The United States Men’s National Team convened for the traditional winter camp, an opportunity for mostly domestic talents to gain experience and become further acquainted with the program. The training period closes with a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The match is being contested outside of an official FIFA window, reducing the potential strength of both sides.
This is the third meeting between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 1-0-1 advantage. In 2013, Jozy Altidore scored a hat-trick to secure a 4-3 victory. Five years later, the sides played to a scoreless draw.
Zmajevi (The Dragons) are enduring a dismal year, having won two out of 12 matches. The 2022 World Cup qualification campaign ended with a fourth-place finish in Group D, faint hope extinguished by losses to Finland and the Ukraine. Local press described the performance as “the weakest in [the country’s] independent history for all major competitions.” Bosnia has failed to reach the group stage twice since debuting in 2014.
Bosnia is managed by Ivaylo Petev, a 46-year-old with previous stops at Ludogorets Razgrad, Levski Sofia, Limassol, Dinamo Zagreb, Omonia, Al Qadsiah, Jagiellonia Białystok, and the Bulgaria national team. This past January, the Bulgarian was appointed to the position, signing a contract through 2022 after predecessor Dusan Bajevic “failed to reach the delayed Euro 2020 tournament.” Since missing out on the World Cup, his employment status is tenuous, with the Executive Board of the Football Association not planning to reveal a decision until “after the New Year’s holidays.”
Petev named a young and inexperienced 18-player roster for the friendly. The domestic Premijer Liga contributed all of the call-ups. The squad has a combined total of eight senior caps, representative of the non-FIFA window and pandemic restrictions. Almedin Ziljkić was held out “due to back problems.”
“Certainly, some more players would receive invitations, but the problem was that they were not vaccinated,” said the manager. “I have said many times that there are many interesting young players in the Premier League and most of them on this list are under 23. We are interested in how they will play in the national team jersey and against a quality national team. I expect maximum fighting spirit and commitment, because this is a chance for everyone to show the potential he has. It also gives us the opportunity to see who we can count on in the future.”
GOALKEEPERS (2): Belmin Dizdarević (Sarajevo), Nikola Ćetković (Borac)
DEFENDERS (7): Selmir Pidro (Sarajevo), Numan Kurdić (Sarajevo), Aleksandar Vojnović (Borac), Hrvoje Barišić (Zrinjski), Josip Ćorluka (Zrinjski), Vedran Vrhovac (Željezničar), Ajdin Nukić (Tuzla City)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Andrej Đokanović (Sarajevo), Amar Begić (Borac), Igor Savić (Zrinjski), Marijan Ćavar (Široki Brijeg), Mehmed Ćosić (Velež), Haris Ovčina (Velež), Sasa Maksimović (Sloboda)
FORWARDS (2): Jovo Lukić (Borac), Sulejman Krpić (Tuzla City)
Petev alternates between the 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 formations. He cited the USMNT’s speed and strength, intending to deploy a lineup that matches the opponent. While Bosnia is using a second-choice squad, the tactics of a deep defensive line and methodical, possession-based build-up should remain constant.
The goalkeeper position is a toss-up between two young starters in the Premijer Liga. Borac Banja Luka’s Nikola Ćetković has experience at the youth international level. Belmin Dizdarević of Sarajevo is enjoying a strong run of form with seven shutouts in 17 matches. The latter is composed when stopping short-range shots, getting to everything within an arm’s length. He can also kick the ball to the opponent’s box, which is impressive and catches back-lines on the wrong foot.
While towering veteran Hrvoje Barišić is available, Petev will likely opt to give younger players experience. After a half-season loan in Albania, Numan Kurdic has assumed a starting role for Sarajevo. The 22-year-old goes to ground often, diving in to stop advancing attackers. He has the opportunity to play next to Vedran Vrhovac of derby rivals Željezničar. His passing is an asset during the build-up, matched by frequent solo dribbling runs into space.
Josip Ćorluka of Zrinjski, an attack-minded right back, appeared in a Nations League fixture against Italy last year. He pushes deep into the final third and fires in crosses, already contributing five assists this season. The other side of the field features Selmir Sidro from Sarajevo, who made his senior international debut in March against Costa Rica. The 23-year-old is a decent dribbler, plays long passes from his own half, and manages to disrupt counter-attacks with contact-free interceptions.
The defensive midfielder position is taken by Andrej Đokanović, a 20-year-old that has already won the league and cup twice, well on the way to 100 club appearances. After claiming the ball, his immediate instinct is to make a vertical pass, attempting to break the opponent’s lines. This friendly is a massive opportunity for the young six who is looking to become a more frequent inclusion for the national team.
Marijan Cavar is a player to watch for the upcoming friendlies vs. #USA and #Mexico. The 19 year old attacking midfielder is one of the biggest talents in #BIH. Great passer of the ball, good dribbling ability and just an all around intelligent player. pic.twitter.com/dEdlF9pIGI— BH live (@BHlive_official) January 15, 2018
Over the summer, Marijan Cavar returned home after three-and-a-half years on the books at Eintracht Frankfurt and Greuther Fürth, having failed to make an impact at either club. The former captain of the Under-21 team is trying to regain career momentum in his first senior call-up since 2018. On his best days, he is a hard tackler and facilitator of possession, the most active player on both sides of the ball. His partner in the midfield could be Igor Savić, a top domestic talent with four goals for league-leading Zrinjski. Not only standing out due to above-average height, his smooth movement and incisive passing are crucial if Bosnia is going to win the match.
Tuzla City right winger Ajdin Nukić is one of the most experienced players on the roster with two caps, both from friendlies this year. He covers his entire half of the field and racks up assists, preferring to sneak behind fullbacks to play a cross but also drifts inward for the occasional finish. The left winger role can be filled by Sasa Maksimović, who tends to stay closer to the center of the field and serve as another striker. The native of Brčko fights hard for second balls, often regaining possession after a turnover.
Sulejman Krpić is enjoying a solid season for Tuzla City after moving over from Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. The 30-year-old has the opportunity to earn his first senior cap. He runs the channels and beats out defenders for headers. The manager could also opt for the younger Jovo Lukić, a 6’4” target man that is dangerous on crosses and when holding possession.
Results from winter camp can be a mixed bag, but Bosnia could put up a fight as local talents attempt to display the strength of the domestic league. For some players, these non-FIFA window friendlies are their sole call-ups to the national team, never to be included long-term. The run of play tends to be a little more disconnected than normal as there is less continuity and chemistry. The USMNT should emerge with a victory due to having more experience than the opponent, although surprises are known to happen.
The match is scheduled for December 18th at 8:15 p.m. Eastern, 5:15 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FS1, UniMás TUDN, and Fubo TV (free trial).