PREVIEW: USA - BOLIVIA
On the heel of their confidence-building win over 12th-ranked Ecuador, the USA will continue their warm-up series for the Copa América Centenario with a clash against Bolivia on Saturday.
While not the prettiest of wins, the 1-0 win over the currently-strong South American side will be a major boost to Jürgen Klinsmann's squad, even if it does provide the head coach with some tough decisions to make regarding whether some of the old guard should finally make way for new blood.
Klinsmann's starting lineup on Wednesday night was conservative, experienced, unsurprising and uninspiring in their performance, while his substitutes ended up stealing the show and ultimately digging in deep to earn the win.
In particular, Darlington Nagbe and 17 year-old phenom Christian Pulisic were both a breath of fresh air after entering the game in the second half.
Nagbe, who scored the late winning goal, outshone both Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, and his insertion into the starting lineup for either of these would not only be following form, but would also mark a dramatic shift in the tactical flexibility available to Klinsmann.
Likewise, Pulisic silenced the naysayers with his dynamic, roughly half-our cameo where he smoothly added an extra dimension to the attack. While it is still doubtful that Klinsmann will hand him a starting role so early in his career, it is not unfathomable that he could be the first attacking option off the bench not only for the Bolivia game, but throughout the tournament.
Bobby Wood should make his way into the starting lineup after clearly outperforming Gyasi Zardes, and whether or not this latest newly-anointed hope at the big-man, center-forward position can provide the robust, healthy, consistent quality missing since the days of Brian McBride could begin to become clear in the coming weeks.
The back line also looks to be settling, with John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and the healthy-again Fabian Johnson almost certain to be starters going forward. The final piece - Brooks partner in the center - will be mostly dependent on Geoff Cameron's fitness.
Bolivia is one of the weakest sides in the 16-team field for the upcoming tournament, sitting near the bottom of 2018 World Cup qualifying and currently on an abysmal streak of eight losses in their previous nine games.
Their lone victory in this span of time is a World Cup qualifying win at home over Venezuela, the one team below them in the current CONMEBOL standings.
One would be remiss to not mention their impressive quarterfinal run in last summer's edition of the Copa, however they have quickly returned to form, losing six of seven since then, including a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of fellow Group D members Argentina.
For the aficionados, perhaps most notable feature of head coach Julio César Baldivieso's roster is the name that does not appear on the list. Forward Marcelo Martins Moreno, who as of late has settled into a reasonably successful trajectory in Brazil and now China after a previous rocky stint in Europe, was left off the 40-man roster.
The 28 year-old player has been somewhat of a thorn in the Baldivieso's side recently, officially announcing his retirement from the national team last September after falling out with the coach. He was initially named to the 40-man preliminary roster several weeks ago in what seemed to be an outright dare by the coach to openly refuse his country's call, but re-affirmed his intention to turn down any call-ups from the current coach, and will remain in China with current team Changchun Yatai F.C. for their ongoing season.
Apart from Moreno, who is the active leading scorer in the Bolivian Jersey, la Verde
do have experience up front in the 49-times capped Juan Carlos Arce, who at 31 years old is still one of the team's biggest threats - relatively speaking.
He will likely find himself in either a two- or three-man attacking front with Rodrigo Ramallo and possibly New York Cosmos forward Yasmani Duk.
The wild card is highly-promising but still-uncapped and unproven 18 year-old Bruno Miranda who, similar to American counterpart Christian Pulisic, has built up massive hope of being a future center point for the team despite scant senior experience on the club or national team level.
The two teams will kick off at 7pm local time in Kansas City on Wednesday evening.