Here we go.
The US men’s national team plays the first game of a five-match stretch on Saturday against Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla. The match, to be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports and Galavision, is the first of three friendlies the US face before kicking off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a June 8 home game against Antigua and Barbuda and a June 12 match against Guatemala in Guatemala City.
Since taking charge of the US team last July, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has experimented with new players, new formations and new tactics in an attempt to revamp the national team’s playing style. And on the back of a four-game winning streak, the German legend has compiled a 5-4-1 record so far in 10 friendlies.
Now the games start to matter. Has Klinsmann’s tenure produced a team that can get results when it counts? Playing Scotland in front of a record-breaking crowd in Florida, we’ll start to see some answers.
The Yanks hold a 1-3-2 record all-time against the Scots. Their first game, played in 1949 on Randall’s Island in New York City, saw the visitors run out 4-0 winners. Their next game, in 1952, was no more encouraging for the US, as Scotland took a 6-0 win at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
In fact, the Nats did not notch their first victory over the Tartan until 1996, when goals from Eric Wynalda and Cobi Jones gave the US a 2-1 win in New Britain, Conn.
The last time the teams played each other, in 2005, Josh Wolff scored a ninth-minute penalty as the US and Scotland played to a 1-1 draw.
The last time the US national team convened, a 55th-minute Clint Dempsey goal at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa gave the Yanks their first-ever victory against Italy.
Dempsey will not be available against Scotland, but his absence is made up for by the return of Landon Donovan to the Nats' fold. The US’ star midfielder has played just two games for the national team under Klinsmann, and the presence of arguably the best player in American soccer could do wonders to inspire a team that has already started to find their groove under their new coach.
The 1-0 win against Italy was the latest in a four-match winning streak that also included a 3-2 win against Slovenia and 1-0 wins over Venezuela and Panama. It’s a sharp turnaround from the string of bad results that marked the beginning of Klinsmann’s tenure. Though the Nats earned a 1-1 tie against Mexico in the German’s first game in charge, they were shut out in four of their next five, losing each contest 1-0.
Results have no doubt improved, but the US’ lockdown defense has carried much of the burden as the offense has struggled to score goals. Apart from the win over Slovenia, the US have not scored more than one goal in any game under Klinsmann, and have only tallied five goals in those nine contests. The German coach has once again called in a deep stable of midfielders who can help shield the defense – Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley. Captain Carlos Bocanegra continues to marshal the US backline, though both Michael Parkhurst and Clarence Goodson will not feature against the Scots, as both arrived in camp on Thursday.
But the defense may be given a bit of a break on Saturday, because the US have called in some considerable firepower. Striker Jozy Altidore is coming off a stellar season with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in which he scored 19 goals across all competitions. Joining him will be Santos Laguna hitman Herculez Gomez and perennial MLS Golden Boot contender Chris Wondolowski.
There won’t be any surprises for the US in a Scottish squad comprising entirely players based in Great Britain. Seven of Scotland’s players play in the Scottish Premier League – Lee Wallace, Alan McGregor and Steven Whittaker are teammates with Bocanegra and Edu at Rangers – while nine ply their trade in the English Premier League as adversaries to Dempsey’s Fulham.
The Scots are coming off a European Championship qualifying campaign that saw them miss out on second place in Group I and a play-in game by just two points. In two friendlies since missing out on a Euro 2012 berth, Scotland beat Cyprus 2-1 and drew Slovenia 1-1, both games away from home.
Scotland manager Craig Levein has brought some experience into the team to face the US. Striker Kenny Miller is the team’s leading scorer and most capped player with 16 and 61, respectively. Defender Gary Caldwell has 47 appearances for the Tartan, while starting goalkeeper Craig Gordon has 40 caps and 15 shutouts.
However, the bulk of the players are relative newcomers. No other player on the squad has earned more than 30 caps for Scotland, while Dundee United striker Johnny Russell has earned his first call up.
Players to Watch
USA – Herculez Gomez: The calls to bring the 2010 World Cup veteran back into the US squad have gotten louder and louder since he caught fire in Mexico. Now it’s time for Herc to prove those calls were merited.
Scotland – Shaun Maloney: To hear Levein tell it, Maloney is a big reason why Wigan were not relegated from the EPL this season, and his wonder goal in the Latics’ 1-0 win over Manchester United is proof enough that he can punish the US if they’re not careful.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting CP), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca)
FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Allan McGregor (Rangers), Craig Gordon (Sunderland), Matt Gilks (Blackpool)
DEFENDERS (8): Steven Whittaker (Rangers), Phil Bardsley (Sunderland), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic), Christophe Berra (Wolves), Andy Webster (Heart of Midlothian), Gary Caldwell (Wigan), Russell Martin (Norwich), Lee Wallace (Rangers)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Barry Bannan (Aston Villa), Scott Brown (Celtic), Craig Bryson (Derby), Don Cowie (Cardiff City), James McArthur (Wigan), Matt Phillips (Blackpool), Shaun Maloney (Wigan)
FORWARDS (4): David Goodwillie (Blackburn), Kenny Miller (Cardiff City), Craig Mackail-Smith (Brighton and Hove Albion), Johnny Russell (Dundee United)