For what it's worth, I really like Frank Klopas as a coach. I know he's playing head games with Pachuca by not releasing our line-up. But he's also playing head games with me, because ever since the #marquonslhistoire campaign launched, I've been hyped up in anticipation about what our team will look like.
With that in mind, let's throw around some completely baseless speculation on who will start and who will sub into our Feb 24th line-up!
Keeper: Evan Bush
He's earned this. He's trained hard, and that save against a PK in pre-season action (Cruz Azul, Feb 17th) was nothing to sneeze at. I have no reservations about Bush or his experience. He's looking to become an elite keeper in MLS and he knows he needs to perform at the continental level to do that.
Sub: K. Nicht.
Defense: Camara, Ciman, Soumare, Lefèvre
(from left to right)
This all francophone backline will cover all the bases of experience, speed, aggressive tackling and speedy distribution. Communicating all in French will be an advantage when pressed by the all English/Spanish speaking forward line of Pachuca. Additionally, Hassoun Camara can get up the flank and in on the attack, as he's done before. Toia is probably capable of starting at left back, but I think Wandoo has earned this.
Donny Toia has shown some good skill in training, along with Cabrera, but both are still lacking MLS and CCL experience, which Wandoo and Camara have. Both Ciman and Soumare have been excellent together in pre-season as central defenders. I'm expecting big things from them this year, starting with their joint performance in February at Hidalgo Stadium.
Additionally, Laurent Ciman is still (or should still be) in mid-season form, which is a plus.
Subs: Toia out wide, or Victor Cabrera at CB.
Defensive Midfield: Marco Donadel, Nigel Reo-Coker
(from left to right)
This line (partly in conjunction with Ciman and Soumare) is where the action will take place. Both these players bring a wealth of experience from European top flight in the EPL and Series A in their respective roles. Donadel on the tackle is a sight to behold (think Bernadello, but with, you know, grace...).
Nigel Reo-Coker makes deep lying distribution look easy, and can put a through ball into Piatti like it's nothing. I'm expecting both these players to connect well with Ciman/Soumare in the back and Piatti up front. If they're in form, we'll be able to firmly distribute when we have possession, and be a harder team to press for advantage when on the defense.
Subs: Patrice Bernier and Calum Mallace.
Attacking Midfield:Justin Mapp, Ignacio Piatti, Andres Romero
(from left to right)
Dilly Duka fully deserves to start in this game after his major assist in pre-season, but Justin Mapp's left foot (blessed by the soccer gods themselves) is still a masterpiece on the flank. In a 4-4-2, we wouldn't be having this discussion, but against Pachuca the Klopas 4-2-3-1 will be handy. I'm expecting Duka at the 60th minute, and Tissot at the 75th or the moment Andres Romero or Justin Mapp tire.
As well, we should expect Piatti to be the brains in this operation and act as a playmaker in the same way Karim Benzema does for France. He can score, sure, but his main job is going to be the always present peripheral threat - ensuring that the Pachuca defense is never complacent and that our attacking midfielders and forward can start their runs early and effectively, exploiting any observable weaknesses.
The best part is, he can take the shot himself if our runs aren't timed properly. I'd wager Mapp and Romero to take the corner kicks when they arise.
Subs: Dilly Duka, Maxim Tissot.
Forward: Dominic Oduro or JackMac
It doesn't really matter - but I`ll give it to JackMac based on experience with the team. Now before you jump all over me, think about it. In the line-up I've just put down, our plays are originating in deep midfield, and counters on the flanks from central defence. There's very little for a forward to do here, except either 1. Finish or 2. Decoy run for the attacking midfielder.
Both Oduro and Jack McInerney can do those two things, with differing methods. Oduro brings speed while JackMac brings a little more raw talent to the table. Either will do, and it's why Klopas' 4-2-3-1 is so brilliant with this line-up.
Subs: whichever isn't starting, unless Klopas thinks Jackson-Hamel is ready.
The inherent strength of this line-up and formation is in the core spine. The central defence and defensive midfield can be compact and break a rushing attack, and can counter quickly. Piatti, with Reo-Coker and Donadel behind him can move the ball forward easily, and quickly to an awaiting attacker.
The main weakness of this line-up is obviously the gaps in central midfield ahead of Camara and Wandoo. It's going to mean that our LB and RB will be kept out of the counter a lot as they try to cover up space in front of the oncoming Pachuca midfield and forward. Expect Donadel to work over-time to cover those gaps.
The only thing I know for sure about this line-up, is that even if I'm 100% wrong, I'll at least know within 7 days!