United States vs. Chile in an international friendly on Saturday, January 22 at The Home Depot Center. BUY TICKETS
TeleFutura and ESPN3.com (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT)
The United States national team begins the 2011 campaign with a match against Chile, but both the Stars and Stripes and their South American counterparts will feature squads lacking in first-team talent. Only forward Esteban Paredes joined coach Marcelo Bielsa at the World Cup, while Bob Bradley one-upped his fellow coach by not calling a single member of the 23-man roster that traveled to South Africa. This is a match about both countries' youth movements.
As a result, the outcome doesn't really matter. Both managers would enjoy a victory, but the focus is on individual performances. Bradley wants to see how his inexperienced squad rises to the occasion after a 17-day training camp.
"This whole camp starts with trying to build things on a foundation of certain ideas," Bradley said Thursday. "That foundation is still getting [the players] to understand a little bit more what happens technically, tactically when the games get faster. So a lot of the general stuff that happens during training helps that and then as we get closer we try to create some situations in training where it's tighter, it's faster and they start to understand what the game might be like."
Many of the Chilean players will be looking to earn their first caps and battling nerves far from home, although their supporters likely purchased a significant number of the 11,000-plus tickets sold by noon on Thursday. They'll be hoping to impress Bielsa and earn a spot on the team that participates in this summer's Copa América in Argentina.
They'll play hard, but ultimately the Americans will prevail in a wide-open affair.
Bradley believes the opponent will present an important test to his side, especially considering his charges' lack of experience.
"I think they'll test us because Chile comes out and presses and is a team that can fly," he said. "Fly forward. Fly back. And so our ability to handle that kind of tempo and that kind of pressure will be very important."
That starts in the back, where Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream will likely team in central defense. Both men earned their first caps in 2010 – the former against Brazil while the latter traveled to South Africa in November – and will compete for a starting spot in the near future. The Gold Cup isn't out of reach for either, although they could be fighting for one spot.
In the midfield, Bradley should give Mikkel Diskerud some time to demonstrate how his creativity translates against a quick, pressing side. Alejandro Bedoya will likely anchor one flank, while Brek Shea will look to improve upon a poor debut that came in the October match against Colombia.
Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury and Chris Wondolowski – the only true strikers on the roster – will split time, with all three likely getting a shot. (US Soccer lists Eugene Starikov as a midfielder, but the new face could find himself up top as well.) The former two are the future, although the San Jose Earthquakes revelation of last season isn't ready to concede the position to the youth movement just yet.
Bielsa led his squad to the knockout stage of the 2010 World Cup, but this team barely resembles the one that fell to Brazil in the Round of 16. Colo-Colo's Paredes might have needed nametags at first. (For that matter, the coach probably could have used them as well.) Midfielders Fernando Meneses (Universidad Católica) and Felipe Seymour (Universidad de Chile) should start, but beyond that, it's a guessing game.
One thing is certain: Bielsa's teams attack, attack, attack and do so unpredictably. They'll play an aggressive formation – either a 4-3-3 or a 3-3-1-3 – and, as Bradley noted, fly around the field. They'll press. They'll shoot. They'll infuse creativity into their play. Or, at least they'll try. They could be doomed by inexperience.
And then there's the issue of the manager himself. He resigned from his position in late 2010, citing an ongoing feud with Harold Mayne-Nicholls and Jorge Segovia. Bielsa returned after the Chilean federation elected Sergio Jadue as president, but the media is focusing on whether this is the coach's final game at the helm. It's hard to tell if his players are distracted by the controversy whipping around them, but you have to think they'll be glad to get on the field and just play.
United States: Dax McCarty
The new D.C. United offseason acquisition is battling to move higher in the crowded American midfield, and his strong showing during the January camp is getting noticed. He can further ingratiate himself with Bradley by facilitating the American attack on Saturday and tracking back as well. It's unlikely McCarty will ever be a first-choice midfielder, but he could lead the second squad and prove a viable alternate.
Chile: Esteban Paredes
Really, it can't be anyone else. The 30-year-old forward will captain the team in his 20th appearance and boasts six goals to his name, the last coming in a May friendly with Northern Ireland. Paredes made two substitute appearances in South Africa, coming on at halftime in a 2-1 loss to Spain and earning a vital assist against Switzerland. He's dangerous on free kicks, but Chile will need his leadership the most at The Home Depot Center.
US Projected Starting XI
Nick Rimando, Ryan Miller, Omar Gonzalez, Anthony Wallace, Jeff Larentowicz, Dax McCarty, Alejandro Bedoya, Mikkel Diskerud, Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo
Chile Projected Starting XI
Paulo Garcés, Eugenio Mena, Sebastián Toro, Juan Abarca, Paulo Magalhaes, Edson Puch, Francisco Silva, Felipe Seymour, Esteban Paredes, Fernando Meneses, Daud Gazale
Pretty much anything could happen in this match. Expect a back-and-forth match with plenty of chances for both sides and a plethora of substitutions. When the final whistle blows, the Americans – helped by their 17 days together – will prevail by a 2-1 score.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.