Preview: United States v. Bolivia friendly 2018

Bolivia is not a particularly good team, and this isn’t the strongest side they can trot out. For that reason, I think this will be more a “man vs. self” or “man vs. expectations” storyline than “man vs. opponent.”

Dave Sarachan will want to get a result, but also give his successor a bit of an opportunity to evaluate the talent pool, perhaps help give exposure to players who could benefit from a move in their club situations (lookin’ at you, Matthew Olosunde), and perhaps as importantly as anything, entertain the fans. That last point is something that hasn’t happened enough since the Trinidad game, even though there should have been the opportunity to pile up goals against at least Paraguay.

The essentials

Opponent: Bolivia (No. 57 FIFA, No. 47 ELO), 1-2-2 in last five matches.
The Line: USA -280, draw +315, Bolivia +750
Time, Location: 5:30 p.m. CDT (6:30 local) • Chester, Pa.
Event: Friendly between loser teams who won’t be in the World Cup
Weather: 71° F, 74% humidity, 4% chance of rain, 7 MPH SSW winds.
Watch: Fox Sports One. See the list of soccer bars in Nashville – Tailgate Demonbreun with the American Outlaws.
Etc.: My look at Bolivia.

Los Altiplanicos

This team should be pretty poor, and there’s not a whole lot to know about them: like the United States, this is a youthful, experimental roster to figure out where things stand going into the next cycle. Unlike the United States, I hadn’t heard of pretty much any of their players prior to writing Saturday’s post.

With the majority of the squad playing in the domestic league in Colombia (and none even on one of the perennial top two teams in the league), it’s a tough side to research.

The rule of thumb here states that when it’s tough to research a team’s roster, it often means they aren’t going to make a ton of noise on the international stage. We’re hoping the United States… is on pace to get back to that, at least. As mentioned at the top, the caliber of opponent is low enough that this game will tell us more about the Americans than the Bolivians.

The Yanks

With that said, this is a pretty nice roster for Dave Sarachan. There’s the obvious star (Pulisic), a couple established vets to provide a steady hand (Eric Lichaj, Jorge Villafaña, Joe Corona), and plenty of players who we’re excited to see either for the very first time or the first extended time for the senior national team.

Sarachan has gone 4-1-4-1 with his formation in the previous games we’ve seen, and I have no reason to expect that to change (especially with the dearth of pure strikers called in). Without further ado, sort of a hybrid between what I think we’ll actually see and what I’d like to see:

IMG_7D05B12FA463-1.jpeg

From the top, there are only two striker options (as mentioned above), and I’d rather see Andrija Novakovich begin the game with the youthful Josh Sargent coming in as a sub: both are young and unproven, so even though Sargent is seen as the potential future of the position, there’s plenty to be gained by evaluating Novakovich, as well.

At the midfield, there’s no question we’ll see Christian Pulisic on the field, and given that he’s played more centrally for the United States than his wing position with Dortmund, let’s slide him into the middle. That lets Timothy Weah and Julian Green man the wide midfield positions (you can flip them if you so desire). Lynden Gooch is also a central player.

Weston McKennie is one of two or three options to be the holding midfielder of the future for the United States, and the leader in the clubhouse at this point. Let’s see him in that role (I could also see more of a 4-2-3-1 formation with Keaton Parks joining him in the defensive midfield, as well).

Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are two of the best centerbacks in the pool (a healthy John Brooks being No. 1 – though it’s unclear if that mythical being even exists), so let’s put them next to each other not only to get the best options on the field, but to allow them to build some chemistry as a central pairing, as well. Antony Robinson and Eric Lichaj were both called in for the Paraguay friendly, but neither saw the field. Sarachan flips that this time around – Robinson’s playing time being a sign of the youth revolution, Lichaj’s providing a steady hand at the back even if he might age out by the next World Cup qualifiers.

At the back, I’m still a believer in Ethan Horvath, even if his howler against Portugal has folks cooling on him (he wasn’t as bad in that one as Liverpool’s keeper was in the Champions League final!). I’m not big on Bill Hamid – he’s decent, but a 27-year-old needs to be better than decent if there’s competition at the position – and Alex Bono seems like a “consistent third call-in” player in terms of likely ceiling in this pool.

A good mix of youth (first cap for Robinson, second for Novakovich, Weah, and McKennie, fourth for Carter-Vickers and Horvath), and a bit of experience (though the 19-year old Pulisic is the most capped player in this group), and I expect heavy substitution, especially if the game is comfortable in the second half. We didn’t see enough rotation against Paraguay, and it’d be wiser to try to put this one away earlier so Sarachan has the luxury of focusing on getting new players on the field rather than result – which I and others criticized him for in March.

Predictions

This should be a comfortable win, and anything less is going to be… annoying? There’s not too much more to take from it at this point in the cycle.

  • Christian Pulisic, Ethan Horvath, Eric Lichaj, and Andrija Novakovich are replaced at halftime. One is established, the other three are at positions that need to see other players get their chances to prove themselves, as well.
  • Fortunately, the United State has a 3-0 lead by the time any of that happens, with Pulisic recording a goal and an assist (Novakovich finishing that one), and the other goal a corner kick from Weston McKennie that Matt Miazga nods home.
  • Matt Olosunde (who enters for Lichaj) and Erik Palmer-Brown get onto the field in the “get this guy some exposure in an international friendly so that he gets scouted and moved in his club situation”-type runouts. Olosunde seems unlikely to get onto the field for Manchester United’s second team, and letting other teams see him for loan evaluation is a solid idea. Palmer-Brown is at least a year from seriously challenging for Premier League minutes (and even further for Man City), and letting him show he deserves a loan at the Championship level or so will be nice.
  • The second half has a little less fluidity to it, what with the liberal substitution, and Bolivia nets a goal, while Sargent also opens his USMNT account, earning the honor to put a penalty kick away in about the 70th minute.

Add ’em up, folks. That’s a 4-1 win for the United States over Bolivia, the most resounding victory since the 4-0 win over Panama just a couple days before… nothing of note happened. It’s a good way to turn the page to the next cycle, with a couple bigger friendlies on the horizon against Ireland and a French side that are (begins sobbing semi-controllably) headed for the World Cup.

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