on @yanks_abroad an hour or so before match time, with the starting lineups followed by my running analysis of this historic grand final.