USA vs. Ukraine
Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 2 pm ET
Antonis Papadopolous Stadium, Larnaca, Cyprus
Watch on ESPN2, WATCHESPN, UniMas
The off-the-field news has dominated headlines surrounding the US national team’s latest prep for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, with Wednesday’s friendly against Ukraine having been moved from Kharkiv to Cyprus due to violence in the Eastern European country. And then the bombing of a referee’s car in Cyprus, leading to the postponement of club games there over the weekend, has added more concern. There were questions as recently as Monday as to whether the match would proceed at all.
But make no mistake about it, despite the distraction, this is a key fixture for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s ultimate roster selection – not to mention the fact it comes against the highest-ranked country (18th in FIFA rankings) not heading to Brazil this summer. And in the same vein that the subsequent game from January’s camp against South Korea was a major chance for a mostly MLS-heavy group to show what they have, now it’s time for the USMNT’s European-based players to make their case for the last time before Klinsmann’s roster selection deadline arrives.
The Yanks have never beaten Ukraine in three all-time meetings (0-2-1), with their last matchup dating back to 1993. All three fixtures came on US soil within a span of 16 months.
The US got their only result in the first matchup with the newly formed team following the collapse of the Soviet Union, on June 27, 1992, dueling to a scoreless draw in Piscataway, N.J. A pair of games followed in October of 1993, with Ukraine winning 2-1 on Oct. 16 in High Point, N.C., and 1-0 one week later in Bethlehem, Pa.
Unlike the friendly against South Korea, this roster features a few more players who are secure in their World Cup spot.
First-choice goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Jermaine Jones and strikers Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey – the only MLS player left on the roster after midfielder Michael Bradley withdrew over the weekend – will all likely be looking to fine-tune rather than impress.
But there are a number of players still on the bubble who surely will look to be on their best form. Former FC Dallas star Brek Shea, currently on loan at Barnsley from Stoke City, Hertha Berlin defender John Brooks and Reading midfielder Danny Williams are hardly shoo-ins for a seat on the plane to Brazil.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu, a mainstay during the 2006 and ’10 World Cup cycles, made his first roster since last summer’s Gold Cup.
There are two newcomers to US camp, Will Packwood and Julian Green. The youngster with the most cache, clearly, is Green, the Bayern Munich phenom who holds both US and German eligibility. Green will join the team in Germany for training but will not travel to Cyprus for the game.
The Ukrainian national team and its fans are surely still reeling from their World Cup qualifying heartbreak when they took a 2-0 lead in the first leg of a UEFA playoff against France only to fall 3-0 in the second fixture.
They now turn attention to Euro 2016 and do it with several of their top youngsters called up for the US game. FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s star forwards Yevhen Konoplyanka (above, right) and Roman Zozulya and Dynamo Kiev winger Andriy Yarmolenko highlight Mykhaylo Fomenko’s roster.
Konoplyanka, who has eight goals in 35 international caps, has made news recently as a rumored transfer target of EPL giants Liverpool and Tottenham, while Yarmolenko has also reportedly drawn interest from the Reds.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Clint Dempsey
He hasn’t featured for the US since last fall following an unsuccessful move from Tottenham to the Seattle Sounders, and his offseason loan to Fulham hasn’t gone much better, begging the question: Can he return to the form that saw him score six international goals in 2013?
It’s also a prolonged absence from the USMNT that could be viewed as worrisome for the team captain. He’ll certainly be champing at the bit to get back with the group and show he’s ready to lead the squad to Brazil.
Ukraine – Yevhen Konoplyanka
The young attacker has been the object of desire for Tottenham and their followers and thoroughly impressed in Dnipro’s recent Europa League matchup with the Reds. He’ll be fun to watch as he looks to keep raising his stock, while amounting to a nice test for the Yanks defense.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Cody Cropper (Southampton/England), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England)
DEFENDERS (7): John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt/Germany), Oguchi Onyewu (Sheffield Wednesday/England), Will Packwood (Birmingham City/England), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas/Turkey), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Brek Shea (Barnsley/England), Danny Williams (Reading/England)
FORWARDS (6): Juan Agudelo (Utrecht/Netherlands), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/Germany), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands)
GOALKEEPERS: Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Rustam Khudzhamov (Illichivets Mariupol), Denis Boiko (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk)
DEFENDERS: Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar Donetsk), Oleksandr Kucher (Shakhtar Donetsk), Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk), Evgeny Makarenko (Dynamo Kiev), Yevgen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kiev), Artem Fedetsky (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Andriy Pilavskij (Maccabi Haifa/Israel)
MIDFIELDERS: Oleg Gusev (Dynamo Kiev), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), Roman Bezus (Dynamo Kiev), Denys Garmash (Dynamo Kiev), Sergiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kiev), Yevhen Konoplyanka (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Ruslan Rotan (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Mykola Morozyuk (Metalurh Donetsk), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Mikhail Galovs′kij (Metalist Kharkiv), Denis Dedechko (FC Vorskla Poltava), Anatoliy Tymoschuk (Zenit Saint-Petersburg), Dmytro Homcenovskij (Zorya Lugansk)
FORWARDS: Yevgen Seleznyov (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Roman Zozulya (FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Marko Devic (Metalist Kharkiv)