Preview: USMNT v Ecuador

So, here is the roster for the Copa:

GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), 12-Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), 22-Ethan Horvath (Molde IK)

DEFENDERS (8): 5-Matt Besler (Sporting KC), 3-Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), 6-John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), 20-Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), 21-Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), 23-Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach), 14-Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), 2-DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)

MIDFIELDERS/FORWARDS (12): 15-Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), 11-Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), 4-Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), 8-Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), 13-Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), 16-Perry Kitchen (Heart of Midlothian), 10-Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), 17-Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), 18-Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), 7-Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV), 20-Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), 19-Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)

An additional player, Kellyn Acosta, was added for the game tomorrow, versus Ecuador. What does it tell us about how the US will play?

Pulisic! Pulisic! Pulisic!

Let’s get this out of the way now: Christian Pulisic, 17-year-old wunderkind from Hershey, Pa., now plying his trade in the German top-flight for Borussia Dortmund, is a part of the group. It would be difficult to say he doesn’t deserve it. No other player in the pool plays for a bigger club in a bigger league, and Pulisic is doing much, much more than riding pine. The hype train has fully left the station. Yet amidst the din of Pulisic-mania is a second strain of chanting: “Pump the brakes,” say those in US Soccer fandom who’ve been burned too often by hope put too soon into young phenoms (see: Adu, Freddy; and Green, Julian).

But for all that, Pulisic seems a different kid than those others. For one, he’s broken through with his club team already. Adu came up through MLS 1.0 before heading overseas to flounder, while Green, though a part of the Bayern Munich machine, hasn’t come close to cementing himself in the first team the way Pulisic has at Dortmund. Further, there’s a decent argument to be had that Pulisic is the US’s best wide attacker, full stop. On the current roster, only Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya could make that claim, and neither do what Pulisic does, run at people creating havoc. In truth, it would have been a mistake for Jurgen Klinsmann not to bring him.

Attack from defense

“But wait!” I hear you say. “What about Fabian Johnson?” And you’ve got me there. Johnson is definitely one of the US’s top wide attacking threats. However, for the US, Johnson is listed as a defender, presumably to play left back opposite DeAndre Yedlin. And given that Ethan Finlay, the only real winger in the pool other than Pulisic, didn’t make the cut, it seems clear the US will persist with the narrow 4-4-2 diamond of recent years. That means the US’s width will need to come primarily from the fullbacks. Johnson had a terrific World Cup as a right back, but has really settled into his role as a left-sided midfielder since then. The US will certainly be sacrificing some defensive solidity with so attacking a set of fullbacks, but it’s easy to see the other side of the coin: speed and creativity on the flanks pinning other teams’ wide attackers back, and adding bodies to the attacking third for the US.

Michael Bradley, No. 10

Michael Bradley, like Johnson, has settled into a different role for his club team than for the national team. At Toronto FC,  he plays as a true No. 6, at the base of the midfield, putting out fires and starting attacks with his long-range passing, then motoring forward to make late runs into the box when appropriate. It’s a role he’s had success with before, and one many US Soccer observers have been clamoring for him to play in the Stars and Stripes. But considering Perry Kitchen made the roster ahead of Lee Nguyen, it is assured that Bradley will continue in his uncomfortable fit as the team’s creative fulcrum. That said, Darlington Nagbe is also on the roster, and Bedoya played through the center versus Puerto Rico, so perhaps in late game situations where the US needs a goal, Bradley might shift back while a more creative player comes in to fill his spot.

No Jozy? Call Wondo!

Chris Wondolowski gets no love from US Soccer fans, and his miss against Belgium will be forever a part of his legacy, but the man has skills, and is, more than anyone else available, a true center forward. He’s not a Jozy replacement, but he fills the positional requirements in a way that few others do. Bobby Wood will likely start alongside Clint Dempsey, but expect Wondo to make a number of substitute appearances if the goals are not flowing.


Ecuador are damn good. They don’t have the same name recognition of other South American teams, but they get results. In 2015, they went on a six-game winning streak, defeating Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela, with only the Honduras game a friendly. The rest were either World Cup qualifiers, or for the Copa America. They’ve got players you will recognize, playing in big leagues for big teams, like Antonio Valencia, Jefferson Montero, Juan Cazares, and Enner Valencia. Their skill and speed will trouble the US, and they’ll likely be better suited to playing in the Texas heat than many of the US’s players. In short, Wednesday’s going to be tough.


It will be tough, but exactly the kind of game the US will be facing in the Copa America. Indeed, if the US plays well in that tournament, it’s conceivable the two teams will meet again, as Ecuador is competing, too.

While it’s difficult to know just how much tinkering Klinsmann will do, here is a sensible lineup: Guzan; Johnson, Matt Besler, John Brooks, Yedlin; Kyle Beckerman, Bedoya, Gyasi Zardes, Bradley; Dempsey, Wood. It would be unsurprising to see Jermaine Jones or Graham Zusi swapped in at either wide midfield spot, or for Geoff Cameron (if healthy) to replace Brooks. Also, the call-up of Acosta implies that perhaps Johnson is not yet ready to start a game as he recovers from a minor injury.

Both teams will likely score. How much? That part’s hard to say, so I’m splitting the difference and saying the US defends home turf but takes a few on the chin and the teams walk out with a draw: USA 2–2 Ecuador.

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