US set to host Messi & Co. at Meadowlands
The last time the United States played Argentina, the teams battled to a 0-0 draw in the pouring rain at Meadowlands Stadium on June 11, 2008. It was a heroic performance from a plucky American side, especially goalkeeper Tim Howard, who made a series of amazing saves to keep the Albiceleste off the score sheet.
On Saturday they take the field again just a couple hundred yards away at the New Meadowlands Stadium (7 pm ET/4 pm PT; ESPN2, Univisión). The stars will be out: The US could field eight players who saw the field in 2008, while their opponents will have four or five.
For the US, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and many of the other A-teamers will don the Red, White and Blue for the first time since losing 3-0 to Brazil in August.
Argentina brings a loaded roster as well, led by Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Javier Pastore. Manager Sergio Batista recalled Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, two massive talents Diego Maradona left off the World Cup roster, but left Carlos Tévez and Sergio Agüero home.
Both sides hope to find themselves after their World Cup runs ended earlier than they would have liked. The fixture represents a stern test for each team as the managers seek to incorporate new players before the summer's regional championships.
More than anything, Saturday's match — and the one three days later against Paraguay — will serve as an opportunity for Bob Bradley to examine the state of his team before a Gold Cup they need to win. The manager originally called in Stuart Holden, Steve Cherundolo and Zak Whitbread, but the trio will miss the game with injuries. The first one hurts the most, as the Bolton Wanderers star was staking a legitimate claim for a starting spot.
Despite Holden's injury, the US midfield remains a crowded place. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu should start, with Mikkel Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan deserving of time, too.
The forward line, on the other hand, is thin with only Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore and Edson Buddle earning calls. Expect Altidore to start the game with 18-year-old Agudelo seeing the field as well. In his short career, the Red Bulls forward has positively impacted virtually every game he's played, and the US coaching staff can't deny that fact as much as they want to shield him from the spotlight.
Batista took over a reeling South American side that lost in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. The federation gave him an interim tag at first before handing the reins over after just three matches. Argentina is hosting the Copa América this summer and wants to show well in their easy group of Colombia, Japan and Bolivia.
They will continue to hone their 4-3-3, a formation that allows plenty of freedom on the flank and constantly looks forward. The squad Batista brings to the US is a mix of old workhorses and new faces with the still impossibly young Messi leading the way. The Barcelona superstar hasn't found as much success for his country, but perhaps his manager's tactical acumen — honed as a member of the World Cup-winning 1986 squad — can break the forward out of his funk.
Zanetti, shockingly left off Maradona's 23 for South Africa, is back in the fold and helping to anchor a back line that has been solid in recent months. They gave up a lone goal to Portugal and another to Venezuela in convincing victories. Getting to Sergio Romero will present a serious challenge for the US.
United States: Michael Bradley
The US isn't Bradley's team. And it might never be — there's no saying what happens on the inside, but he comes off as a little too focused, intense and demanding of himself to be an effective captain — but the workhorse midfielder certainly has no problems leading by example. He's been on the bench at Aston Villa, which means he'll want a strong performance to send a message back to England.
Argentina: Lionel Messi
Were you expecting someone else? The best player in the world ran rampant against the US in 2008 before coming off at the half. He won't play the entire match this time either, but Batista will give the fans at least 45 minutes of his superstar. Messi continues to perform magic tricks each week and keeping him off the score sheet will require some of the best team defending the US can muster.
US Projected Starting XI
Howard; Spector, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra; Donovan, Bradley, Dempsey, Jones; Edu, Altidore
Argentina Projected Starting XI
Romero; Zanetti, Milito, Rojo, Budisso; Mascherano, Pastore, Cambiasso; Banega, Messi, di María
The US were lucky not to concede a goal two years ago, but they won't be as fortunate in the New Meadowlands. They have enough offensive weapons to equalize — this is a team that has proven it can play from behind — but Messi & Co. will find the game-winner — and another.
Prediction: Argentina 3, United States 1
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.