Young U.S. stars to be tested more by Ireland than they were by Bolivia
For the U.S. men's national team, there was plenty to feel good about following the 3-0 win over Bolivia on Monday. The younger elements of the squad showed some promise, and the whole team rightfully dominated an opponent that was not at full strength.
One suspects, however, that Saturday's match against Ireland (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ UniMas/UDN) will witness the U.S. jolted back to reality. Outside of defender Ronald Raldes, who earned his 100th cap that night, Bolivia's starting lineup had a combined total of 30 international appearances. Ireland has considerably more experience with defender John O'Shea (118 caps), forward Shane Long (81) and midfielder James McLean (52), just to name a few.
Coming off Monday's 2-0 friendly defeat to France, it is possible Ireland manager Martin O'Neill may opt for some of the younger players at his disposal -- but O'Shea, who will be retiring from international play after the game, will definitely be on the field. One American at least will be happy to see O'Shea get his due.
"[O'Shea] was a leader on our team at Sunderland when I played for Sunderland," U.S. defender DeAndre Yedlin told reporters on Thursday. "He's a great guy, he's had a great career, I think everybody knows about him. It will be cool to be there for that and see him again."
Yedlin is one of 10 players that U.S. manager Dave Sarachan has brought into the fold following Monday's match, while releasing seven others. Midfielder Christian Pulisic is one of the departures, but many of the additions are of the veteran variety, at least in terms of club level. And when combined with some of the rising talents already on the roster, it stands to reason that Sarachan will field a more experienced lineup against the Irish.
The center-back pairing of Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers was held out of the Bolivia match, not only so Sarachan could get a look at other players, but also to save the duo for the tougher matches ahead. Jorge Villafana is also available, and when combined with Yedlin should give the U.S. some experience in the back.
"We need to be ready and prepared, and if anything we just need to make sure we're working hard," Yedlin said.
In midfield, Wil Trapp is a player who has clearly caught Sarachan's eye, having already made two appearances this calendar year, and a central partnership with Weston McKennie, who showed well against Bolivia, will make for an interesting duo.
Perhaps the most intriguing choices are in the attacking positions. The skills of Kenny Saief are something that observers are still getting to know, even if he did take part in the 1-0 victory over Paraguay in March. He spent much of that game on the left, though he did tuck inside at times, but he's the closest thing the current U.S. roster has to a playmaker and he'll need to provide some heavy doses of creativity regardless of where he's stationed on the field. McKennie's presence means Tyler Adams can push further up field, probably on the right.
Bobby Wood figures to start as the lone striker, even after a season of discontent with relegated Hamburg, so that still leaves the central playmaking role to be determined. Joe Corona's composure on the ball might make him a candidate to fill that spot. Julian Green spent plenty of time playing as a second striker during his loan spell with Greuther Furth, and he could see some minutes in that role as well. Another alternative is to start Saief there from the start.
Regardless, there is still likely to be a fair number of inexperienced elements in the Sarachan's starting lineup, with about half of that projected lineup having fewer than 10 caps. The liberal substitution rules figure to provide some of the less experienced players a chance to build on their performances from Monday.
"You're going to be nervous, that's normal," Yedlin said. "But just get settled into the game, make a few easy passes at first and just get yourself settled, and once you get settled it's just like any other game."
A similar lineup was sent out against Portugal last November and that group showed no fear in a 1-1 draw. A similar approach could see this young U.S. side acquit themselves in a positive fashion in Dublin.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.