The United States takes the field for just the second time (the first was a draw in Portugal back in early November) since learning that a summer visit to Russia was not in the plans for 2018. With no World Cup on the horizon – for either team – and an MLS-heavy squad, what is there to be gained from the contest?
Opponent: Bosnia and Herzegovina (No. 38 FIFA, No. 36 ELO)
Venue: StubHub Center • Carson, Calif.
Time: 6:30 p.m. PST (8:30 p.m. in Nashville)
USA squad: GK Alex Bono, Cody Cropper, Bill Hamid, Zack Steffen. D Danny Acosta, Justen Glad, Nick Lima, Justin Morrow, Ike Opara, Tim Parker, Matt Polster, Brandon Vincent, Walker Zimmerman. M Tyler Adams, Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Marky Delgado, Marlon Hairston, Ian Harkes, Christian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Wil Trapp. F Juan Agudelo, Brooks Lennon, Jordan Morris, Christian Ramirez, Rubio Rubin, CJ Sapong, Gyasi Zardes
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Like the United States, Bosnia has brought a group light on national team experience after missing out on the 2018 World Cup. Their most-capped player is 32-year old Philadelphia Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin with 56. He was the Union’s 2017 player of the year with 12 assists and two goals after previously plying his trade in Israel and Spain (among other stops in the Netherlands, where he grew up, and Turkey).
The only other caps come from keeper Ibrahim Šehić (six), midfielder Zoran Kvržić (four), and a single one for midfielder Goran Zakarić and defenders Almir Bekić and Daniel Graovac. Šehić plays for Qarabag in the Azerbaijani Premier league (No. 275 globally according to FiveThirtyEight, behind only three MLS teams), and Kvržić at Rijeka in Croatia (No. 144 globally). The other two – like most of this squad – play in the domestic league, which doesn’t register a single team on the global power rankings.
There are a couple other players at big clubs, though. That is led by midfielder Marivan Ćavar, a 19-year old who moved to Eintracht Frankfurt in the January transfer window. A Bundesliga player is probably going to be a guy to watch. He’s scored two goals in eight appearances for Bosnia’s youth program.
They have one more player not playing domestically, but he’s plying his trade in the NCAA: sophomore forward Elvir Ibišević scored a team-leading nine goals and added an assist for a Nebraska-Omaha team that made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season.
Shockingly, stats on the Bosnia and Herzegovina Premijer League are very difficult to find, so it’s tough to know how good any of these uncapped players are. This is a fairly similar squad to that of the Americans: a young group (two players over 30, nine who are 23 or younger) that is full of players who want to prove themselves in order to be part of the national team picture going forward. Some of them will make that leap to MNT regulars; many will likely not.
If this was a first-choice squad, you’d be likely to recognize at least a couple more names: Roma (and former Man City) striker Edin Džeko has been the side’s captain in recent years, midfielder Miralem Pjanić plays for Serie A rival Juventus, and keeper Asmir Begović is in the English Premier League with Bournemouth. It is not; you will not. The new manager is former Croatia international Robert Prosinečki, whose time leading Azerbaijan saw them… be basically the same (bad) quad they had been before. They were at least exciting, with high goals for and against in their failed World Cup Qualifying bid.
What to look for from the Americans
Goalkeeper battle. He’s only 27, but does anyone feel like it’s getting late early for Bill Hamid? He probably should have had more opportunities behind Tim Howard and Brad Guzan (in the eyes of this observer, should have had chances to pass Guzan on the depth chart), and at 27 now, he’ll be 31 before the next possible World Cup game. That’s not super-old in KeeperLand, but with some talented young guys in the pipeline, he’ll have to be good to beat them out. With a move to Denmark on the horizon after this game, establishing himself as a clear No. 1 has to be his goal.
That’s in part because one of the talented youngsters trying to vie for the starting role will potentially play half the game. Zack Steffen is just 22, but the Columbus Crew man was one of MLS’s top keepers this season, and could be a long-term first-choice guy if he’s able to beat out Hamid (and some keepers not in this camp, like Evan Horvath and Jonathan Klinsmann) and continue to develop over the next few years.
Got your six. So, the US Youth teams’ top holding midfielder option, Jonathan Gonzalez, has officially received his one-time switch authorization and will play for Mexico (potentially as early as Bosnia’s second friendly next week). With him out of the picture, the cupboard isn’t bare – though the upside takes a major hit.
Tyler Adams is the next national team starlet to potentially make a move overseas (Roma is reportedly very interested in him), and the 18-year old New York Red Bulls homegrown player accounted for an absurd proportion of MLS minutes played by American teenagers last year. Christian Roldan is another defensively-minded midfielder, and at 22 is right in the sweet spot to seriously contend for a role in the 2022 World Cup cycle. He’s more a box-to-box guy, so a nice pairing for Adams.
Who’s gonna score? Probably Jordan Morris, with some Gyasi Zardes mixed in. They’re the all-time leading scorers from this selection, with Zardes boasting six tallies in 37 caps and Morris five in 24 appearances. Only two other players on the squad have multiple USMNT goals: forgotten man Juan Agudelo (three in 27 caps) and midfielder Paul Arriola. Like many other guys who aren’t first-team regulars by the time they’re 25, it’s unlikely Agudelo is going to be a star, but given the early trajectory of his MNT career, he’s considered washed-up when there’s a chance his best international years are ahead of him.
CJ Sapong will almost certainly not contribute to the next World Cup team, but the 29-year old looked very solid against Portugal in November, and as an elder statesman of the group, could provide a bit of leadership in the offensive end of things. Gold Cup and other continental competition is still in play for the Philadelphia Union man – and of course, he’s very familiar with the star for Bosnia, given that Haris Medunjanin assisted on two of his goals for the Union last Summer.
Young guns. As stated many times, this is more a roster built to find out what’s available in the player pool than to translate directly into a first-choice group within the next cycle. Adams is the only 18-year old on the roster, but the Real Salt Lake trio of 20-year olds Danny Acosta, Justen Glad, and Brooks Lennon all figure to have a real chance to be key players in the future – it should come as no surprise that an MLS side making serious investments in development is cranking out potential MNTers.
Arriola is 22, and it’s easy to forget, with what has seemed like an up-and-down national team career already, that Jordan Morris is only 23 years of age. He’s an imperfect player – and his imperfections are much-discussed – but certainly one who can continue to develop and be a key one when the Jozy Altidores of the world can’t be relied upon anymore (you can spare me the cynical joke on that one, by the way).
Back line blues. The defenders didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory late in the 2018 WC qualifying cycle, what with Omar Gonzalez scoring one of the two goals that officially knocked the Americans out of the tournament, and multiple players combining to allow acres of space for the wonderstrike that sealed the victory for Trinidad. Given that the majority of the best defenders are playing overseas, the MLS-heavy side will be youthful or… guys who aren’t likely to get meaningful time when the games matter.
That means from the perspective of this site, we’re most interested in those we haven’t seen a ton of yet. Justin Morrow and Ike Opara are going to be who we’ve seen from them in MLS veteran careers. Give me Acosta and Lima – heck, give me LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman – to find out what the back lines of the future may look like.
This is neither team’s first-choice squad, and in fact Morris (and maybe Zardes) for the Americans and Medunjanin for Bosnia are probably the only guys who could have been considered regular call-ups in the recent past or who will be in the immediate future – though I do expect the Americans to continue bringing in some of the top youngsters in the pre-WC friendlies. Either way, do you trust MLS more than you trust the Bosnian Premijer League to have quality players and depth? I do.
This may be a high-scoring game with a young back-line for the Americans, and a Bosnia manager that appears to be willing to throw numbers forward even if it means his squad is going to get burned by it.
United States wins 4-1.
American scorers: Jordan Morris (1), Juan Agudelo (1, 1 Assist), Gyasi Zardes (1), Kelyn Rowe (1), CJ Sapong (1 Assist).
Medunjinan assists Mersudin Ahmetović for Bosnia’s lone goal.
Bill Hamid gets the start and allows the goal, Zack Steffen replaces him at halftime in a planned switch.