Brazil 2014: World Cup Warm Up #1 – USMNT 2-0 Azerbaijan
The first of USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies is in the books. OTF’s Joe Maskivish brings the match review…
What was supposed to be as easy as a Sunday afternoon nap, ended up an evening of sleep walking.
The United States was supposed to bulldoze Azerbaijan, building to a crescendo on the way to Brazil. What happened instead was a rather bland performance as the U.S. used two late goals from substitutes to guide them to victory in San Francisco.
To the delight of many, Jurgen Klinsmann trotted out the 4-4-2 diamond midfield formation that showed much promise against Mexico last month. Unfortunately for Klinsmann, Clint Dempsey was a late scratch with what was described as a groin tweak.
Early reports are encouraging (take it easy Donovan fans), as it seems the Captain was held out as a precaution after warm-ups. One would think he’ll have no problem suiting up in less than a week against Turkey.
Dempsey’s issue opened the door for Chris Wondolowski to make a rare start. In the place of Dempsey, Wondo created golden opportunities as he fought his way into open space and drilled two headers right at the Azerbaijan keeper. In his time on the pitch, Wondo showed a knack for getting open and finding the ball.
This will certainly serve him well when fighting for playing time amongst a talented forward group. The fact that he earned the start over Aron Johannsson could be a window into the depth chart at the position.
As the U.S. seemed to stroll through the first half, at times appearing to just go through the motions, hope was reserved for the second half and the substitutes accompanying the change. While Timmy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez, and Brad Davis did not provide immediate offensive impact, as the game wore on it was clear the U.S. depth was too much for Azerbaijan to handle.
Throughout much of the game, the Yanks’ attack just seemed to be missing something. On paper, this match-up appeared to be one in which Michael Bradley would show off his world class talent and, as the game progressed, the opportunities were there. Bradley had as much open time and space on the ball as anyone, yet his finish and distribution was lacking. Collectively, we can only hope The General has a better showing next game.
The issue was finally put to rest with the scoring of two goals in close succession (Diskerud 75’; Johannsson 81’), both of which came from good service by Brad Davis. The play of Davis showed why he was selected to be in the final 23. The energy on his attack, coupled with his service on crosses both during the run of play and set pieces, should encourage any doubters.
While no excuses need to be made regarding performance, the effect the wind had on the game should not be discounted. Watching the ball roll away on set pieces, crosses float beyond waiting heads and shots sail high over the crossbar displays the role Mother Nature played on the events.
Many players chose take a different route to getting the ball in front of the net (low crosses, short corners, taking an extra dribble) which proves the wind was in the players’ heads and perhaps Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t get the complete look he may have been hoping.
Even with the weather, the fact Azerbaijan essentially parked the bus with ten men behind the ball at times, and the overall lack of energy: two goals are very attainable against Azerbaijan, but won’t cut it in Group G. The effort put forth Tuesday night will not be enough to make any noise in Brazil.
Any World Cup Send-off Series match allows for many questions:
Who will play the full 90 minutes?
In a friendly with six substitutions, a team is going to have five guys play the entire match (barring injury, of course). For the U.S. those five were: Tim Howard, Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore. Whether all five have cemented themselves as starters remains to be seen.
Will the United States formation remain the same throughout the match or will we see a shift in strategy?
Jurgen Klinsmann stuck with the 4-4-2 diamond midfield for the entire match. One concern with this formation is Jermaine Jones and his ability (or lack thereof at times) to stay disciplined. While helped by the fact that Azerbaijan rarely saw the ball, Jones did well to stay parked in front of the back four.
Will any starter be moved to a different position to give Klinsmann a look at versatility?
Based on the initial starting lineup, the answer would be no. However, with the injury and subsequent removal from the line-up of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore was tasked with taking up the Dempsey role and roaming while Wondo lurked. At times, Jozy seemed to cover a lot of ground and appeared to accept a distributor role. However, at times it also appeared Jozy was looking for service of his own as he often posted up against a defender.
Can the U.S. maintain a clean sheet to begin the World Cup season?
Having the ball most of the game helped the U.S. win by the infamous Dos-a-Cero scoreline.
Will any member of the back line play the entire game?
The only member of the back line to play all 90 minutes was Matt Besler. It’s safe to say that if anyone were going to do it, he would be the choice. Dependable as usual, Besler helped maintain the clean sheet.
OTF Man of the Match: Brad Davis
The pace of the United States attack changed when Davis came into the game. He consistently took to attacking the Azerbaijan defense with the ball at this feet and his impeccable service on set pieces directly resulted in both U.S. goals. While his game as a starter leaves something to be desired, Davis may have solidified Klinsmann’s vision for him as a super sub.
Need more World Cup and USMNT chat?
OTF’s Joe Maskivish will be tracking USMNT’s World Cup preparations and progress until the boys come back from Brazil. Follow him @JoeMaskivish.