CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Thursday, November 12, 2009
The United States has reconvened in the Slovakian capital for the first in a series of challenging friendlies in the lead-up to next summer's World Cup.
Saturday afternoon's match against Slovakia will be the first time Bob Bradley's men have met the nation since gaining its independence in 1993.
The American coach brings in a strong squad of a dozen Europe-based players and ten hailing from the MLS, albeit without the likes of Landon Donovan, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden and Brian Ching due to club duties in this weekend's MLS playoffs. Bradley has not yet named the 18-man roster for Saturday.
Hull City's Jozy Altidore and Fulham striker Eddie Johnson will try to break through the Slovakian defense anchored by a familiar foe, Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel.
Conor Casey hopes to continue his surging success up top, following his two-goal performance in Honduras on Oct. 10. MLS Golden Boot winner Jeff Cunningham also might get a second look after a four year hiatus from the national team.
The midfield is expected to feature the usual suspects of Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, with Robbie Rogers and newcomer Dax McCarty perhaps earning a look.
Likewise, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo will resume their positions in defense, while Johnathan Bornstein, Jimmy Conrad, Jonathan Spector and Frankie Hejduk look to vie for the other two slots.
With promising striker Charlie Davies and keystone defender Oguchi Onyewu already absent, coach Bradley's vision of a starting eleven was further altered last weekend after go-to keeper Tim Howard sustained a foot injury against West Ham.
Wolverhampton's Marcus Hahnemann and Aston Villa's Brad Guzan stand at Bradley's disposition between the posts, with Troy Perkins making the trip down from Oslo club Vålerenga for a chance appearance.
On the Slovakian side of the field, skipper Vladimir Weiss has brought back the squad that handed Poland a 1-0 defeat on the final matchday of the World Cup qualifications, clinching the top spot in a Group Three with persistent opponents like Slovenia, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland.
In addition to Skrtel, the Slovaks are led by captain and the all-time most capped Miroslav Karhan. The Mainz midfielder joined the club in 2007, shortly after the departure of Casey, and has amassed 94 appearances for the national squad.
Another name not to be underestimated is that of Stanislav Sestak. The VfL Bochum striker led the Slovakian side with six goals during qualification, in addition to notching two goals in nine games for his Bundesliga side thus far this season
Other concerns for the American backline include LOSC Lille's Robert Vittek with four goals in 15 matches for the French club, and SSC Napoli's midfielder Marek Hamsik.
Throughout qualification, regular and vulnerable netminder John Mucha allowed ten past him in just as many games, but his teammates have fortunately poured out 22 goals to compensate.
Since arriving on Tuesday the players have endured wet and chilly conditions on the fields of Bratislava's Tehelné Pole, or "The Brickyard", but can expect milder weather for the 4pm kickoff.
Bradley brings a personal 2-3-0 record against European nations on their home turf, but boasts a 6-4-0 overall record.
The Yanks will close out 2009 with their 24th game of the year against Denmark next Wednesday.