Ecuador a more difficult challenge
Clint Dempsey has been arguably the best U.S. player this season
Jurgen Klinsmann likely to persist with Dempsey and Jozy Altidore as forwards
U.S. will announce two November friendlies in Europe this week
The U.S. men's national team bagged the first victory of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure on Saturday in a 1-0 win against Honduras, and the Yanks are back on the field Tuesday night in Harrison, N.J., against Ecuador (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Univisión, ESPN3.com), which won its first 2014 World Cup qualifier 2-0 against Venezuela on Friday.
Here are three things on my mind heading into USA-Ecuador:
Clint Dempsey is my choice for U.S. Player of the Year. The media ballots will go out soon for the Futbol de Primera Player of the Year, which has been known in the past as the Honda Player of the Year, given to the player who has performed best for the U.S. national team in the calendar year. The choice isn't a hard one to make, either. Dempsey has four goals in '11 -- Jozy Altidore is next with two -- along with one assist and has had the biggest positive impact of any U.S. player this year. (Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra would be my No. 2 and No. 3 choices, respectively.)
It's hard to believe that Dempsey has only won one of the Futbol de Primera awards over the years in 2006. (Landon Donovan, by contrast, has won seven.) But Dempsey feels like he has been stung by the voters in the past. "I don't really think about that," Dempsey said on Saturday. "The year I got the Bronze Ball in the Confederations Cup  I wasn't even nominated [as a top three finisher]. So that's an award that doesn't really register too much anymore with me. It would be nice to win it, but it's not something I'm going to think about."
Fair enough, but Dempsey does deserve it in '11. His quality was on display in his game-winning goal against Honduras, in which he had the poise to pause, shift the ball to his left foot and blast his shot into the net. Few U.S. players are even capable of such a move in the box. "It's kinda freestyle," Dempsey said after the game to explain the goal. "You just try to set yourself up in a way that you think you can get a good shot on goal to score."
Dempsey wore No. 10 for the first time in the Honduras game and told me the numbers were given to represent the position each player was filling on the field.
What to expect from USA-Ecuador. I don't think we'll see too many changes in the U.S. lineup, not least because Klinsmann doesn't have many games left to experiment before the U.S. begins World Cup qualifying next June. However, it's doubtful that Michael Orozco Fiscal will start again in the central defense. Manchester United's Antonio Valencia is the biggest name on Ecuador's squad, which should present a stiffer challenge than Honduras's B team did on Saturday. Here's my guess on the U.S. lineup:
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard.
Howard came up big on Saturday to make several important saves.
Defenders: Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Timmy Chandler.
Onyewu had a solid 45 minutes of defensive work on Saturday and is showing flashes of his pre-injury form.
Defensive midfielder: Maurice Edu.
If Klinsmann goes with a 4-1-3-2 again, Edu seems well-suited for this role.
Midfielders: Danny Williams, Michael Bradley, Brek Shea.
Bradley was a surprise inclusion on the bench on Saturday, but I expect we'll see him in the lineup on Tuesday. The question is whether he would be more advanced than Edu or the other way around.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey.
This worked out OK on Saturday.
U.S. Soccer is interested in staging men's games in Seattle and Portland, but it could be a while. MLS fans in the Pacific Northwest have made Seattle and Portland the epicenter of American soccer fandom in recent years, which has naturally led to their calls for more U.S. national team games to take place there. But for a number of reasons U.S. Soccer has gone a long time without staging a USMNT game in either locale. U.S. Soccer hasn't hosted a men's game in Portland since a friendly against Kuwait in 1998 -- the U.S. did beat Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier there in '97 -- and the federation hasn't hosted a game in Seattle since a 2003 friendly against Venezuela. (The U.S. did play Gold Cup games hosted by CONCACAF in Seattle in '05 and '09.)
I asked U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati about Seattle and Portland over the weekend, and he pointed out that the artificial turf fields in both cities present some issues. "We haven't played any qualifiers in quite some time on surfaces where we have to lay down sod, so that makes it a little bit tricky," Gulati said. "Second, when we have double-dates we want to try to minimize travel, and not only travel over the two games but for players coming from Europe. So it's a little bit different during European season than in MLS season. They're both terrific markets. Do I think we'll play there in the next couple of years? The answer is yes. When that is, I couldn't predict."
Temporary grass fields aren't the same as real grass, either. "There is an issue in all our stadiums that have artificial surfaces about laying down grass. Is there enough time to get it down?" Gulati said. "It doesn't play quite the same way. Coaches have told us that. That's why we haven't played any qualifiers there. Both are terrific markets, and hopefully we can get there soon."
The U.S. women's team did play a friendly in Portland on artificial turf last month. As for upcoming U.S. men's games, the federation is expected this week to announce two November friendlies that will take place in Europe. (The USSF has to wait until it's certain that potential European opponents won't have to participate in the November playoffs for Euro 2012 qualifying.) There will also be the usual January U.S. men's camp in California for MLS and Scandinavian-based players, along with one or two January friendlies that don't take place on FIFA dates (and thus won't feature U.S. players from most of the European leagues). There is only one FIFA international friendly date on Feb. 29 before the U.S.'s World Cup qualifying campaign starts in June.
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