With the 2-0 win over Azerbaijan behind, there is a lot that can be said about the U.S. men’s performance that is positive. The perks of having such a strong bench will definitely be felt in Brazil for the World Cup. Mix Diskerud, who is in the habit of being a powerhouse off the bench, is solid and reliable up top. Although Chris Wondolowski fell short on finishing a pair of golden opportunities in the first half, his presence as a striker was consistent throughout his time on the pitch. There is much to be said about these second and third stringers coming in and sealing the deal for the U.S., but what remains to be answered is whether this is enough to stand up to the Death Group.
Regarding the last minute switch to the lineup, whereby Dempsey was scratched as a precautionary measure due to a sore groin, Wondolowski pointed out how crucial it is to capitalize on opportunities. “Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench,” he said, “you have to take advantage of it.”
The broken record that has been playing since news hit that Landon Donovan was left off the roster may finally get muted. Diskerud’s comments after the game in regards to wearing the No. 10 jersey were extremely positive. He likened his wearing of it to “borrowing,” feeling sure that Donovan would get it back soon enough. Regardless, it might be time to move on and focus on the squad’s performance-as-is leading up to Brazil. Following the news of his being left off the World Cup roster, Donovan turned around and broke the Major League Soccer record for goals in a career. He snagged the 135th and 136th goals of his career, leading the Galaxy to a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union last week.
That said, commentators John Champion and Taylor Twellman felt that the U.S. men’s performance spoke positively of the back line, a topic of concern as they meet the likes of Portugal, Ghana, and Germany in Brazil. However it is only prudent to point out that the U.S.-Azerbaijan game is no indicator for how the back line will stand up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil. That said, Fabian Johnson showed some promise attacking out of the back. A good technical dribbler, Johnson can prove to be a threat by adding numbers on an offensive drive.
The U.S. needs to be tested defensively in order to justify Twellman’s sentiment that the U.S. defense seemed strong. Azerbaijan played a shell defense against the U.S. and presented little in the U.S. defensive third. Twellman expressed satisfaction with the defense, Lalas expressed satisfaction with the offense, but amid the widespread satisfaction, it seems unlikely that Azerbaijan is a good measure of the squad’s overall composure. The U.S. needs to show stronger possession and much better first touches for their upcoming game against Turkey. This will be their second of three international friendly matches leading up to the World Cup.
The U.S. is set to play Turkey June 1, 2014 at the Red Bull Arena in New York. This game will give them another opportunity to work out some of kinks in the post-Donovan lineup, and present them with more of a challenge than Azerbaijan. Bottom line, the U.S. will take the win over Azerbaijan. It was a great opportunity to test the team’s ability to operate without some of the iconic strikers.
The capacity of the bench to seal the deal is reassuring, but begs the question of why Jozy Altidore was not as thirsty as Wondolowski, Johannsson, or Diskerud. Altidore did a phenomenal job starting some offensive combinations, but his performance left people thirsting for more. His size and skill on the ball speak for itself in that respect. They are going to need experience in Brazil for the World Cup, and will not be able to rely solely on young, fresh legs off the bench to take down teams in the Death Group.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson