PREVIEW: UNITED STATES - POLAND
The 18th ranked United States returns to action on Saturday night when they host Poland at Soldier Field in a game that head coach Bob Bradley will look to begin to put together a foundation for the 2014 cycle.
Unlike their first game after the World Cup where they lost to Brazil in New Jersey, the US will be in camp for most of the week in the lead-up to Saturday night's game.
Among the new players Bradley is sure to particularly notice are fullback Eric Lichaj and midfielder Jermaine Jones who are both likely to earn their first caps in Chicago.
Lichaj, 21, who is on the 25 man roster at Aston Villa, has long been on Bradley's radar and last summer he participated in a national team camp as a guest player ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. He will give Bradley an option at both right and left back.
It is likely to be an emotional first cap for Lichaj who will be playing in his hometown of Chicago against Poland, a country in which his parents were born and with whom he also holds a passport. Earlier this week, Aston Villa announced that Lichaj was also called up by Poland for this game but he chose to represent the USA.
Jones, 28, is also likely to make his highly anticipated debut on Saturday for the United States. The German-born central midfielder made headlines last year when he filed for a one-time FIFA switch to represent the United States.
The Bundesliga star with Schalke had previously represented Germany at the youth level and the senior team in friendlies. His goal was to play in the World cup for the US but he was unable to recover from a broken leg in time for the tournament and missed more than a year of playing.
The United States will likely feature Stuart Holden who is off to strong start with Bolton and is likely to see an increased role with the national team this cycle.
Central defender Oguchi Onyewu is also in camp in Chicago, but this time finds himself with much to prove nearly a year to the day when the the AC Milan man seriously hurt his knee in a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.
Onyewu, 28, missed the rest of the Serie A season for AC Milan but recovered in time to play in the World Cup. His performances in South Africa were subpar and he has yet to see any action in Italy. He now will hope to show Bradley and his US teammates that he is still able to contribute.
The US is also likely to feature World Cup veterans Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore.
Jonathan Spector, Brad Guzan, and Clarence Goodson were on the World Cup team but did not see any action. They will hope to reestablish themselves with the national team during this camp.
Also in Chicago are Alejandro Bedoya, Eddie Johnson, and Heath Pearce who all narrowly missed out on the World Cup roster after being named to the 30-man preliminary roster. Michael Parkhurst has not been in the national team picture in years but the former MLS Defender of the Year and current regular with Danish club FC Nordsjaelland will hope to show he can improve a struggling and aging US defense.
The 66th ranked Poles enter the game as part of their preparations for the 2012 European Championship where they will be co-hosting the tournament. In their most recent game, they fell to Australia 2-1 in a friendly in Krakow.
Poland will be captained by defender Michał Zewłakow. The 34 year old veteran currently with Turkish club Ankaragücü will earn his 100th cap if he takes the field against the US.
The Polish midfield will be anchored by 24-year old Jakub Błaszczykowski who currently plays in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
In attack, Euzebiusz Smolarek is likely to provide the toughest test for the US defense. The Polonia Warsaw forward has scored 19 times in 45 appearances with the national team.
The United States and Poland last played on March 26, 2008 in Krakow where the US put on an impressive performance and came away with a 3-0 victory.