The United States Men’s National Team heads to Europe for a friendly against one of the better squads in UEFA. Gregg Berhalter’s side will take on Switzerland at the Kybunpark in St. Gallen before returning stateside for the CONCACAF Nations League Final Four. This is the first of four matches over the next month, scheduled with the intent of “simulating a cadence” oof the upcoming World Cup qualifying.
Historically, this is the ninth match between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 1-3-4 all-time record. Switzerland was most recently in action in March, winning twice in UEFA World Cup qualifying and a friendly. Both this upcoming match and the fixture against Liechtenstein serve as a warm-up for the re-scheduled Euro 2020 competition.
Switzerland is led by Vladimir Petković, who has held the role since July 2014. The retired Bosnian-Swiss midfielder has a 35-18-15 record. The 57-year-old led the A-Team to the Round of 16 of Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup and has earned a reputation as a fierce defender of his squad, pushing back against criticisms of dual-nationals. He has the potential to lead the country to a first knockout round victory in a major tournament since 1938.
Petković called in a 29-player preliminary squad for the friendlies, hoping to whittle down the roster to 26 by the deadline of June 1st. The team has four inclusions from the Swiss Super League and 12 competing in the German Bundesliga. While the “best will take part in [Euro 2020],” the younger members of the camp can “gain valuable experience.”
GOALKEEPERS (4): Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Yvon Mvogo (PSV Eindhoven), Jonas Omlin (Montpellier), Gregor Kobel (VfB Stuttgart)
DEFENDERS (10): Ricardo Rodríguez (Torino), Fabian Schär (Newcastle United), Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Silvan Widmer (Basel), Loris Benito (Bordeaux), Kevin Mbabu (VfL Wolfsburg), Eray Cömert (Basel), Bećir Omeragić (Zürich), Jordan Lotomba (Nice)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Granit Xhaka (Arsenal FC), Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool FC), Steven Zuber (Eintracht Frankfurt), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Edimilson Fernandes (Mainz 05), Djibril Sow (Eintracht Frankfurt)
FORWARDS (8): Haris Seferović (Benfica), Admir Mehmedi (VfL Wolfsburg), Breel Embolo (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Mario Gavranović (Dinamo Zagreb), Ruben Vargas (FC Augsburg), Christian Fassnacht (Young Boys), Dan Ndoye (Nice), Andi Zeqiri (Brighton & Hove Albion)
After draws against Spain and Germany, Petković claimed that Switzerland “doesn’t need to be scared of anybody.” Recently, he has preferred a 3-4-2-1 formation but will deploy various versions of the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1. The core of the roster is at or just entering the prime years of their careers, with no field players over the age of 31. Veterans such as Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have the experience and talent to guide the squad through choppy waters, although their presence may not be required during a friendly. Switzerland will probably use the stronger players against the United States and save the back-ups for Liechtenstein.
The likely starter at goalkeeper is veteran Yann Sommer. The 32-year-old has been the number one for Borussia Mönchengladbach since 2014 and featured at Euro 2016, the 2018 World Cup, and 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals. Despite being undersized at 6’, he is a fantastic shot stopper and is a capable distributor. Total Football Analysis describes him as “one of the most underrated goalkeepers in Europe’s top five leagues” due to his advanced “anticipation, reflexes, and footwork.”
When deploying a three-man back line, Petković has opted for the trio of Manuel Akanji, Nico Elvedi, and Ricardo Rodríguez. Akanji of Borussia Dortmund is a fast and technical player who can hold his own in possession. Borussia Mönchengladbach center back Elvedi is even stronger passing out of the back, considered “one of the best ball-playing defenders in the world.” Rodríguez, based at Torino, is usually a fullback but serves in the hybrid third role that steps into the attack and provides defensive cover on the wing. Fabian Schär is also a regular but fell out of favor this year.
Eintracht Frankfurt winger Steven Zuber is a constant presence on the left side of the formation. With seven goals in 35 appearances, the 29-year-old provides a threat in the final third whether he’s shooting, crossing, or dribbling. Over the past year, Petković has increasingly relied on fullback Silvan Widmer as a wide player. The veteran currently at FC Basel is similarly dangerous when pushing forward, constantly joining the attack and bullying past the opposition.
Switzerland has an established midfield trio that shows no sign of being disrupted. Remo Freuler has been instrumental in Atalanta’s rise, facilitating possession and shutting down counter attacks with advanced pressure. Holding midfielder Granit Xhaka should be familiar to casual observers of the sport. The 28-year-old Arsenal lightning rod for criticism dictates the game and has a surprisingly deft scoring touch. Versatile Liverpool playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri provides the creative spark, a dangerous attacker that is the country’s active leading scorer and will occupy the American defense with a dizzying array of slaloming dribbles and incisive passes.
When healthy, the striker partnership of Breel Embolo and Haris Seferović is the first-choice pairing. The former, a once highly rated prospect considered a future world class player, is beginning to enter his prime with Borussia Mönchengladbach. His pace serves to open up the defense, which also allows for placement in a winger role depending on the chosen formation. The latter, at 29 years old, is the main scoring option in the final third with an imposing 6’2” frame and dangerous left foot. He’s not quite prolific but is coming off a strong season with Benfica and can be dangerous when holding up and laying off the ball to Shaqiri.
Petković encourages his team to press, swarming defenders and clogging the middle of the field. This occasionally leaves large gaps in the formation that create an opportunity for quick counter attacks. Switzerland can overwhelm more restrained opponents by unleashing a barrage of crosses from constantly overlapping fullbacks, but this is offset by a team that directly challenges for control of the match. In October, Germany was able to take advantage of several misplayed passes in the build-up by overcommitting to blocking passing lanes.
This is an intriguing challenge for a somewhat untested American side that has coasted for more than a year against CONCACAF and mid-tier European opponents. Switzerland is talented and experienced, heading into a continental championship as a dark horse contender. Intentionally packed into a crowded schedule, the match will either inspire short-term confidence or result in an ugly loss that provides harsh lessons and long-term benefits.
The match is scheduled for Sunday, May 30th at 2 p.m. Eastern, 11 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN, UniMás, TUDN, and FUBO TV (free trial).