Jozy Altidore led the U.S. team to a 2-1 victory against Nigeria this afternoon, effectively giving the national team a 3-0 record for their international friendly play leading up to the World Cup in Brazil. Altidore, who has not seen a goal since December 4 of last year, was the front man of the U.S. 4-3-2-1 formation at the start of the match. The U.S. victory against the 44th– ranked Nigerian squad came as Coach Jürgen Klinsmann continued to tweak the starting lineup in preparation for their first World Cup match against Ghana on June 16. As Altidore’s scoring drought came to an end, he credited his team’s collective effort. Overall, the U.S. squad showed some promise in their progression towards establishing a cohesive midfield, but it was evident that there were still some wrinkles to iron out defensively.
The U.S. starting lineup was slightly different from the 4-4-2 formation they went with against Turkey last week, opting for a 4-3-2-1 set up that Klinsmann refered to as the “Christmas tree formation.” The major change was seen in the midfield, with Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and Alejandro Bedoya playing with Michael Bradley in a centrally compacted formation. Jones and Beckerman functioned as holding central midfielders, whereas Bradley took the attacking role, and Bedoya floated between the right and left throughout the first half.
The trial run of the new midfield formation got off to a rough start, but found its groove after the first 30 minutes. Altidore recalled that, “It took us a while to get into the game,” but his goal in the 32nd minute changed the overall pace of play for the U.S. team. Jones began the beautiful combination out of the midfield with a through-ball to Bedoya, who gave a lay-off to Fabian Johnson in the box. From the goal line, Johnson passed the ball back across the goal to an eager Altidore. The goal was made possible as a result of Johnson completing his run into the box from his defensive position, and officially broke Altidore’s scoring drought set in place since last December.
At halftime, Klinsmann reiterated Jozy’s sentiment that the U.S. had started to come together in the latter part of the first half. He said of the team, “We didn’t let them [Nigeria] create anything,” and gave his approval of their first half performance by adding, “The last 20 minutes were excellent.” In response to whether or not this first half line up would be the coach’s choice for the U.S. game versus Ghana, Klinsmann responded in the negative, further adding to the curiosity of who the starting 11 will be for the June 16 match.
Klinsmann was adamant about starting the second half with the same formation, at least initially, and did not change things up until Graham Zusi came in for Bedoya. In the 69 minute, Altidore got his second goal of the game off an assist from Bradley. Without a doubt, Bradley has proven himself as one of the U.S. team’s most valuable assets, both offensively and defensively. A reliable playmaker, the central midfielder shows more defensive tenacity and work off the ball than most defenders on the pitch.
After an unfortunate foul in the box by U.S. defender Matt Besler, Nigeria’s Victor Moses capitalized on the penalty kick, taking the score to its final result at 2-1. When asked how he felt about breaking his scoring drought, Altidore responded modestly by crediting the victory to “great team play,” and claimed that scoring for the first time since December “felt fine.” Absent from the starting 11 game on Nigeria’s side was powerhouse striker, Emmanuel Emenike. Nigeria is set to open their World Cup play against 43rd-ranked Iran on June 16.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson