U.S. Soccer Squares off Against Colombia

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So ... the U.S. National Team is playing Colombia tonight.

Suppose that's fortunate timing, since yesterday was Columbus Day, which -- whether you retroactively loathe Columbus as a genocidal mass murderer or not -- we all can agree spawned the worst episode during "The Sopranos" run, the ill-conceived fourth-season oeuvre, "Christopher."

Granted making connections to gangsters and Colombia soccer was the subject of the thoroughly engrossing ESPN "30 for 30" documentary earlier this summer, "The Two Escobars," which I'd be willing to go out onto a limb and say would be a better way to spend a couple hours in front of the television Tuesday night than this friendly at PPL Park in Philadelphia.

The U.S. showed us where is currently is with this roster already on Saturday, as Bob Bradley played the game against Poland like it mattered only making a few substitutions and playing a first-choice lineup. This match figures to have a more exhibition feel, with more liberal substitution patterns.

If this match means anything, it's part of the evaluation process for the 2011 Gold Cup, which is probably the only meaningful tournament on the horizon of the USMNT. Naturally, Bradley's No. 1 priority at this point is figuring out a way to beat Mexico and get the CONCACAF bid to the 2013 Confederations Cup. In the huge cosmic, grand scheme of things it's not the most crucial issue in the world, but it's not like the U.S. get plenty of chances to play the world's best in competitive situations.

Sure, the Gold Cup isn't for another eight months, but is it too early to start coming up with match-ups and ways to beat Mexico ... barring some sort of total collapse by either team, which is possible considering the administrative unrest currently sweeping over El Tri.

In its current form, a potential Gold Cup 2011 final between the two CONCACAF powers would decide the region's representative in the 2013 Confederations Cup and might also be the last time the rivals will play a competitive, meaningful match for the immediate future if qualifying for the 2014 World Cup is tinkered with. That potential match might be a shootout, since Mexico's talented attackers shouldn't have trouble getting through the U.S. defense, and vice versa.

Before turning the page to full 2014-World Cup mode, the Gold Cup represents a carrot for the U.S. and its fans to highlight and circle. For now, Bradley needs to figure out a way to shore up the defense for this tournament. Can Onyewu still hack it, being the prime question.?

If the last couple years have shown us anything, the U.S. is actually in a pretty good place offensively. Struggling for goals isn't an issue.

Between now and next summer Bradley has to find a four-man unit that can put up a resistance to what Mexico can bring to the table offensively. How players like Eric Lichaj or Michael Parkhurst fare vs. Colombia won't be a huge factor in this discussion but it will give Bradley some ideas. Better yet, defense is a team responsibility so the U.S. has to be careful with the ball and be better at applying pressure all over the field.

It's never to early to start planning for Mexico, is it?

Sorry, Charlie:

Is there any point getting into the recent Charlie Davies speeding/covering for his buddy revelations? Is pulling a Steve Janowski/Kenny Powers swap, covering for Jacques "I Got Priors" Faty better than finding out Davies himself was behind the wheel? Either way it's a dumb, indefensible scenario. On top of that, the way it was revealed and the subsequent details were very strange.

If anything, it just makes it seem all that much sillier how people were so outraged back in May that Bradley left him off the U.S. World Cup roster, a fact hammered home to the fact Davies has yet to even play with the Sochaux senior team.

While I still wish Davies the best in his recovery from last October's near-fatal car crash, this speeding snafu in France makes me -- and probably a lot of folks -- a little leery about him going forward.


* Does Brad Guzan sleep with a clipboard under his pillow? Understudy to Brad Friedel at Aston Villa. Back-up to Tim Howard with the USMNT. If this were the NFL he's probably have a closet full of visors, too.

* Heath Pearce will probably never standout all that much or "put his name" on this U.S. left back position, at least he can fall back on with all his mustache-related Twitter stuff as being the biggest hipster in the squad. It's something, right?

* Considering this particular U.S. roster doesn't have a ton of wide players -- Alejandro Bedoya excluded -- Bradley ought to start devising ways to work around this fact, instead of shoe-horning players into positions they're not naturals at. Benny Feilhaber and Stuart Holden can play outside, but they're better in the middle of the field. Plenty of teams have found success without natural wingers, so it's a chance to get creative.

* Suppose it's strange that the well-known Wigan striker, Hugo Rodallega isn't on the Colombian roster. Injured? Out-of-favor?

* Any chance the gang from "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" shows up, since as my Twitter amigo Adam pointed out, in the most recent episode Mac was wearing a Fall River Marksman t-shirt. Trendy.

* Colombia's 39-year-old keeper Faryd Mondragón is certainly in contention for a Top 10 overall world soccer name.

* Shame MLS can't figure out a way to keep Carlos Valderrama involved with the league. Remember those ESPN promo ads for the league when it started in 1996, with the narrator raving about his bushy, wild hair? Unfortunately it's not on YouTube. Sigh.

* ESPN is going on the air at 8 p.m. and kickoff isn't until 8:25. That means a lot of U.S. "talking head" interviews. Nothing personal, but these bring nothing to the table since it seems every single U.S. player talks with a blank-stare monotone, spouting out the most generic "athlete-speak" as possible. Wonder if this applies to Jermaine Jones' translator?

* Will this match mark the debut of Ian Darke as new, full-time voice of the U.S. on ESPN?

Lineup Guess:

(And this is a guess.)

GK -- Guzan

DEF -- Spector -- Onyewu -- Lichaj -- Pearce

MID -- Bedoya -- Bradley -- Jones -- Feilhaber

SS -- Dempsey

FOR -- Altidore

Suppose a lot of what Bradley does with the lineup vs. Colombia depends on fatigue of playing two games in around three days. Doubt Bradley will endear himself to Schalke 04 major domo Felix Magath if he plays Jermaine Jones in back-to-back (semi-meaningless) friendlies, in light of the midfielder's spotty track record with fitness. Then again, Bradley probably wants at least another half of soccer to look at the U.S.'s "new" player in the midfield.

The strong-willed, dictator-like Magath, unlike Arsene Wenger for instance, would actually scare me when he gets mad. (In this case, he'd have a point should Jones somehow pick up an injury, since these games are only friendlies.)

Onyewu is another question mark, can he play two matches in this quick a turnaround? And by the same token, what good is subjecting Clint Dempsey to another 45+ minutes in a game that doesn't matter? We're not going to learn anything new about Dempsey in this game, are we? Still, Dempsey is a gamer and should see at least a half in his "roamer" role like we saw effectively vs. Poland.

Suppose Eddie Johnson gets a half, probably coming in for Dempsey, slotting into a tradition forward role to give Altidore a partner to play off of and evaluate how that goes. Feilhaber should get another look after a fairly indifferent game vs. Poland.

The only spot in the team that seems certain is the possible international debut of Eric Lichaj, but with the Elder even that isn't a solid bet.

Final thought:

What gets more references in the ESPN telecast? The Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, Doc Halladay or cheese steaks?