We finally made it. The United States are about to start playing their first meaningful matches since the World Cup ended. The Gold Cup begins in one month and there are just two friendlies left for the lucky 22 players called into camp to impress Klinsmann one last time. The Yanks will first take on World Cup semifinalists and perennial European powerhouse the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Friday (2:30 p.m ET, ESPN, WatchESPN, UniMas).
Several key players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Jermaine Jones are missing from the squad, but that doesn't leave the U.S. hopeless of a win. The team's depth with be tested and fringe players will be examined, but Klinsmann should still field a fairly strong team.
The U.S. defeated Mexico, 2-0, in its last friendly back at the beginning of April. The young Jordan Morris, who scored his first international goal in that game, has once again been brought into camp. After impressing at the Toulon Tournament for the U-23's, Morris has another huge change to impress and even possibly earn a shock call up for the Gold Cup.
The Netherlands will be very tough competition with all of the experienced European-based players at their disposal. The back line of the U.S. will be tested often by the talented Dutch attackers. Klinsmann's biggest question heading into the Gold Cup is who will be his starting center backs? This game could go a long way in answering that question. The defensive alignment is just one thing you should be looking for. Here are a few others:
Johannsson's time to shine
With Altidore out with an injury and Dempsey waiting on the birth of his child, the attacking reins will be handed over to Aron Johannsson. Coming off of an injury-filled season with AZ Alkmaar, Johannsson still managed to score nine league goals in only 21 appearances. The Icelandic-American has only played in one game for the U.S. this year, starting and scoring a goal against Denmark in March. He ended the Eredivisie season by scoring several highlight reel goals. The USMNT will need this type of individual brilliance from Johannsson to show up at the international level. This game will be a huge chance for him to show his talent and improve his standing on the U.S. striker depth chart.
Can Brooks take the next step?
It was a weird club season for John Anthony Brooks. He started the season off well, but then struggled and got called out by his manager. That manager got the axe and the new one reinstated him to the starting lineup. By all accounts, he returned rejuvenated and played a big role in helping Hertha Berlin narrowly avoid relegation. Brooks is another prized dual national recruit by Klinsmann who was highly rated as a youth player. We all know of his heroics at the World Cup, but now that he's an established professional it's time for him to take the next big step in his career. With at least one starting center back spot up for grabs, now is Brooks' chance to win a spot show he can live up to his potential.
Dealing with Depay
If you don't know about Memphis Depay you better ask somebody. But since I'm here, I'll go ahead and tell you about him. The newly-signed Manchester United winger is coming off of a fantastic Eredivisie season with PSV. The 21-year-old scored an incredible 25 goals in 37 appearances for the league champions. He's a dynamic player with pace, technique, and skill. Don't believe me? Watch a YouTube mixtape of his exploits. Expect him to start on the left wing and cut inside to his preferred right foot. This means DeAndre Yedlin, Timothy Chandler, or whoever is playing right back will have their hands full. The entire backline will have to keep tabs on him at all times. He's an outstanding young player who will tear apart the U.S. defense if he's not closely marked. Danny Williams or Kyle Beckerman will probably have a hand in attempting to stop him from the defensive midfield spot as well.
Who has the most to gain?
If we have to pick two fringe players with the most to gain from these friendlies, it has to be Ventura Alvarado and Juan Agudelo. Alvarado had a stellar performance against Mexico in April. If he follows it up with a couple more good defensive outings against two of the top soccer nations in the world he should have no problem making the Gold Cup roster. If he struggles and looks out of his depth, he could be in trouble. Agudelo also impressed in the Mexico game scoring a great goal. His tremendous technical ability and overall quality should give him an edge over fellow fringe striker Gyasi Zardes. If Agudelo can continue to contribute dynamic attacking performances he'll likely be on his way to the Gold Cup too.
Here is the lineup I'd like to see start against the Netherlands: