A Friendly Preview: Republic of Ireland hosts United States Men's National Team / by Harrison Crow

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

GOALKEEPERS (5): David Forde (Millwall), Shay Given (Aston Villa), Keiren Westwood - (Sheffield Wednesday) Darren Randolph - (Birmingham City) Rob Elliot (Newcastle United)

DEFENDERS (12): Richard Keogh (Derby County), Marc Wilson (Stoke City) Seamus Coleman (Everton), John O’Shea (Sunderland),  Alex Pearce (Reading), Brian Lenihan   (Hull City), Stephen Kelly (Reading), Paul McShane (Hull City), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace) Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers) Stephen Ward (Burnley), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa)

MIDFIELDERS (11):James McCarthy (Everton) Jeff Hendrick (Derby County), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Darron Gibson (Everton), Paul Green (Rotherham United), Aiden McGeady (Everton), Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City), James McClean (Wigan Athletic), Robbie Brady (Hull City), Stephen Quinn (Hull City), David Meyler (Hull City)

FORWARDS (5): Shane Long (Southampton), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich Town), Jon Walters (Stoke City), Kevin Doyle (Crystal Palace), Anthony Stokes (Celtic)

UNITED STATES

GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (6)Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach)

MIDFIELDERS (5): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Hamburg), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt)

FORWARDS (6): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

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By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)

The US roster is a little thin with the four MLS'ers (DeMarcus Beasley, DeAndre Yedlin, Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen) returning back to the states (what's up with Beasley going, too?). It's to be expected with the playoffs and MLS Cup on the line. This is also only a friendly, and while you want to remain competitive, it's about giving new opportunities to players that haven't previously had the chance. After all, this is the Republic of Ireland, right? #EasyWin

Well, Okay, let's slow down there a second.

First, the Republic of Ireland isn't necessarily the same Republic of Ireland they were two years ago... or even one year ago. They were once thought to be a disappointment to the UEFA region, losing matches to clubs at home they shouldn't and being blown out against some very good teams. Four games into their 2016 EURO qualification they sit in second place with 7 points, which includes a tie against Germany. Their first loss of the tournament came against Scotland on the road in a brutal affair last week.

Second, on the heels of the fact they haven't qualified for the World Cup since 2002, last year Martin O'Neil and Roy Keane were hired to revitalize the dilapidated Irish squad. They hope to return the country back to competing for European and World tournaments. Ireland is now more organized and better run than it was under both Brian Kerr and Giovanni Trapattoni.

O'Neil and Keane have seen Ireland rise in the world standings in Euro Qualifying, which begs the question - is this team actually improving?

The high degree of variance is because ELO is adjusted after every match, making rankings especially volatile. One year ago, in a match against Poland, ELORatings.net had them at 36th in the world, which is exactly where they now find themselves following that loss to Scotland.

The Power Rank has a more bullish approach about where they are, ranking them 52nd in their World Football Rankings. Lastly, Nate Silver's metric, the Soccer Power Index, is somewhere between the two at 43rd (to get the full run down on the latest SPI I had to pull them from ESPN Deportes, which was a pain and why I'm not linking it). 

Following a solid run of form in a huge tournament, it's important that we take it all with a grain of salt. Teams in Ireland's situation don't just take miraculous leaps forward. I think they're a solid European C team that the US should probably beat.

Over the past two years, Ireland has been inclined to "open it up a bit", averaging 2.4 goals per home match over nine games. One of those is the huge blowout win against Gibraltar in a Euro 2016 qualifier, but even removing that outlier shows a 1.8 goals per home match average, which further shows they're able score at home.

This isn't surprising, considering data shows home-field advantage is bigger in soccer than most other sports. But the real concern isn't the attack, it's their defense, which has surrendered an atrocious 20 goals in nine matches. That isn't great. And if we're tossing out that Gibraltar game, that would make 20 goals in 8 matches, which looks even worse.

They'll be going against a US team that has managed to find ways to score 20 road goals in the past two years. Across 21 road matches, they've given away just 15 opposing goals. I'm not sure how that comes across in your mind, but it should impress you. Yes, they're averaging less than a goal a game on the road. But ON THE ROAD they're holding their opponents to less than a goal a match. That's fantastic, and while you need at least one goal for three points, surrendering no goals guarantees you at least one point.

Overall, this is a team that has found a way to score and create dangerous attacks through various methods in the run of play. They're not dependent on getting into range for set pieces.

Our metrics had the U.S. good for 1.3 Expected Goals through five matches played during the World Cup. That was good for ranking 10th overall in xGoals. They may not be genuinely elite, but there is something there that says they're a good team that can cause problems for other good teams. Yes, this isn't the USA's best squad, and yes, the US doesn't have all the pieces that it had mid-summer. But neither does Ireland. The USA isn't the only country that is using friendlies to bring a little new blood into the roster.

The US has a very good chance at winning this match. But the Irish have some potent attackers that have a history of scoring goals at home. Similarly, the US defense was the worst in expected goals against during the World Cup, and their survival was largely made possible by the epic saves and quick reactions of Tim Howard.

So, the question of who wins today really breaks down to this; whether the Irish offense can take it to the USA's defense.

I believe.