The United States return to action Saturday night to face Venezuela. As typical of January fixtures for the United States, the team will be mostly an MLS squad as it is not a FIFA International Date. Three cycles ago, that was a not a thing for the United States to brag upon, hence the name "Camp Cupcake" evolved, because there were so few first-teamers on the squad.
However, in recent years, the quality has improved and typically 6-7 players make contributions to the World Cup squad we'll see in two years. Hopefully, these men are from Sporting Kansas City, as Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury, and CJ Sapong were all invited to the camp.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), A.J. DeLaGarza (LA Galaxy), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Heath Pearce (Chivas USA), Jeff Parke (Seattle Sounders)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (New England Revolution), Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Jermaine Jones (FC Schalke)
FORWARDS (4): Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), C.J. Sapong (Sporting Kansas City), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
My (Not Klinsmanns) starting eleven:
DeLaGarza Parkhurst Cameron Pearce
Zusi Feilhaber Shea
Frankly, I don't think Jones should start in midfield; he is a yellow card waiting to happen (a red if the player he stomps on is on the ground injured). I see the alternative as Beckerman or Clark there and that bothers me, despite how badly I feel for Clark's career trajectory. Beckerman also has been injured, so it's likely he's not going to play. In fact, I would just put Larentowicz there out of spite.
Now, some may say I'm letting my Sporting KC rose-colored glasses take over my reasoning, but simply if the United States comes out with two forwards; those are the ones who need to be starting. Agudelo is hurt and out of form. Also, we know what Wondolowski brings us. As for Zusi staring, he has the best delivery on set pieces out of this squad, and has shown a nose for goal in the past two scrimmages which has been a problem of late for Americans. Note, that this also means that Wondolowski will be on the field also in place of Sapong and Bunbury, with Shea and Zusi playing higher up as wingers and another holding midfielder on the field.
The problem with picking a lineup for this team is I have no idea which formation they will come out with. If they play 4-2-3-1, expect another holding midfielder like Jones, Beckerman, or Clark subbed for Sapong. If it is a 4-3-3 like Sporting plays, just move Shea up as a left wing and Zusi and Feilhaber out wide. Whoever starts expect almost everyone to play and Klinsmann to use most or al; of his subs.
I like the fact that we even have to discuss who to start, because in the past it had been painful (Bornstein is our best left back) and painfully obvious (hey, only eleven of these guys are any good this year!).
GOALKEEPERS: Alan Liebeskind (Lara), Leonardo Morales (Anzoategui)
DEFENDERS: Joel Caceres (Lara), Gabriel Cichero (Lens), Javier Gonzalez (Petare), Rubert Quijada (Monagas), Carlos Rivero (Anzoategui), Andres Rouga (Tachira), Carlos Salazar (Anzoategui), Jose Manuel Velazquez (Mineros)
MIDFIELDERS: Angel Chourio (Real Esppor), Diomar Diaz (Petare), Agnel Flores (Mineros), Francisco Flores (Anzoategui), Edgar Perez Greco (Lara), Alejandro Guerra (Mineros), Diego Guerrero (Tachira), Miguel Mea Vitali (Lara)
FORWARDS: Richard Blanco (Petare), Darwin Machis (Mineros), Alejandro Moreno (Chivas USA), Hermes Palomino (Cherno More), Emilio Renteria (Columbus Crew), Jose Reyes (Anzoategui)
Like the United States this is not Venezuela's first team lineup. It's made up mostly of domestic players and two MLS players Alejandro Moreno and Emilio Renteria. Only one, Miguel Mea Vitali, has a significant number of caps, but he's been a backup recently. With this in mind, the United States should win this match. Venezuela plays a typical 4-4-2, but more like Bradley's US squads it is an empty bucket. They have two holding midfielders and with the wrong players in that role have trouble with distribution at times. Since this is a match of reserves, they may play a different style but I don't expect Venezuela's open play to be better but perhaps more direct. No matter the quality if the delivery on set pieces is good, they can be dangerous as well.
Venezuela reached the semifinals of last year's Copa America, and is an up and coming team in CONMEBOL. Unfortunately, the room for error in CONMEBOL is slim. In CONCACAF, the ability of a team with a decent talent pool moving from tenth to third isn't as hard. For example, the disparity from Costa Rica and Honduras to Canada and Jamaica is not that much. In Europe, the same goes for qualification, as there are six traditional powers (ESP, GER, ENG, FRA, ITA, NED) for 13 spots. CONMEBOL has 5.5 spots, one given to Brazil as hosts and barring a disaster also Argentina and Uruguay(always possible in Argentina). Chile has also been a strong qualifier, and Paraguay has shown a unique ability to draw their way through tournaments (Reached the Copa America final by drawing five times).
However, at the quarter way point of qualifying, they are tied for first in the standings, although some teams have a game in hand. If Venezuela even qualifies for the play-in spot, it will be a huge win for their team, and if they could only play Argentina every match, they would be assured of that at.
Results and Prediction
2-0 United States
The US has won twice and drawn once with Venezuela, the two wins coming this decade by a 2-0 scoreline. I think that's score we see here as well, but if the United States comes out flat, they should be wary of set pieces.