Preview: US look to close year on high note vs. Slovenia
The US national team closes out their 2011 campaign with a trip to Ljubljana to take on an intriguing foe in Slovenia at Stozice Stadium. The two nations have only faced off once before, but it was one of the most memorable matches in US soccer history.
Can Jurgen Klinsmann's side produce another momentous performance to end a disappointing year on a high note?
It's been nearly a year and a half since the United States faced off against Slovenia for the first time in their history. What a momentous match that was, a 2-2 draw in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup.
On that day, the US went behind 2-0 before coming storming back, led by Landon Donovan's impossible-angle shot just after halftime. Michael Bradley got the equalizer in the 82nd minute.
Then, all hell broke loose. The US seemed to have snatched a late winner through Maurice Edu, but referee Roman Coulibaly called it off for no apparant reason. Replays showed there was nothing out of the ordinary, and the official never made any explanation.
In the end, the US still qualified for the knockout round, thanks to the 1-0 win over Algeria on Donovan's late goal, but it was up in the air until the final seconds thanks to the disallowed goal against Slovenia.
This is not a full-strength Slovenian side. No Milivoje Novakovič, no Robert Koren. After a failed Euro 2012 qualifying campaign -- they finished 4th in Group C, behind Italy and Estonia -- new Slovenian manager Slaviša Stojanović is blooding some up-and-coming talent.
But he still has plenty of experience and firepower to call on. The strength of the side is in the back, beginning with goalkeeper Samir Handanovič, who plays for Udinese in the Serie A. With 54 caps, he is the second-most experienced player on the roster, behind only defender Boštjan Cesar, a teammate of US midfielder Michael Bradley at Chievo. Also in the back are Bojan Jokic, also from Chievo, and Miso Brecko, a regular for German club FC Cologne.
The two goalscorers from the World Cup draw with the US are also in camp, Genoa's ever-creative attacker Valter Birsa and Gent striker Zlatan Ljubijankic. Also up top is Zlatko Dedic, a powerful scorer at Dynamo Dresden in the 2.Bundesliga. But the newest ace in Slovenia's attacking hand is 22-year-old PSV forward Tim Matavz, who has struck 5 times in 11 international appearances.
GOALKEEPERS: Samir Handanovic (Udinese), Jasmin Handanovic (Maribor), Vid Belec (Crotone)
DEFENDERS: Miso Brecko (Cologne), Bostjan Cesar (Chievo Verona), Branko Ilic (Lokomotiv Moscow), Bojan Jokic (Chievo Verona), Matej Mavric Rozic (Superfund), Miral Samardzic (Sheriff Tiraspol), Marko Suler (Gent)
MIDFIELDERS: Armin Bacinovic (Palermo), Josip Ilicic (Palermo), Andraz Kirm (Wisla Krakow), Rene Krhin (FC Bologna), Dejan Lazarevic (Padova), Darijan Matic (Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih), Ales Mertelj (NK Maribor), Dare Pass (Olimpija Ljubljana)
FORWARDS: Valter Birsa (Genoa), Zlatko Heir (Bochum), Zlatan Ljubijankic (Gent), Tim Matavz (PSV), Nejc Pecnik (Krylya Sovetov)
The US national team's Jurgen Klinsmann era has not gotten off to a shining start. In six matches, one win, one draw, and four losses, including last week's lackluster 1-0 defeat to France in Paris. Most distressingly, the side has scored only two goals and created precious few chances.
But despite the natives getting restless, the manager maintains that things are building toward next year's World Cup qualifying. He has brought in several new faces for this two-match European swing, but seemingly has found his core.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard is a no-brainer, and he produced one of the best saves of his career against France. In front of him, Brondby's Clarence Goodson made his first appearance for Klinsmann and did just fine alongside Carlos Bocanegra, who will be going for his 100th cap in the match against Slovenia.
Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu seem to have locked up positions in the center of the park, leaving the attack and the flanks up for grabs.
Fabian Johnson and Daniel Williams, both young players discovered by Klinsmann in Germany, showed promise, but neither really dominated. They could be more effective in their natural positions in the middle. Meanwhile, up top, Clint Dempsey showed hsi usual tenacity and flair. He has the ability to open up a defense, but he needs more help from overlapping runners.
Brek Shea should get another start on the left side. Can he be more effective going forward than he was against France?
Jozy Altidore has emerged as a complete threat since his move to Holland, but it has yet to translate to the international level. He seems to be isolated too often up top. Can Shea and Dempsey, playing in the modular 4-3-3 provide the necessary support?
And what of Michael Bradley? The young midfielder, now a regular for Cheivo, has not seen much time under Klinsmann. This match against Slovenia would seem a perfect time to get him a full 90 minutes and see if he can thrive on the memory of the two nations' last meeting.
GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton)
DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon)
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Edson Buddle (FC Ingolstadt)