Brazil 2014: World Cup Warm Up #3 – USMNT vs. Nigeria – Preview
The third and final edition of the USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies is against Nigeria. OTF’s Joe Maskivish brings the preview…
As the ascending talent level of opponents prior to the 2014 World Cup hits its climax, the United States looks to continue building momentum against a squad also making its way to Brazil. When Nigeria was selected as the opponent for Jacksonville (Saturday, 6pm ET on ESPN) for the Americans’ third and final game in the Send-Off Series, many pointed to their geographical positioning as the reason for the match.
As an African nation, experts figure them to play a similar style and possess a comparable talent level to that of Ghana, the first team the U.S. will face when it counts. This remains to be seen, but regardless of the colors on the other side, the true focus for United States fans will be the team in Red, White, and Blue.
The prevailing question prior to this match-up is how Jurgen Klinsmann will choose to line up his squad. The gaffer’s approach to Saturday evening can go one of two ways: allow the Starting XI against Ghana time to mesh in a game without ramifications, or allow the game to be an opportunity to rest some guys, while giving others one last shot to impress.
Operating on the assumption that no one on the planet knows what Jurgen Klinsmann is thinking (see: Landon Donovan), let’s assume he will opt for the latter of the choices. It’s fair to conclude Klinsi has a good idea of his starters against Ghana, but the decision is not likely to be concrete
After starting Alejandro Bedoya at left midfield against Azerbaijan, Brad Davis was given the tap on the shoulder against Turkey. While Davis played well, both as a starter in game two and coming off the bench in the first game, it’s hard to think either of these men will play all 90 minutes in Brazil. That said, it would seem Davis is a more dangerous option of the two off the bench, so Bedoya gets the start.
The position battle at the defensive midfield role is another intriguing question heading into Nigeria. While Jermaine Jones has started both friendlies, it seems Kyle Beckerman might be due an opportunity to get more than just second half minutes. For Klinsmann, Jones is a known commodity. Beckerman will likely earn time in Brazil, so a start here is warranted.
Thus far, two Americans have played all 90 minutes in both pre-tournament games. As two of the more important cogs on the Yanks roster, it may be wise to have both Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore come out of this one early to save their legs. One thing, however, that should not occur is their removal from the starting lineup. Both men have not performed to their full capabilities, an issue that can only be resolved with playing time.
The U.S. back four continues to bring even the most optimistic believer sleepless nights. At this point, so close to the big show, Klinsmann needs to end the musical chairs rotation and solidify a defense corps. While the rest of the field players on the fringe should relish a chance to play their way in, the back four to play against Ghana should start against Nigeria and play all 90 minutes. This group, plus Tim Howard, needs real-time action to galvanize themselves as a unit.
The opponent on the night is the reigning Africa Cup of Nations champion. The Super Eagles are preparing for a trip to Brazil of their own and have a daunting task ahead of them in Group F. Advancing out of a group containing Bosnia and Herzegovina and, the pick of many to hoist the cup, Argentina, does not seem likely.
The focus for both teams, however, will be to give each other a good challenge while leaving Florida in one piece. If Nigeria really can give the United States a slight feel of Ghana, the knowledge acquired in this match will be invaluable.
Though this is a mere friendly, a convincing win may settle some American fans’ nerves. With one last chance to get it right, here are the burning questions going into Nigeria:
- Will the U.S. starting back four be one we have seen befire, or will we get a look at another combination?
- At some point, will Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey both be subbed out for a new forward combination (Johannsson & Wondolowski)?
- Can Michael Bradley consistently connect on passes going forward out of the midfield?
- Will the previously unsuccessful U.S. strategy of hitting long balls to the forward group continue?
- Can the back line make it through the full match without any glaring lapses?
OTF Starting XI:
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OTF’s Joe Maskivish will be tracking USMNT’s World Cup preparations and progress until the boys come back from Brazil. Follow him @JoeMaskivish.