MLS is taking an extended ice bath this weekend. The USMNT is kicking off the braces and dipping into the CONCACAF pool again for a twin bill against Jamaica spanning just four days. The one piece of MLS news breaking the international picket line today is this nugget about Eiður Guðjohnsen (weird umlautty things FTW!) that's already spinning the tired tills of inequity. Back into the fray we go, gentlemen.
So as we break off from that, let's take a dive into five things I'll be watching for from the laddies on Friday.
#5. How much does it matter that we've never won there?
Clint Dempsey has already paid lip service to the fact that the US has never won on Jamaican soil during these cycles, so it's obvious this little factoid is making the rounds in the locker room. It matters, but to what extent I am unsure. The draw on Guatemalan shores that Marco Pappa secured with a late free kick raised some immediate eyebrows about late-game finishing, but let's be honest. CONCACAF away fixtures are always a mixed bag replete with lumpy pitches, weather-beaten grounds and uncommonly hostile crowds. In the best of circumstances I have no doubt the boys' depth and experience should carry the day, but when are CONCACAF away fixtures played in even moderately good circumstances? After all, they get to play in this sprawling eyesore.
#4. Transfers galore
It has been a strange transfer window for some of Klinsmann's key pieces. Dempsey waited out an agonizing transfer saga he escaped only to hear the window snap shut as his heels cleared the sill. Carlos Bocanegra (Racing) and Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga) both somehow landed on Spanish rosters, and Onyewu startlingly beat Dempsey to the Champions League in the process. Geoff Cameron secured his inevitable move to England when Stoke swooped in for his services, and Mo Edu joined him on Trentside shortly thereafter. And need I even mention the most impressive move of them all (for this Roma fan anyway), Michael Bradley falling into Zdenek Zeman's 4-3-3 project at Roma over the summer. All of these moves (and a few smaller ones, like Terrence Boyd's transfer to Rapid Vienna) will play on Klinsmann's mind as he makes decisions this weekend. Injuries to Bradley and Landon Donovan will shift the formation, which means a likely out-of-form Dempsey will have a role to play. Where the rest of these freshly moved pieces fall into place will be interesting to see.
#3. The defense
The back line shift turned into an experiment gone right at the Azteca, but what kind of future does it have? Cameron, we'll all agree (I hope), is our central defender of the future, but what of Edu? After Boca's uncertain summer spent in the wilds of the Scottish fourth division, who knows if he's up for a full 90, and Edu at least has a 90 to remember at Azteca in his pocket. And that's not even getting into the matter of Edu-as-defender vs. Edu-as-midfielder, an argument that's spawned any number of vigorous debates. With this many in-form holding midfielders on the roster, I have my doubts that Edu is all that useful to Klinsmann in that spot when weighed against his utility in central defense — until he proves otherwise. My guess is Fabian Johnson will almost assuredly start on the left with Dolo getting the call on the right with Cameron anchoring the middle. That second center back place will depend on Boca's condition. If it's not there, I tremble at the possibility of Clarence Goodson's awkward, gawking Big Bird legs tripping over themselves as Dane Richards thunders down upon him. And he's miserable aerially. But it's an outcome that would not surprise.
#2. Damn you, Jose Torres
I don't feel an iota of guilt for claiming after the Mexico friendly in August that I'd given up on Torres. When he was subbed out at halftime at the Saprissa following a truly horrid showing in 2009 WC qualis, I defended him. When he disappeared (pick you game), I defended him. But I reached my breaking point against Mexico when, in a much-needed advanced playmaker role, he abandoned the pitch and went out for a smoke and a pancake somewhere around the 5th minute. I will no longer support the idea that Torres is our advanced playmaker of the future or that he has any future there at all. But a glimpse at the roster for Jamaica reveals a troubling lack of forward-thinking mids, which wasn't helped by a hamstring injury to Josh Gatt that ruled him out. Beckerman, Jones and Williams are all defensive mids without an ounce of flair in their marrow. Shea almost has to be a super sub at this point, Zusi is a big glob of meh outside of his free kicks and Joe Corona is a project that's far, far away from being complete. That leaves... Torres. Hope for the best, prep for the worst. Dempsey could drop back, but with his fitness likely being what it is I doubt Klinsmann will be keen to move him from the front line.
#1. Excitement/wonky TV contracts
This is the part where I get to be lame. It's World Cup qualifying, gents. Alas, I don't get BeIn Sport Channel or whatever it's called, and I have to work late Friday night anyway, so I'll have to rely on spotty replays from bootlegged broadcasts. But then again, shaky, pixelated broadcasts that look like they've been shot in an exploding access tunnel cut right to the heart of CONCACAF, don't they?
- Will Parchman