By Jacob Klinger
Very rarely does one man decide a soccer match.
This idea holds even more truth when discussing the U.S. men's national team. Its long-standing emphasis on team play all but assures that no one player can be pointed to as the match-winner.
Sunday night in Toronto, this will again be the case. But there are three men whose performances will have the greatest pull on the orbit of USA-Canada: Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Oguchi Onyewu.
The Chievo Verona midfielder has dictated play as much as any American the last two games. He's also been on the field for all 180 minutes of the team's "mini-tournament."
Canada is a unique challenge for Bradley though. If he can maintain his bulldog-like form in shielding his back line then the game becomes Bradley's and America's for the taking.
Dwayne De Rosario is in fine form for D.C. United and the Ontario native looks likely to carry it over into the Canadian national team's centennial match. If the Canadian No. 10 is finding space in, spraying passes around and running at the American defense, the U.S. could very well lose this match.
By the same token, if Michael Bradley can keep "DeRo" in check then he will prove to be the evening's maestro. Bradley's vision has improved ten-fold in his first season in Italy. His long and short passing games are immaculate and if he maintains the same midfield composure he's shown in his last two caps, Canada will lose.
In some respects USA-Canada matches are played in a time machine. Today's Canadian national team is not too different from the American squads that brought the U.S. into the modern era of international soccer.
Canada has pace, some creativity (see De Rosario, Dwayne) and keeps its shape very well, refusing to beat itself. In reality, today's U.S. team is not far removed from its own past either.
But the American national teams of yesteryear did not have Clint Dempsey.
Due to a lingering groin injury, Dempsey might not even start against Canada. Yet you needn't look any further than his substitute appearance against Brazil to see what he does for Klinsmann's squad.
Dempsey came on for Jose Torres in the 56th minute, jumped out on the left flank and changed the game. He gave the U.S. the width it was begging for, making Fabian Johnson all the more dangerous in his overlaps. He demanded respect from Brazilian defenders that had somewhat rightfully, shown none of it toward the American attack.
No matter how long Dempsey is on the field Sunday night, Canada will be sure to pay him plenty of respect. Most of his touches will be double-teamed, and when he dribbles straight at the Canadian goal, Stephen Hart's team will be sure not to get too close.
What happens after that is up to Dempsey. And that's the beauty of it all. Remember that before Donovan's return to the national team, Dempsey wore the No. 10 shirt and played like he owned it. He can pick out a pass just as easily as he can beam a shot in from distance. The space that opens up for teammates is priceless.
Though we don't say it enough, Dempsey makes his teammates better. And with an attack that already features some pretty mean talent, Dempsey's presence promises to be Canada's downfall.
Oh, and that whole "nastiness" thing Klinsmann was talking about? Yeah, he's got that too.
How can a man that might not even make the bench be one of three match-deciders?
Well, Onyewu's greatest stregth has always been his strength. Even on his worst days he dominates in the air. His defensive area is where target forwards go to be forgotten. And while he didn't show it against Brazil, Onyewu has been one of the team's quickest central defenders since the retirement of Eddie Pope.
If the U.S. can bring anything close to the same midfield pressure it did against Scotland and Brazil, Canada will not see much of the ball. Instead, the home team will play plenty of long balls and early crosses. Both are staples of Onyewu's match-winning diet.
Klinsmann could change Carlos Bocanegra's defensive partner for the third game in a row, swapping Onyewu out for Clarence Goodson. But I don't think he will.
Onyewu's performance against Brazil has been blown out of proportion. And while many clamor to toll the death bell on his international career, Onyewu is preparing for a match that demands his best talents.
If Goodson or anyone else provides that, keeping a physical Canadian team out of Tim Howard's goal, then that too will speak volumes, not just about Onyewu's future, but the result of the match. The fact is, somebody has to do Oguchi Onyewu-like work against Canada.
Without it, Canada might actually be celebrating its centennial.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... Are you more focused on Donovan? Don't think the American center back pairing will matter much? Whatever it is, let us know who or what you think will decide this match in the Facebook. comments section below.
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at email@example.com.
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