Preview: US look to end 2012 on positive note vs. Russia
The US men's national team has put plenty of mileage on the frequent-flyer accounts to invade Kuban Stadium for Wednesday's friendly clash with Russia in Krasnodar.
Mercifully, the contest (10 am on ESPN2/ESPN3.com, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) will be played in Russia's "deep south" – meaning the game-time temperature should stay safely above 40 degrees.
Nevertheless, US boss Jurgen Klinsmann has a roster with plenty of players that will be coming out of the cold in Jozy Altidore, Timothy Chandler and Mikkel Diskerud. And unlike some previous friendlies, the coach has loaded up on young attacking talent to feed the clamor of rabid US fans.
Having already registered the USMNT's first wins over Italy and at Mexico's Azteca Stadium, Klinsmann will now try break the Russia duck against a team currently rolling along smoothly under former England manager Fabio Capello.
The USMNT has yet to defeat Russia or the former Soviet Union in eight tries, having played four games against each with a total of three draws. They also fell in their only previous visit to Russia, losing 2-0 in Moscow back in 2000.
They're also winless in two games against a team coached by Capello. The US dropped a 2-0 decision at England in 2008, and then posted a 1-1 draw against the Three Lions at the 2010 World Cup.
USA Team Outlook
The team has a few months to get set for the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, so Klinsmann has brought along a blend of tested veterans and green talent. As such, there are several competing storylines for this one.
Chicago Fire netminder Sean Johnson is among the youngsters on duty, but most eyes will be watching for the return of playmaker Diskerud and the debut of speedster Josh Gatt on the wing.
Of course, there is another pair of players set to make headlines for their return in Altidore and Chandler. After firing a highlight-reel goal for AZ Alkmaar last weekend, the former is back from a brief USMNT exile to re-prove his worth.
Chandler, meanwhile, is in for his first cap in a year after courting controversy by turning down call-ups for qualifiers. While some fans hollered that the right-sider was refusing to be cap-tied so he could keep the door open to his native Germany, he says that is not the case.
"I was a young player trying to get settled into my club team and wasn’t sure about the long travel," he told US Soccer's official website. "My [club] coaches didn’t like the idea, so I think even I felt some pressure. I’ve had a chance to get settled in with the club and also have grown up a lot. I know what I want to do."
Russia Team Outlook
With his team off to a flyer in World Cup qualification, Capello will be using Wednesday to check out some fresh blood. Five players, including Real Madrid reserve midfielder Denis Cheryshev, will be crossing fingers for their first cap.
"Surely tomorrow, you’ll see players who have played less or didn’t play at all for the national team," the coach told reporters on Tuesday.
Russia will arrive on a run of four consecutive shutout wins, all from World Cup qualifying. Just before that, Capello had managed his first game for the team, a 1-1 home draw with the Ivory Coast in a friendly.
They are unbeaten in their last dozen matches on home soil overall, but have posted just one victory in their last five friendlies there.
Players To Watch
USA – Josh Gatt: It would be easy to tab Altidore here, but stateside fans have waited so, so very long to get a good look at the Molde FK speed demon. With any luck, Zenit St. Petersburg left back Renat Yanbaev will also become quickly acquainted with Gatt. The 21-year-old offers something the team has been lacking – a winger to run at defenders with the persistence of a zombie and stretch play all the way to the endline.
Russia – Alan Dzagoev: After a terrific Euro 2012 effort, the CSKA Moscow star got off to a slow league start due to injuries. He returned two weeks ago and notched a pair of assists at Kuban Stadium on Sunday. Dzagoev is an clever player capable of making the play from anywhere in attack.
Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard (Everton/England), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders (6): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander/Spain), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg/Germany), Maurice Edu (Stoke City/England), Clarence Goodson (Brondby/Denmark), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany)
Midfielders (7): Michael Bradley (Roma/Italy), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Joshua Gatt (Molde/Norway), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04/Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim/Germany)
Forwards (4): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna/Mexico)
Goalkeepers (3): Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Alexander Belenov (Kuban Krasnodar), Vladimir Gabulov (Anzhi Makhachkala).
Defenders (7): Alexander Anyukov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alexei Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Vasily Berezutsky (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dinamo Moscow), Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Renat Yanbaev (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alexei Yeshchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow).
Midfielders (11): Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Spartak Moscow), Vladimir Bystrov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Denis Cheryshev (Real Madrid Castilla/Spain), Igor Denisov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Viktor Faizulin (Zenit St. Petersburg), Denis Glushakov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Magomed Ozdoev (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Roman Shirokov (Zenit St. Petersburg).
Forwards (5): Artyom Dzyuba (Spartak Moscow), Maxim Grigoryev (Lokomotiv Moscow), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dinamo Moscow), Fyodor Smolov (Anzhi Makhachkala)