Whitbread Headlines Intriguing TV Saturday for US Soccer Nuts

Keep your DVRs at the ready. The U.S. Men’s National Soccer campaign is done for 2011, but that doesn’t mean we can’t check on the progress and form of key individual squad members, as they toil for European clubs and, in some cases, strive to catch the eye of American coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Indeed, Saturday, Nov. 26 provides us three televised games on the trot, all featuring Yanks abroad worth watching.

The most interesting game, the one I’ll be watching closest, is the 10 a.m. EST tilt featuring Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers on Fox Soccer Channel. Not the most compelling or glamorous match on its face, but it’s hoped here that City’s Zak Whitbread, the central defender and Houston native, will earn a start in the Canary back four. Whitbread is not a household name. He’s bounced around England’s lower divisions for some time. He’s no spring chicken, either: 27 years old, meaning he’d be 30 by the time Brazil 2014 rolls around and, so, hardly a more youthful alternative to either Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson. Klinsmann’s current top choices at center defense have not wowed anyone with their pace nor their ability to play the ball confidently and creatively out of the back. I’ve no idea whether Whitbread is a serious alternative to either one, but how may other Americans are playing central defense for EPL teams nowadays. Who is this guy? Whitbread spent most of his life in England and Singapore (his father, Barry Whitbread, was the coach of the Singapore national football team in the late 1990s). He matriculated via Liverpool’s respected youth academy but never caught on with the senior club. He played at Millwall and now he’s at Norwich. I can’t say that I have any real familiarity with this guy’s game. I’ll be looking to change that  Saturday.

Equally enticing is the 2:30 p.m. EST Serie A match on Fox Soccer Channel pitting Chievo against AC Milan. Michael Bradley showed everyone he deserves a place in the U.S. team with a fine performance in Slovenia last week. I think the hubbub re. whether Klinsi was somehow dissing Bradley in wake of his father being ousted as U.S. coach, in August, was way overplayed. All this fall, Bradley the Younger had been fighting for a place with his new Italian club, and Klinsi would have done him no favors by pulling him out of training for a friendly v. Honduras. Again, we don’t get to see a lot of Chievo on American television, and so we’ll see for ourselves Saturday what sort of place Bradley has fashioned for himself — against top-flight competition in Milan.

I think we know all we need to know about Clint Dempsey at this stage. He’s America’s top talent, can play anywhere in any attacking formation, and does so for both the USMNT and his EPL club, Fulham. Sandwiched between the two games noted above, The Cottagers travel to Arsenal in a 12:30 p.m. EST start on FSC. The Gunners have found their form of late, while plucky Fulham have exhibited difficulty scoring home and away. Here’s hoping FFC scores first in this London Derby, on a Dempsey goal, thereby averting what I fear could be a route.

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