DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Fans will get a first glimpse of what they might expect in the upcoming Copa América when the USA faces off against South Americans Ecuador in Wednesday's friendly at Toyota Park in Frisco, Texas.
Jürgen Klinsmann's squad won Saturday's warm-up match in Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon by a 3-1 margin, although with a vastly different selection of players at his disposal for Wednesday's clash, this will be the fist real glimpse of what could be expected in the upcoming spate of games.
The US has had mixed results versus Ecuador in recent years, earning a 1-1 draw in East Hartford, Connecticut in Landon Donovan's 2014 farewell, while splitting a win and a loss in their two prior meetings, both on home soil, in 2011 and 2007.
Despite being without a victory so far in the calendar year 2016, with a loss in Colombia and home draw against Paraguay their only two results, Ecuador are nevertheless in a strong position in the marathon of CONMEBOL qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
At the one-third point of the exhausting 18-game qualification long-haul, they are in second place, even on points with leaders Uruguay with only goal differential separating the two.
La Tri are warming up for what they hope will be a straightfoward trip to the knockout rounds of the upcoming tournament. While they will have to face perennial tournament favorites Brazil in their opening match on June 4, they will be confident of finishing ahead of lightweights Haiti and Peru for a trip to the final eight.
Their biggest star is skillful Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, who has lined up for La Tri 80 times since his debut in 2005, although highly prized West Ham target-man Enner Valencia could pose problems for a still yet-to-be-settled USA back line.
Ecuador's own back-four will likely feature the veteran combination of Walter Ayoví, Frickson Erazo, Gabriel Achilier and Juan Carlos Paredes, and will be a test for a USA attack that is still in flux.
The USA squad has a number of injury concerns to key players heading into the game. Jozy Altidore is being forced to sit out yet another major tournament after suffering a hamstring injury in league play prior to camp.
Fabian Johnson's status is still a worrisome mystery, as he was left out of Borussia Mönchengladbach's final few games, but was nevertheless named to the final 23. Additionally, Alejandro Bedoya left the USA's weekend warmup win over Puerto Rico with a second-half injury, as did Timmy Chandler in Nürnberg's Bundesliga relegation playoff win over Nürnberg on Monday.
Finally, all-rounder Geoff Cameron was a scratch from the Puerto Rico game, although with no news of any prior problems, this could simply be a precautionary measure to not tax the 30 year-old before the breakneck schedule of the coming weeks.
The game should give a first glimpse of what will be in store for the team's opening Copa América group game against Colombia barely one week later. Bobby Wood is the most likely candidate to lead the attack, likely alongside veteran Clint Dempsey.
Jermaine Jones has shown new life for club team Denver after making the transition to an attacking midfielder, although whether Klinsmann will attempt to ride the wave or deploy Jones in his traditional destroyer role remains to be seen.
Major questions remain regarding the role of Borussia Dortmund wunderkind Christian Pulisic; the 17 year-old has scant experience with the USA first-team, but his inclusion in the final roster ahead of previous favorite and regular contributor Jordan Morris could signal a planned role for the youngster.
The game kicks off in Frisco at 7pm local time on Wednesday evening.