Friendly matches can be hard to get one's head around - it's an exhibition, right? But they keep records, and the caps and goals count? And there are times, like in the months after a World Cup, when their presence on the calendar can seem an intrusion; international friendlies are that friend who always calls during the last 10 minutes of the Walking Dead, amirite?
This afternoon, the USA lines up against World Cup show ponies Colombia in a match that will decide nothing. The match will take place at Craven Cottage in London, the home ground of Fulham FC. Kickoff is scheduled for around 1:45 central, and the whole thing will be broadcast on both ESPN and UniMas.
So what's the point of this, again? The nature of international football means that there's never really a preseason. These players are paid by their clubs, and train with their clubs, and are then thrown together in the days before an international game; the coaching staff is expected to find balance and coherence somehow. Which is where these odd friendlies in the descending-action portion of the calendar come into play - these exhibitions are a sort of diffuse preseason for the international sides, offering a rare chance to try some different combinations outside the context of bottom-line competition.
To that end, the USA's rather unsettled defense should get a thorough examination today. Colombia feature headliner James Rodriguez, a creative winger who turned his World Cup heroics into a gig as the lightning-off-the-bench guy for Real Madrid, but the attacking talent doesn't stop there. Even the absence of Radamel Falcao doesn't blunt the expectation that the Colombians will pour forward with incredible flair at every opportunity.
USA roster gives understudies a chance
Sean Johnson's inclusion on the roster gives Chicagoans another reason to tune in. Of course, the Chicago Fire's season is dead and buried, rapidly decaying into vague memories of frustration and unhappiness. Johnson's not interrupting his postseason to travel to London; he's taking a couple days off of training with Hull FC.
Johnson is not expected to start either game in this set of friendlies (today's against Colombia, Tuesday's against Ireland); instead, Evergreen Park native and Providence Catholic product Brad Guzan will be trying to stake his claim on the No. 1 jersey in Tim Howard's absence.
Also missing are usual captains Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, meaning Jozy Altidore will wear the armband for this one, a prospect which will doubtless cause some banter to filter in from the general direction of Sunderland. It's also likely that this will be the only outing for those MLS players who are still in the playoffs - expect to see Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones and DeAndre Yedlin fly home Saturday.
The defensive side of the USA roster features more experience than the attacking positions. Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson all started in the World Cup; of the listed defenders, only Greg Garza missed the 23-man roster for Brazil '14. Interestingly, Jermaine Jones is listed as a defender, indicating the Jones-as-international-center-back experiment might still be underway.