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Preview: USMNT v Canada

This evening, the U.S. Men’s National Team will take on Canada in a friendly at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas (9pm: ESPN2, WatchESPN, and Univision Deportes). The game represents the only chance the U.S. coaches have of seeing the players in a game situation before World Cup Qualifying resumes in February.

The game is also the culmination of the January national team training camp that saw new Union man Jeff Parke receive his second national team callup. News from camp has been leaking out here and there, but with so many new names, we have many more questions than answers ahead of tonight’s match. Let’s look at a few of them.

Who will line up in central defense?

While Union homers like me hope to get a glimpse of Parke, USMNT fans will probably hope to see both Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, possibly together. None of the other NT mainstays in central defense (and there have been so many) are in camp, and the central defensive pairing has been a trouble spot for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. Seeing the past two MLS Defenders of the Year line up beside one another seems like a good idea that took too long to come to fruition.

In camp, according to ESPN Soccernet’s Jeff Carlisle, Klinsmann has experimented with playing Gonzalez and Besler separately, but they’ve looked too good together to keep them apart. Said Klinsmann, “We’ve seen in training and little scrimmages where Omar worked with [Besler], they’re looking good. You see that they have experience already, that they are comfortable with this type of environment.” Here’s hoping they (and maybe Parke, too!) put in displays that give Klinsmann a selection headache moving into qualifying.

Who’s the next Tim Howard?

Goalkeeping has long been an American soccer strength, and Tim Howard has long been the gold standard in American goalkeeping. His shot-stopping, not to mention his vocal leadership from the back, have been something of an ace up the sleeve of the U.S. team, bailing out individual errors and systemic breakdowns with superlative saves. One needs only to think back to last summer’s game in Mexico for examples of huge saves made in important moments that allowed the U.S. team to succeed where it would otherwise have failed.

There used to be several competent understudies and alternatives to Howard, in people like Kasey Keller (and to call him simply competent is the understatement of the year) and Brad Guzan, but in recent years, the top-flight goalkeeping talent in the U.S. ranks has largely dried up. Keller has retired, and Guzan, while serviceable, has never established himself as a top keeper. Guzan likely projects as Howard’s backup in the near-term, but Klinsmann has used this January camp as an opportunity to run the rule over three young U.S. netminders: Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson, and Tally Hall. At least two of them are likely to see time against Canada.

What sort of game can we expect?

In a vacuum, the U.S. team is superior to the Canadian one, and Canada’s only big-name player is Dwayne De Rosario. And yet, that did not stop Canada from stifling a much more senior U.S. side, 0–0, in Toronto in June. However, this game looks a little different. For one, it’s in Houston, not Toronto, and the U.S. plays much better at home than away. Second, while the U.S. team is young and, in some ways, unproven, as Klinsmann’s January camps have tended to be, Canada’s team is “the youngest Canadian team to be assembled since May 2006,” and they were just comprehensively beaten, 4–0, by Denmark. While the Canadians will likely put forth a better effort against their cross-border rivals, the U.S. should go in with confidence.

And Klinsmann wants to see a performance, saying, “[W]e want them to really show that commitment that they’ve shown for three and a half weeks packed into 90 minutes and go at them, play fast-paced soccer, be there for each other, do a lot of movement off the ball and really keep pushing it. Obviously we want to see players that step it up now … there’s a lot at stake for the players in this Canada game.” Remember, the goal for the players in this game isn’t so much to win, but to perform well enough to be asked back when the games count, like against Honduras in the first qualifier in the Hexagonal on February 6. With motivation like that, expect the U.S. team to come out bloody-minded and fully committed.

That sort of energy can, of course, work both ways, and I expect some of the debutantes and younger players to have some nerves. What’s more, while the team has been working all camp long on issues of positional discipline and attacking coherence, it’s impossible to replicate gameday intensity on the training ground, and there are bound to be individual errors here and there.


That said, anything less than a comfortable U.S. victory would be a disappointment. I, for one, am feeling confident. The good vibes coming out of the U.S. camp, combined with the extreme callowness of the Canadian team, has me thinking 3–0, U.S.A.



  1. Canada – the one country whose crest is worse than the USMNT.

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