Scotland vs. USA
Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 3 pm ET
Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland
Watch on ESPN2, UniMas
The US national team's final stretch of World Cup preparation begins in the decidedly un-Brazilian environs of dark, chilly Glasgow this week.
Friday's match is the first of this month's two friendlies against demanding European competition, and one of a precious few chances for players to impress coach Jurgen Klinsmann between now and May, when he and his staff will make their final decisions on their roster for Brazil 2014.
The Scots should also offer a marked change of pace – both literally and figuratively – from the Yanks' heavy diet of CONCACAF opposition over the past year as Klinsmann seeks to acclimate his squad to the higher tempo and increased technical virtuosity they can expect to encounter in next summer's main event.
This match marks the eighth meeting between these two nations, with Scotland holding a slender 3-2-2 advantage in results dating back to 1949. Their last match in Scotland took place at Hampden Park eight years ago and ended in a 1-1 draw. Josh Wolff scored a penalty kick drawn by man of the match DaMarcus Beasley (pictured at right) as USMNT coach Bruce Arena fielded a relatively inexperienced lineup including the likes of Brian Carroll, Eddie Gaven and Kerry Zavagnin.
Their most recent clash was far less balanced, as Landon Donovan's hat trick led a rampant US side to a 5-1 thrashing in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 26, 2012.
The Tartan Army were disappointed to see their team miss out on another World Cup earlier this year as they failed to advance out of a bearish UEFA qualifying group which included Belgium, Serbia and Croatia. In fact, Scotland were the first European entry to be officially eliminated from 2014 contention thanks to a winless skid early in the cycle.
But the Scots have rebounded dramatically since the appointment of Gordan Strachan as manager in January, claiming two victories over Croatia – who finished in second place in Group A and are thus taking part in this month's two-legged playoffs – en route to a upward vault of 28 places in the latest FIFA World Rankings, the biggest such leap of any nation.
The colorful Strachan has moved the Scots away from the cautious mindset of his predecessor Craig Levein, and can call on a range of experienced talent in his domestic league as well as the English system to the south. He has hinted that he will give his fringe players opportunities against the United States as he builds towards the onset of UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying in September 2014.
This, as they say, is the proving ground. It's not that the USMNT hasn't impressed everyone with their imperious run through the CONCACAF Hexagonal round – fuelled by a program-record winning streak this summer – so much as the time for a pivot towards the greater demands and tighter margins of the World Cup and the truly elite competition that awaits there.
That means that the team will be eyeing collective improvement in the months ahead, while individuals work to prove their worth to Klinsmann. While all parties stress that no one's place is secure, in truth there are only so many unclaimed roster spots left to compete for, making matches like Friday's a crucial showcase for those outside the core of the squad.
The greatest attention falls on the less familiar faces in the USMNT camp for this month's matches, specifically Eric Lichaj and John Brooks, though there's plenty of work to be done for the likes of Brek Shea, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Wondolowski, all of whom have logged minutes with the team this year but can hardly consider themselves safe from the final cuts which lie ahead.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
SCOTLAND – Ikechi Anya
The son of a Nigerian father and Romanian mother who spent the first seven years of his life in Glasgow but later moved to England, the Watford winger had his choice of four nations for an international career and surprised some with his selection. But the pacey wide man has brought something different to the Scotland setup and made a splash right from the start, scoring against Macedonia in his debut and drawing a penalty kick in last month's upset of Croatia. He could pose a difficult matchup for the USMNT's fullbacks at Hampden Park.
USA – Eric Lichaj
Long seen as the forgotten man of the Klinsmann era, Lichaj's two-year exile from the national team has finally come to an end as his sustained quality in the English Championship with Nottingham Forest has been recognized. The USMNT's scarcity of fullback options, combined with an injury to Fabian Johnson, has opened the door for him to make a real impression. Can he seize his chance?
GOALKEEPERS (3): Scott Fox (Partick Thistle/Scotland), Matt Gilks (Blackpool/England), David Marshall (Cardiff City/Wales)
DEFENDERS (8): Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town/England), Gordon Greer (Brighton and Hove Albion/England), Grant Hanley (Blackburn Rovers/England), Alan Hutton (Aston Villa/England), Russell Martin (Norwich City/England), Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic/Scotland), Lee Wallace (Rangers/Scotland), Steven Whittaker (Norwich City/England)
MIDFIELDERS (10): Charlie Adam (Stoke City/England), Ikechi Anya (Watford/England), Barry Bannan (Crystal Palace/England), Scott Brown (Celtic/Scotland), Craig Bryson (Derby County/England), Chris Burke (Birmingham City/England), James Forrest (Celtic/Scotland), James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion/England), James McArthur (Wigan Athletic/England), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City/England)
FORWARDS (4): Steven Fletcher (Sunderland/England), Steven Naismith (Everton/England), Matt Phillips (Queens Park Rangers/England), Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers/England)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)
DEFENDERS (7): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/England), Michael Orozco (Puebla/Mexico)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes/France), Michael Bradley (Roma/Italy), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Jermaine Jones (Schalke/Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Brek Shea (Stoke City/England)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)