[USA CONFIDENTIAL] In the fifth game of Jurgen Klinsmann's reign as U.S. head coach he and the Americans meet South American opposition for the first time. A sellout crowd of 27,000 is expected at Red Bull Arena Tuesday to see the Americans play Ecuador (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, Univision) in the fifth game of Klinsmann’s reign. He used 16 players in a 1-0 triumph over Honduras Saturday in Miami, and with just two days rest may be mixing and matching his fittest players.
How quickly players have recovered from playing a tough, taxing match in driving rain on a saturated field will likely shape Klinsmann’s decisions. Though the Americans blanked Honduras they did so only because of another sharp, brave display by keeper Tim Howard, who covered up for some lax defending.
Both teams at times labored with the conditions yet also generated flowing attacks. The Americans squandered two close-range sitters – Brek Shea and sub Oguchi Onyewu were the guilty parties – and also lost a Clint Dempsey goal when he was adjudged to have climbed on top of a defender while heading a ball into the net.
With impetus from the flanks supplied by Shea and debutant Danny Williams, and Jozy Altidore and Dempsey playing active roles up top, the U.S. breached the Honduras back line often. Yet that attacking prowess came at a price, paid for by conceding too much space and time in midfield when Honduras had the ball.
Centerback Michael Orozco Fiscal took much of the blame for a leaky defensive showing, and he did start badly when he pulled back Jerry Bengston with a desperate jersey grab. Yet two balls floated over his head to create good chances came from unpressured midfielders, and enough good opportunities arose throughout the match that tightening the defensive web in midfield has to be a priority, no matter if it’s Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman -- or all three – playing centrally.
The improved play of Onyewu, who replaced Orozco Fiscal at halftime, stamps him as a possible starter. Red Bull defender Tim Ream has been in the pool for all four of Klinsmann’s games in charge but has yet to see the field. Jonathan Spector entered as a late sub for Tim Chandler, who despite an unfamiliarity with the left side is inching toward establishing himself as a regular starter.
Another Red Bull, forward Juan Agudelo, could also get a start in his home MLS stadium, depending on whether Klinsmann again opts for two forwards as he did against Honduras or sends out a version of the 4-3-3 he has used at times during his tenure.
Deployed as a second forward, Dempsey played a strong game and scored an excellent goal, but he won’t likely find those same large spaces against Ecuador, which is bringing an experienced squad that just beat Venezuela, 2-0, in its 2014 World Cup qualifying opener. The team is anchored by Walter Ayovi, who last April helped Monterrey win the Concacaf Champions League, and Juan Carlos Paredes of Deportivo Quito.
Ecuador and the U.S. haven’t played since 2007, when a Landon Donovan hat trick led the Americans to a 3-1 victory in Tampa. Ecuador’s coach that day was Luis Suarez, who took over Honduras last March and was in charge Saturday in Miami. (That 2007 meeting also featured an appearance as a sub by forward Edmundo Zura, who surfaced in American soccer this past summer when signed by the Earthquakes, which quickly dropped him for being terribly out of shape.)
A year earlier at the 2006 World Cup, Klinsmann engineered a 3-0 defeat of Ecuador as coach of Germany. Four members of that Ecuadoran World Cup team -- Christian Benitez, Edison Mendez, Antonio Valencia and Segundo Castillo -- are in the squad to face the USA Tuesday.
Two players based in Mexico scored the goals against Venezuela: Jamie Ayovi of Pachuca and Benitez of Club America connected in the first half. Those two have scored a combined seven goals in Ecuador’s last three games, though defenses tend to watch out for Manchester United’s Valencia … with good reason. He can be inconsistent yet adds strength and power to a skillful attacking array.
Four of Ecuador’s forwards on this trip play their club ball in Mexico; Michael Arroyo is a teammate of Orozco Fiscal at San Luis. They may not play the same gung-ho style that Carlo Costly, Julio Cesar de Leon, Bengston, et al, unleashed on the Americans last Saturday, but bring a clever, technical approach the Americans must be wary of.