Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Before the U.S. Men’s National Team turn the page on what has been a successful summer and set their sights towards the remaining World Cup qualifiers in the fall, they will have an opportunity to further gauge themselves against one of the more in-form teams in Europe.
The United States is set to end its jam-packed summer in Sarajevo on Wednesday, as they put their record 11-game winning streak up against a strong Bosnia & Herzegovina team that includes the likes of Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Stuttgart forward Vedad Ibisevic and Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic. Making matters more difficult for U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is that he is without several of his top players due to the nature of this single FIFA fixture date, but there should still be no shortage of hungry Americans looking to boost their stocks ahead of September’s pair of World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Aron Johannsson falls under that category. The young AZ Alkmaar forward had his one-time switch approved by FIFA on Tuesday and is now likely to earn his first cap for the U.S. against Bosnia. Johannsson may not be assured of a start, but Klinsmann has talked about wanting to test the 22-year-old striker in games to see where he stands and Wednesday provides that opportunity, albeit against a team that is undefeated in their World Cup qualifying efforts.
For Johannsson, the chance to play could not have come at a much better time. He is off to a solid start in the Eredivisie campaign, scoring in each of Alkmaar’s first two games of the season (via penalty kicks). That should have him playing with plenty of confidence as he prepares to play in some capacity against a Bosnia back line that will be led by Bayer Leverkusen defender Emir Spahic.
There may be plenty of eyeballs on Johannsson on Wednesday, but he is not the only dual-national who will grabbing attention. John Anthony Brooks is also set to earn his first cap for the U.S., a big coup for U.S. Soccer considering Germany was recently expressing interest in the 20-year-old centerback that has begun to establish himself as a professional with Hertha Berlin.
While Brooks boasts an impressive combination of size, strength and skill, he is still very inexperienced, especially at the international level. Wednesday may be too soon to give him his first start since he is still learning how the U.S. plays and who his teammates are, but it is likely Brooks steps on the field at some point to measure himself against quality attackers like Dzeko and Pjanic.
The match vs. Bosnia will not only be about integrating new blood, however. Players like Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Edgar Castillo and Terrence Boyd who are the fringes of the full national team will be trying to state their case to Klinsmann ahead of September’s games, and making a good impression on Wednesday could prove vital to their chances of being included on next month’s roster.
Danny Williams is another player who will need to impress, as the depth in the U.S. midfield is seemingly at an all-time high. Williams was unable to showcase himself in the May-June camp due to injury, which combined with the standout showings of several players during the Gold Cup in July may have pushed him back on the depth chart, and he will need to perform well in the likely substitute role he is given if he wants to keep his name in the conversation.
The statuses of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Fabian Johnson may be more clear for the next round of qualifiers, but the five players will represent the core group that will need to help carry the U.S. against Bosnia. Altidore, especially, will be counted upon to shoulder the attacking load in the absences of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, but the Sunderland forward should be up for the challenge seeing as he is playing some of the best soccer in his career (he has scored in four straight games for the U.S.) and is facing a Bosnian defense that is still growing.
The Americans will surely try and push the tempo from the opening whistle as they search for win No. 12, but Bosnia has proven in recent times to be no slouch. That is why Wednesday is not solely about the U.S. trying to extend their winning streak, but also about trying to identify which players are best suited to help the team do so, now and in the near future.