On Wednesday, the U.S. Men’s National Team takes on Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo (2:30 p.m., ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas).
Whether or not you put any stock into FIFA’s world rankings (B-H is ranked 13th, currently, with the U.S. at 19th), what is indisputable is that Bosnia-Herzegovina is the best team the U.S. has faced since the spring friendlies against Belgium and Germany. The U.S., of course, is coming off an impressive demolition of the Gold Cup field, going undefeated on the way to winning that tournament. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s last few games have been some demolitions, as well, defeating Greece, 3–1, in March, and Latvia, 5–0, in June. Those games were World Cup Qualifiers, and Bosnia-Herzegovina leads it’s group by three points after six games.
The United States
The Gold Cup triumph, while undoubtedly impressive, was against mostly B-teamers, and the U.S.’s team wasn’t the full squad, either. For this friendly, coach Jürgen Klinsmann has left most of the Gold Cup team, which was made up primarily of MLS players, at home, choosing to bring back many European-based players that have not featured since the Qualifiers at the start of the summer. The result is a squad that is full of many A-team players, but who are not yet in mid-season form. (Click here for the full roster. Michael Orozco-Fiscal has since pulled out of the squad with an injury, but has not been replaced.)
It’s difficult, therefore, to know just how Klinsmann views this game. His primary motivation in building his team seems to be getting his first 11 back into the picture, so that when Qualifiers begin again in September, they will be up to speed with the returning members of the Gold Cup squad that have been brought up to the full team.
One major absentee, however, is Clint Dempsey, whose shocking transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Seattle Sounders has become the story of the summer. Klinsmann has said in the past that he wants all of his players to challenge themselves at the highest-possible level, so a move from the EPL to MLS wouldn’t seem to align with that.
Klinsmann said on Monday, “I am thrilled for MLS because you have an outstanding player now hopefully filling more stadiums and getting even more kids and people excited about the game. For Clint it’s a challenge, coming from one of the top leagues in the world, coming back to the U.S. and being back in MLS where we still have to work on a lot of things.”
That comment is a bit cryptic, but it seems clear he thinks that the move is probably in the best interests of American soccer as a whole, but might be detrimental to Dempsey as an individual. Only time will tell, but Dempsey has been left in Seattle, so as not to interrupt his bedding in there.
Two dual-nationals yet to represent the United States at senior level have been brought in: Aron Johannsson, a forward, and John Anthony Brooks, a center back. Johannsson recently declared his intention to make a one-time switch from Iceland to the United States, while Brooks has represented the U.S. at under-20 level, but also has German citizenship. Neither player will be tied to the U.S. if they play in this game, as it is only a friendly, but having them in camp is a step in the right direction. Both players show exciting potential, and play in positions in which the U.S. squad has been light.
Also receiving their first senior team call-ups are goalkeeper Cody Cropper and forward Bobby Wood.
As noted, Bosnia-Herzegovina currently leads its World Cup Qualifying group by three points, and has a goal differential of +20. They’ve won all but one game in the current round, drawing 0–0 with Greece, in Greece, back in October of last year. Since then, all they’ve done is score goals, with 14 for and two against through five games (two of those five most recent games were friendlies, not a part of Qualifying).
Bosnia-Herzegovina has a lot of quality players, many of whom play in top leagues in Europe. Of particular interest in this game are Asmir Begović, goalkeeper, and Eden Džeko, forward. Begović plays for Stoke City, and is one of the top keepers in the Premier League. Džeko plays for Manchester City and, while sharing playing time with the many other expensive players on that roster, has been a consistent goal-scorer in England for the last several years, even with limited opportunities. In short, the U.S. will need to finish their chances when they have them—because Begović won’t make big mistakes—and play controlled defense—because Džeko will punish any mistakes the U.S. makes.
Calling the starting lineup is difficult, but expect both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to partner in midfield, Tim Howard to start in goal, and for Jozy Altidore to lead the line up top. The rest of the positions are subject to pretty fierce competition, and it will be telling to see who Klinsmann names in attacking midfield and defense.
As for the result, don’t expect the scoring bursts of the Gold Cup. Most of the players on the roster for both teams are in preseason or very early-season form, and many have not played an international game in some time, so there may be a bit of rust to start the game. Whichever team starts more aggressively is likely to be rewarded for that effort. The U.S. will certainly hope to score, but playing away from home to a very good Bosnia-Herzegovina team, the U.S.’s winning streak will end at 11, as they fall, 2–1.