When the clearly far more serious political concerns are set aside, United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have greeted the news of his side’s friendly with Ukraine going ahead with great relief.
Rising tensions in Ukraine had already forced the match to be moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca, Cyprus, before a late threat of outright cancelation was staved off. It remains to be seen to what degree Ukraine, who have not qualified for the World Cup, will be able to put aside the troubles at home when they take the pitch. Still, Klinsmann will be hoping to learn much from what represents his final chance to see his Europe-based players in action for the Stars and Stripes before he names his provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup on May 13.
The U.S. has a friendly with Mexico slated for April, but with that not being an official FIFA date, none of those plying their trade across the Atlantic are likely to be involved. As a result, following his January training camp with his domestic-based hopefuls, Klinsmann’s squad to take on Ukraine includes only those from Europe -- with the exception of Seattle Sounders’ Clint Dempsey, who has been on loan at Fulham and Club Tijuana’s Edgar Castillo. New Toronto FC signing Michael Bradley has withdrawn with injury, as has fellow midfielder Mix Diskerud and Bolton Wanderers defender Tim Ream.
Arguably the player getting the most attention from the U.S. party, which has been training in Frankfurt, Germany, has been one who will not even be kitted out on Wednesday. Julian Green, a 17-year-old forward with Bayern Munich, has been invited to train with the U.S. for the first time, despite the fact that he has not yet decided whether to play for the country of his birth and that of his father, the U.S., or that of his mother and where he grew up, Germany. There remains the possibility that Green could be offered the prospect of a place on the plane to Brazil as a huge temptation to hitch his international wagon to the Stars and Stripes.
Certainly the U.S. could do with some inspiration in their forward positions. Jozy Altidore returned to form with his country in some style in 2013, finding the net eight times on the back of a fine season with FC Twente in the Netherlands. Things have demonstrably not gone to plan, though, since his big move to Sunderland. The 24-year-old has scored just once in the Premier League and wasn’t even named among the substitutes for the Capital One Cup final on Sunday. Still, Klinsmann recently named Altidore as one of the five center-pieces of his team and a lock for the lone striker role in Brazil.
That will have been a blow to the man who has replaced Altidore at Twente, Aron Johannsson. The Icelandic youth international has scored 14 goals in the Eredivisie and has shown impressive glimpses in his appearances for the U.S. There still remains the chance that Johannsson’s greater all-round game than Altidore could still see him get in the side supporting the striker from wide. And that may be something Klinsmann chooses to experiment with against Ukraine. Also looking to impress in the wide spots, which still remain up for grabs, will be Alejandro Bedoya, Brek Shea and the versatile Fabian Johnson. With Landon Donovan and Graham Zusi not involved, each will need to have big games to impress.
In central midfield, Jermaine Jones will surely start and is, fitness permitting, a certainty to do likewise alongside Bradley in Brazil. But Danny Williams will be looking to show that he can be a reliable back-up, while there could be another chance for Sacha Kljestan to demonstrate that he can offer more on the ball than his rivals.
Defensively, Geoff Cameron could begin at right-back as he looks to show that he is a more reliable option in that position than the Seattle Sounders’ Brad Evans. At center-back, veteran Oguchi Onyewu gets a chance for the first time since last summer’s Gold Cup. The 31-year-old has played just 32 league games since the start of the 2009-10 season, having played for five different clubs in that time, but is now getting some regular action at Sheffield Wednesday in England’s second tier. At the other end of the age scale, Hertha Berlin’s John Brooks should start alongside Onyewu.
Ukraine could provide a real test, too. Ukraine only narrowly missed out on the World Cup after surrendering a 2-0 lead from the first-leg of their playoff with France when they went down 3-0 in the return match. But coach Mikhail Fomenko dramatically revived Ukraine’s fortunes when taking over midway through qualifying and can call upon the talented Yevhen Konoplyanka.
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick off from the Antonis Papadopoulos stadium at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.