USMNT

Friendly preview: USMNT v. Switzerland

The prospects for today’s friendly are very different from the one a couple days ago. It’s the second in a two-game window for the US, but second of a three-game window for the Green and White Army – and either bookend is a competitive match for Northern Ireland.

The essentials

Opponent: Switzerland
Time, Location: Sunday, May 30, 1:15 p.m. CDT • St. Gallen, Switzerland
Watch party: TailGate Music Row with AO Nashville
Weather: 58ºF, 1% chance of rain, 55% humidity, negligible wind
Watch: ESPN (national) • Unimás/TUDN (nacional)

The FIFA rankings: USA 20 , Switzerland 13
Competition: International friendly (tune-up match for Nations League final round)

The Rossocrociati

This match is one of two preparation friendlies (the other is against Liechtenstein Thursday) for the Swiss with Euro 2021 beginning against Wales in just under two weeks from Baku, Azerbaijan. For that reason, this is a full-strength squad, but the lineup choices may be a little bit mixed to tweak some tactical and personnel choices and make sure nobody gets worn out before the games really count. Nonetheless, it’ll be the Liechtenstein (No. 186 in the FIFA world rankings) that is the true “rest game” if manager Vladimir Petković opts for one at all.

The Swiss have played three games – two in UEFA World Cup Qualifying and one friendly – in 2021, and are currently undefeated. The Swiss stand second behind Italy in Group C for qualifying, with one fewer game played. Petković has also shown a bit of tactical flexibility: his team went with a 3-5-2 in the friendly against Finland and a 3-0 qualifying win over Bulgaria, but rolled out a 4-4-2 in beating Lithuania 1-0 in the other qualifier. They’ve been almost-exclusively a back-three group under him historically, though.

Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Yann Sommer is the lock first-choice goalkeeper, with Montpellier’s Jonas Omlin and Yvon Mvogo getting the No. 2 minutes lately. Sommer allowed 50 goals on just 43.3 xG for Gladbach this season, and I wouldn’t chalk much of that up to level of competition: his squad was solidly middle-of-the-table and six of the goals allowed came on penalties (no saves), which is a moderately high number but far from the most-exposed in the league.

The back three is also fairly locked-in, when healthy. Sommer’s Gladbach teammate Nico Elvedi is on the left, Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji in the middle, and Ricardo Rodriguez of Italy’s Torino plays on the right. Rodriguez plays primarily as a left back for his club, and will shift over there if the Swiss go to a back-four. I would not anticipate a move to an even backline in this one, though, with Petković needing to work his preferred tactical approach before significant meaningful games arrive.

Premier League fans will be familiar with two of the Swiss midfielders: Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are far and away the biggest names for the Swiss right now (and quite possibly ever, by the time they finish their careers). Xhaka plays as a holder for Arsenal while Shaqiri is a left-footed in-cutting right winger or attacking midfielder for Liverpool. His 2020-21 season for the Reds was limited by injury early, and then he had trouble finding minutes in the squad later in the year. In just over 500 minutes played, he has just two assists on 0.4 xG and 3.0 xA. He’s nonetheless a crucial piece for this Switzerland squad, and a lock-starter at the No. 10 in the 3-5-2, or on the right wing in a setup with attacking wingers.

Xhaka’s holding midfield partner is almost always (regardless of tactical setup – they play a double-pivot with even backlines, as well) Remo Freuler, a 29-year old who plays for Italy’s Atalanta. The wide midfield spots have a bit more rotation: Steven Zuber (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Ruben Vargas (Augsburg) get plenty of time on the left, while Edimilson Fernandes (Mainz), and Silvan Widmer (in the Swiss domestic league with Basel) play as the wingbacks – though Vargas is listed as a forward and much more a true winger, while Widmer and Wolfburg’s Kevin Mbabu are defense-first and play fullback in back-four setups.

Up top, Haris Seferović of Benfica is the top choice, complemented mostly by Gladbach’s Greel Embolo and 31-year old Mario Gravanović of Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia in the front two. If Switzerland plays with one forward, it’s almost certainly Seferović. He scored 22 goals in Portugal this year (over a third of his team’s total), and was also fourth on the squad with seven assists. It was not a banner year for Benfica, finishing nine points out of first – and with just one title in the four years he’s been there, it’s been a big of a down period for the country’s most historically successful club, though Seferović did lead the league in scoring in 2018-19, the year of the lone title he’s experienced in Portugal. Embolo was third in xG (7.0) and fifth in actual goals for a fairly prolific Gladbach attack.

As you can see from the above, the plurality of the Swiss selections ply their trade in Germany, with a healthy sprinkling of clubs around Europe, as well (including in the Swiss league itself).

The Americans

I usually keep this section short because there’s not a lot I’m going to teach about the USMNT that can’t be learned in other places like the Scuffed podcast or American Soccer Now (among literally dozens of others: that’s just a couple that spring to mind). While I did actually begin this site with a USMNT focus before Nashville SC kicked a ball professionally, clearly the priority has shifted over the past four years.

That said, the majority of analysts expect (thanks to a fair amount of openness from Gregg Berhalter) the USMNT to roll out a best-possible lineup for this match. As the program prepares for the cadence of three-match international breaks in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying, this match is the walkthrough for the players’ European club match before flying across the Atlantic for two or three qualifying matches (which are represented by the Nations League semifinal and final/third-place game and then the Costa Rica friendly immediately thereafter).

Do you bother flying David Ochoa across the ocean if he’s not going to start this game (particularly given that the subsequent three games are in the Rocky Mountain region – including the CRC match in his home stadium in Salt Lake City)? I don’t think so. I would hope he gets the starting nod over Ethan Horvath – a goalkeeper who I’ve liked historically, and is still just 25 despite the fact that it sometimes feels like his window has closed – and Chituru Odunze.

At centerback, a healthy John Brooks – to be fair, that adjective does not apply nearly as much as we’d like – is a lock starter, and I’m agnostic as to whether Matt Miazga or Mark McKenzie is the better RCB complement next to him. I would imagine rotation over the four-game window will see the three each get a fair amount of playing time. Sergiño Dest (did you hear the USMNT has a player who regularly starts for freakin’ Barcelona?) will start at one fullback position in the first-choice lineup, and perhaps the most intriguing lineup decision of the window is which other FBs – Antonee Robinson on the left, DeAndre Yedlin and Reggie Cannon top contenders on the right – are selected, because that’ll go a long way toward determining which side of the pitch Dest lines up playing.

I’m an established Jackson Yueill-liker, so I would have much more positive feelings about seeing him at the holding spot (in a 4-4-3, assuming that’s the approach) than many others might. He has to be complemented with more rangy attackers – primarily so they can track back – but I’ve long liked not only his accuracy with long passes, but also the audacity to try to hit some of them. There’s been talk in the fanbase about trying Yunus Musah as a holder to provide a little more athleticism and offense there – while veteran (still just 25!) Kellyn Acosta can be a bit more of a blend between the two. Weston McKennie is a Brooks-level lock when healthy – as would be Tyler Adams, but he shares Brooks’s injury-prone reputation – and I’m a pretty big Sebastian Lletget guy, and wouldn’t be disappointed to see him get some minutes over, like Julian Green.

I’m not a Josh Sargent guy*, though I’m fully aware that Berhalter is going to give him every opportunity to succeed with the USMNT because of that longer-term potential. He’s also the only experienced center forward on the roster at this point (Daryl Dike isn’t available until the fourth game of the window, and he and Jordan Siebatcheu have only two caps apiece, Matthew Hoppe has yet to get his first cap), so he’s option No. 1 at this point.

On the wings, I’d really like to see Brenden Aaronson get a significant run-out: he made massive strides in his European move, and he’s seemed to add a quickness to his game that sees him more able to thrive as a pure winger. Gio Reyna and Tim Weah are obviously far more polished at the position and experienced in Big-5 league in Europe. There’s a lot of positional versatility with all (Reyna can play inside as an attacking mid or even striker, Weah has been a striker first and foremost at various stages of his career, Aaronson can be an attacking mid), so we could see some shuffling. Berhalter has mentioned that Aaronson and Reyna in particular will give different looks to the opposition in this window, so let’s try ’em various places.

* Without going into a novel about it: yes, he plays for a terrible Werder Bremen team and that plays a major role in his lack of production at the club level. A lot of the things I don’t care for – he’s not intelligent enough in his movement to make up for a lack of quick-twitch athleticism – are independent of the situation he’s in. Being big, technical, and fast over long distances are obviously good building blocks if he can improve in the mental game or develop some of that quickness, but it ain’t there yet

Predictions

Both teams have every reason to play first-choice rosters. Neither, however, has much to lose by over-pursuing the win. For that reason, it could be an exciting, up-and-down game. Despite the difference in FIFA rankings, I see as much to like from the US as I do from Switzerland. A road draw (or win) would help the US’s rankings more than a loss would hurt – and moving up to the top 12 (which would be massive for World Cup seeding) wouldn’t be out of the question with a strong run through World Cup Qualifying.

I want to see attacking, is what I’m getting at here. I think both teams have little to lose by getting after it.

The game finishes in a 2-2 draw.

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