SO WHO PLAYS VS. COSTA RICA?
BRENT LATHAM - Monday, October 12, 2009
The US did themselves a huge favor by taking all three points in Honduras and avoiding any last day scenario that could have seen them in a all-or-nothing playoff against what is certain to be a good South American team. Honduras and Costa Rica's hides are now on the line instead, meaning Coach Bob Bradley has some decisions to make regarding his lineup for Wednesday night's final hexagonal match-up in Washington DC, which is still meaningful - just not for the Americans.
There are several factors to consider when choosing a lineup for this final match, and my guess is Bradley will err on the side of caution when deciding who to run out.
Red Card Worries
The yellow card situation is still apparently no longer a factor. US Soccer says yellow card accumulation cannot lead to a suspension for a World Cup match. A straight red or double yellow in the Costa Rica match, however, would lead to a suspension for the first game of the World Cup.
FIFA has been inconsistent on this in the past, so why take a chance? An unfortunate red card to a key player like Onyewu or Howard would mean that player would miss at least one World Cup group match.
In my mind, this is the single most important factor in determining who plays Wednesday. No key players will be on the field with the threat of losing them for any World Cup game, meaning the squad may be largely second choice players, and we may even see some new call-ups today or tomorrow.
Another good reason to hold some other players out would be the opportunity to send them back to their clubs. Some players - like Onyewu and Altidore - have seen their club status dwindling of late, and would be served by flying back to Europe for a week of training rather than hanging around Washington DC. Others carrying slight injuries, or facing a heavy workload in the coming weeks- Clint Dempsey in the former case and Landon Donovan in the second - simply don't need to play.
A chance for a good game
The flip side to the club argument is that those players who see time Wednesday will face a Tico squad in a high intensity match with everything on the line. The problem is that really only works one way. Yes, everything is on the line for the Costa Ricans, but there's no way to simulate pressure on the American side that doesn't exist.
So who will see the field?
I would expect a defense anchored by Brad Guzan, with Clarence Goodson and Jimmy Conrad in the middle, Frankie Hejduk on one of the wings and Jonathan Spector or Steve Cherundolo on the other, though Jonathan Bornstein could also use the practice.
In midfield, fans should finally get to see Paco Torres for ninety minutes, and I would think Stuart Holden and Robbie Rogers would man the flanks. Benny Feilhaber may be in for a longer runout in the attack, since there are few other obvious safe replacements if Bradley doesn't call someone else in.
For that reason, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kyle Beckerman flown in for the occasion, perhaps along with Real Salt Lake teammate Robbie Findley. I'd like to see Conor Casey get a chance to show the Honduras performance was not just a one-off, and I expect Kenny Cooper and Brian Ching to also get chances up front, though Charlie Davies may start.
All this means Honduras is in trouble. The Ticos have re-found their stride and would be a good bet to take three points against a makeshift lineup, leaving the Catrachos out in the cold. Bradley is an honorable man and would likely be tempted to field a more competitive lineup for sporting purposes, but in the end American best interests must win out and the team for Wednesday will look something like that outlined above.