BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, September 4, 2009
A lot will be at stake this Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah when the United States hosts El Salvador in a crucial World Cup Qualifying match.
The pressure will be firmly on the United States with anything less than a victory on Saturday greatly jeopardizing their qualification hopes. With Honduras, Mexico, and Costa Rica all playing very well as of late, winning at home has become a priority for the USA.
There are many key decisions that United States coach Bob Bradley will have to make as he decides upon his starting lineup. The biggest decisions he will make are in how he will align his defense.
At the centerback positions, Oguchi Onyewu is suspended for Saturday night's match and Jay DeMerit has been battling a mild groin strain and is listed as day to day. Carlos Bocanegra has been playing left-back recently, but with Onyewu's absence, he could be forced back to the middle. If DeMerit cannot play, either Chad Marshall or Clarence Goodson could be moved into the starting lineup.
At starting right-back, another key decision between Steve Cherundolo and Jonathan Spector will have to be made by Bradley. Cherundolo was the USA's starting right back against Mexico in the last World Cup qualifier on August 12th, but Spector started all the games for the USA in the Confederations Cup where the Americans earned a second place finish.
In the midfield, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley are certain to start. The final midfield position will see Bob Bradley go with either the attack-oriented Benny Feilhaber or the more defensive minded Ricardo Clark.
Up front, Charlie Davies has been red hot for both club and country for the last several months, and will probably start. Bob Bradley has another difficult decision with which player will start at the other forward position. Brian Ching, when healthy, has been a first choice forward for most of this World Cup qualifying cycle but the recent strong play from 19-year-old Jozy Altidore could move Ching to the bench.
Another main concern for the United States entering Saturday's game is that of yellow-card accumulation. Nine of the 24 players on the roster are carrying a yellow card, and should any of them receive another yellow against El Salvador, they will be forced to sit out Wednesday's qualifier on the road against Trinidad and Tobago.
The nine players currently carrying yellows are Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jay DeMerit, Conor Casey, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber and Jozy Altidore.
The last meeting between these two teams was on March 28th in El Salvador, where the Americans rallied to a 2-2 tie after falling behind 2-0.
While El Salvador has seen its chances of qualifying greatly decreased since then, they are still bringing a team that consists of 11 players from that first World Cup qualifier against the USA. They will also be adding the services of Arturo Alvarez. Under the new FIFA ruling the Texas-born midfielder has switched national team affiliations from the United States to El Salvador.
The USA will enter the game as strong favorites. They are ranked 11th in the world according to the latest FIFA rankings and are 13-1-5 all-time versus the 85th ranked El Salvador, with 43 goals scored and 12 surrendered.
The Americans currently are in third place in the CONCACAF region with 10 points and are ahead of Mexico by only one point. El Salvador sits in fifth place with five points. The top three teams in CONCACAF advance to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the fourth place team must play the fifth team from South American.