The U.S. national team faces Scotland in a friendly on Friday that should offer a pair of young attackers a chance to shine in the absence of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.There was a time not too long ago that the prospects of sending the U.S. national team to Europe for some friendlies without Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey might have been seen as crazy, and an exercise in futility.
Times are changing though.
Just to show you how much things have changed, you could make the argument that the absence of the two most accomplished players in the national team pool is actually a good thing this time around.
How can that be so? The answer lies with the presence of a pair of promising young players who have U.S. fans eager to see them do their thing in starting roles in Jurgen Klinsmann's attack.
Aron Johannsson and Mix Diskerud have been brought along relatively slowly by Klinsmann since breaking into the senior team on a regular basis in the second half of 2013, but we have only seen them deployed together as starters once, in the USA's qualifying win against Jamaica in October.
On that day, Klinsmann trotted out an attack-minded squad at home, but the results were far from impressive in the first half. Johannsson moved well and put himself in positions to score, but couldn't finish as he let first-start jitters get the best of him.
Diskerud showed Klinsmann enough to earn another start in the qualifying finale against Panama, but that effort was a forgettable one, while it was Johannsson who finally showed he was capable of finishing a national team chance, delivering an impressive finish to seal Panama's fate.
Klinsmann has shown an affinity for being prudent on the road, fielding lineups that are a bit more defensive-minded, but against a Scotland team that should be vulnerable to a strong attack there isn't any reason for Klinsmann to hold back. He has the weapons to attack, and Friday's friendly could offer him a chance to see just what his Scandinavian connection can do.
The real question is just how would Johannsson and Diskerud best fit together in a starting lineup? With Jozy Altidore looking a safe bet to start, we might need to see Klinsmann trot out a 4-2-3-1 with Johannsson playing on the right wing and Diskerud playing underneath the striker in a playmaking role.
Diskerud may be less of a sure bet to start given the competition for midfield roles, but with Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson pulling out of camp, Diskerud's chances of earning a start on Friday have increased.
Johannsson seems like a safer bet, and the chance to finally pair the AZ striker with his former club teammate Altidore could be too tough for Klinsmann to pass up. Johannsson offers the type of mobility that the current roster just doesn't offer due to injuries (Dempsey, Donovan and Fabian Johnson) and lack of availability (Graham Zusi, Brad Davis), which makes him the best option to play alongside Altidore.
Terrence Body has been in good club form as well, but he doesn't seem to be a good fit to partner with Altidore due to too much similarity in their styles. He seems a safer bet to start against Austria in a friendly that will be played in the country where he plays his club soccer.
Klinsmann will have his chance to look at Boyd and Sacha Kljestan against the Austrians next week. On Friday, against a defense that should surrender chances, Klinsmann will have another opportunity to get a good look at Johannsson in an international match, with Altidore to combine with and potentially Diskerud to provide him wih some incisive passes.
There aren't many more chances to impress Klinsmann between now and May, when he will decide on his final World Cup squad, but for Johannsson and Diskerud, their best chance before Brazil could come on Friday. And they have the absences of Dempsey and Donovan to thank for that.