EVERYTHING ON THE LINE IN NIGERIA
The Americans have moved south from Kano to Ijebu-Ode for their final game of the group against the United Emirates, a feat more complicated than it sounds. Both teams had to endure a two hour plane flight, followed by a two hour busride to get to the southern city, a trip which, in predictable Nigerian fashion, will have eaten up most of the day Friday.
No one here has any explanations for why that game was scheduled in the venue to the far south, which requires flying to Lagos and then busing back northeast. Nearby venues in Kaduna, Bauchi, and Abuja were available, but the teams were sent to the south. If either had won the group, they would then have had to return to Kano, but that looks outside the realm of possibilities with Spain needing only a tie against Malawi.
The possibilities are many for the US, but the least agreeable one - elimination - at this point is looking less likely. The US would have to lose to the UAE to be out, and the Emirates seemed content to tie and take second place in the group if you believed their postgame press conference on Thursday.
Still, this is a dangerous game for the US against a capable team with quality attackers. The UAE will sit back and wait, attempting to counter against an American team that has been prone to throw a lot of people forward and get caught on the counter so far. The UAE is highly capable of punishing too aggressive an approach, and if they get a goal before the Americans do, things could get really desperate in a hurry for Wilmer Cabrera's squad.
The American coach will take all that in mind when he makes his choices for the starting lineup. He needs to get a team on the field that can create and finish chances, but also get numbers back behind the ball to preserve the vital point. A point gets the US through, while a loss eliminates them, so they'll have to know how to manage the game properly, something Rongen's team at the U-20 gave a perfect lesson in what not to do in Egypt v. South Korea.
With that in mind, perhaps an all-out attacking lineup is not the best choice. I'd say Nick Palodichuk keeps his place in the middle because of his two-way play, even though Carlos Martinez provides a better attacking option.
Their should be experimentation up front, though, as Cabrera is yet to find a suitable partner for Jack McInerney. I'm not sure how Stefan Jerome got into the doghouse so quickly - the breakaway miss against Spain notwithstanding - but I'd like to see him get another shot sometime soon. As for the starting lineup, Andrew Craven proved he deserves a shot with his second half performance Thursday, and the speedy Juan Agudelo is still on the bench awaiting his chance.