France is the United States’ oldest ally. On Veterans’ Day, that bond will be thrown out the window.
The US men’s national team will finish off their 2011 schedule with a two-game trip to Europe. First, they will face Les Bleus on Friday at the Stade de France in Paris (3 pm ET, ESPN2, Univision). Then they will travel to Ljubljana for a Nov. 15 showdown against Slovenia (noon ET, ESPN2).
The US last faced France in 1979 in a home-and-away friendly series. The French won both matches by a combined score of 9-0.
Laurent Blanc's side has been in good form of late. They have not lost since falling 1-0 to Belarus in a Euro 2012 qualifier in September 2010. Despite that setback — at home, no less — they qualified for the tournament relatively easily, topping Group D, scoring 15 goals and conceding four en route to a 6-1-3 record.
This is a far cry from their controversial meltdown at the 2010 World Cup, when they failed to advance from their group and the players led an insurrection of sorts against then coach Raymond Domenech.
Since Blanc took over, the defense has become a real strength. Led by Barcelona's Ballon d’Or nominated outside back, Éric Abidal, they have not conceded more than one goal in any match. France will be under strength for this match, however: Abidal and Patrice Evra have been given a rest. In their place will be a green backline, which could be supplemented by Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny, Lyon's Anthony Réveillère and Valencia duo Jérémy Mathieu and Adil Rami. That quartet has fewer than 30 caps between them.
And yet, scoring on Blanc's team is not the real issue for Klinsmann's side. Stopping them is.
Les Bleus bring tremendous offensive firepower, led by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, another Ballon d’Or nominee. He is the youngest of the striking corps, but the most experienced in terms of caps, with 40. His fellow forwards, however, are not that much longer in the tooth, including 24-year-old Paris St. Germain strikers Jérémy Ménez and Kévin Gameiro.
The midfield is equally threatening, with a star-studded cast that includes Chelsea's Florent Malouda and Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry.
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s fourth round of call-ups since taking charge of the team in August will welcome Yanks veterans like Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra. But there are still plenty of new faces in camp.
Hertha Berlin defender Alfredo Morales’ call-up was his first with the senior national team after previously doing stints with the US U-20s. Hoffenheim midfielder Fabian Johnson has been called up by Klinsmann once before, but was unable to secure a change of association from FIFA in time for friendlies against Costa Rica and Belgium.
Whether the new blood can reverse the US’ fortunes remains to be seen. The Yanks have scored just two goals under Klinsmann in five matches, and hopes of a revitalized offense took a hit when Landon Donovan withdrew from the squad to stay with the LA Galaxy during their preparation for MLS Cup. Not that the US are lacking in offensive-minded players: FC Dallas standout Brek Shea, Fulham hitman Dempsey and red-hot AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore can all step in to fill the gap left by Donovan.
Countering the French threat for the US will be defensive midfielders Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, as well as the resurgent Onyewu in the back. Despite the US’ offensive woes, the defense has remained largely solid, averaging less than one goal against in five matches under Klinsmann.
Players to Watch
FRA - Kévin Gameiro. The PSG marksman has been a revelation this season, notching eight league goals in 10 matches for the current Ligue 1 leaders.
USA - Fabian Johnson. The 23-year-old Hoffenheim midfielder, who won the U-19 Euro Championship with Germany, has finally acquired the necessary paperwork to suit up for the US and could make his international debut.
France: Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille); Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Jérémy Mathieu (Valencia), Adil Rami (Valencia), Anthony Réveillère (Lyon), Mamadou Sakho (Paris Saint-Germain); Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle United/England) Alou Diarra (Marseille), Maxime Gonalons (Lyon), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Florent Malouda (Chelsea/England), Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/Germany); Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/Spain), Kévin Gameiro (Paris Saint-Germain), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Jérémy Menez (Paris Saint-Germain), Loïc Rémy (Marseille)
USA: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton/England); Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers/Scotland), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg/Germany), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96/Germany), Clarence Goodson (Brøndby/Denmark), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis/Mexico), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon/Portugal); Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona/Italy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham/England), Maurice Edu (Rangers/Scotland), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04/Germany), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim/Germany); Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Edson Buddle (Ingolstadt/Germany), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)