MOSCOW, November 12 (R-Sport) - The United States’ upcoming friendly against Russia is a good test for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team as they prepare to face a tough World Cup qualifying group, ex-Major League Soccer striker Yura Movsisyan has told R-Sport.
Russia host the US on Wednesday in the southern city of Krasnodar, where MLS Cup winner Movsisyan now plies his trade in the Russian Premier League, regularly facing the stars of Russia’s national team.
With the United States drawn against sides such as Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica in a qualifying group where only the top three can qualify for Brazil 2014, Russia provides a good example of the possession-based tactics the US will have to cope with.
“Knowing Central America, it’s always difficult to play against teams like that, especially like Mexico, because they’re all very, very good teams, very good players and the football they play is a better passing game, a lot of keeping the ball,” Movsisyan said in a recent interview.
“For the Americans, this Russia game will be important because Russia also like to keep the ball, so it’ll be a good chance for them to warm up for the games.”
Movsisyan spent much of his youth in California and once harbored ambitions to represent the US before opting for Armenia, and said players were competing hard for Klinsmann’s approval when asked how his friends in the side were preparing.
“I think the U.S. will play to win. The players are not guaranteed their spots, everybody’s got to fight, so this is another chance to fight for a national team spot,” he said.
The last time the two countries faced each other on the football field was in Moscow in 2000 when a side boasting legendary US striker Brian McBride went down to a 2-0 defeat.
The U.S. travel to Krasnodar looking for their first win against the Russians but face a formidable challenge against a team unbeaten in five fixtures under ex-England and Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello.
The Italian has not been afraid to exclude established names like Arsenal midfielder Andrei Arshavin and ex-Tottenham Hotspur striker Roman Pavlyuchenko.
“He’s done a fantastic job and the Russia team has a lot of potential. I think what they were probably missing was new blood in the team and bringing in some young guys who fight for places,” Movsisyan said.
Midfielder Alan Dzagoev, 22, made his name before Capello’s arrival and scored three goals at Euro 2012 in June.
“They’ve got Alan Dzagoev, who I think is a fantastic player who’s done a fantastic job, still very young but could be a very big threat,” Movsisyan said.
While Klinsmann is still to name his squad for the trip to Krasnodar, Capello picked a 26-man select last week, but it has since been depleted by three withdrawals in midfield after Viktor Faizulin, Alexander Samedov and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov all pulled out with injuries.
Samedov and Faizulin in particular have been key components in Russia’s formation under Capello. Faizulin, of champion team Zenit St. Petersburg, is an energetic central midfielder with an eye for goal, shown in two goals in five games under Capello, while Lokomotiv Moscow’s Samedov has played four times for Capello and is renowned for his ability as a set-piece taker.
The way is open for two young midfielders to make their debut, with Real Madrid winger Denis Cheryshev in his first Russia squad, while Lokomotiv’s Magomed Ozdoev could finally win his first cap after months of being on the fringes of the Russia set-up.
Forwards Maxim Grigoryev and Fyodor Smolov, defender Vladimir Granat and goalkeeper Alexander Belenov could also debut.
For Belenov, the occasion would be all the sweeter because the match will take place at the Kuban stadium, the home of his and Movsisyan’s club teams.
"It's my longtime dream to play for the national team," Belenov told R-Sport last month. "It would be especially great to debut in Krasnodar in front of the Kuban fans.”
Krasnodar’s fans were shocked when the city was left off the list of host cities for the 2018 World Cup, despite it regularly hosting some of the biggest crowds in the league. On Saturday, around 500 fans protested at the stadium, accusing World Cup organizers of “spitting on the souls” of fans.
Despite local anger, supporters’ groups have said they will not boycott or disrupt the match with the US, and Movsisyan predicts passionate support for Russia.
“I think that the American players will definitely know that Russia has very strong support. It’s going to be very loud, I expect that for sure,” he said.
“It’s very important for the national team to come out here and play and for the young kids to watch,” he added. “This is going to be very helpful to the youth, to the sport in Russia.”
Movsisyan, however, will not be in attendance to watch his current and former home countries clash because of international duty with Armenia, who play Lithuania in a friendly Wednesday.