PREVIEW: USA - CANADA
The US will begin play in the 2011 Gold Cup on Tuesday evening at Ford Field in Detroit, as Bob Bradley's squad looks to start the tournament on the right foot against northern neighbors Canada.
The lone warm-up scheduled prior to the tournament couldn't have gone worse, after a 4-0 thrashing on Saturday afternoon at the hands of World Champions Spain left the squad looking for answers.
The lone piece of good news from the afternoon was that the cast of usual starters were able to limit the Spaniards to a single goal after coming on for the second half, however this could serve as a troubling indictment on the overall depth of the team.
Fortunately for the Americans, they are facing a Canadian squad which will by no means pose nearly as much of a threat as the World Champions.
While this is expected to be the toughest of the three Group C games - with Panama and Guadeloupe to follow - the simple fact that the US has never lost in group play in the Gold Cup, with 23 wins and two draws all-time, should give the team confidence heading into the 8pm kickoff.
Even though several of the usual American stars such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo were kept out of the starting lineup against Spain, it would be foolish to expect head coach Bob Bradley to put anything short of a full-strength squad on the field on Tuesday.
Perhaps the biggest question lies with the defense and whether Bradley is willing to continue putting his faith in under-performing Oguchi Onyewu. The bruising center-back looked entirely out of sorts during the weekend, possibly opening the door to his replacement in the center of defense.
This would either lead to the pairing of either Tim Ream or Carlos Bocanegra in the middle with Clarence Goodson, with the latter option creating a major void at left back to fill, which continues to be a huge problem point for the team.
Michael Bradley should resume his starting role at the heart of the midfield, likely alongside German-American defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones, who should get the nod over Maurice Edu.
The usual placement of Donovan and Dempsey on the flanks will leave some pairing of Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo or Chris Wondolowski to lead the front of the attack, with none of the three having put on a particularly encouraging performance against Spain.
Bradley was forced to make one last-minute change to his roster, officially replacing Benny Feilhaber with Alejandro Bedoya after the New England Revolution midfielder's ankle injury was deemed to serious to allow him to participate in the tournament.
The Írebro midfielder will be one of Bradley's best attacking options off the bench, which could also include surprise roster member Freddy Adu, who has not taken the field internationally since 2009.
Canada, winners of the 2000 edition of the Gold Cup, are led by Red Bull New York attacking midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, the lone holdover from their championship squad of 11 years ago. Together with central midfielder Julian de Guzman, this tandem forms the heart of Canada's team, and will be doing much of the heavy lifting on Tuesday night.
The team prepared for the tournament with a 2-2 draw with Ecuador in Toronto, and will likely have some revenge on the mind after the last meeting between the two teams in the 2007 Gold Cup ended in controversy due to a seemingly incorrect dismissal of a last-second equalizing goal by Canada's Atiba Hutchinson.
The game is set to kick off at 8pm local time at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.