The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) began their warm-up games for the FIFA World Cup with a series of victories against Azerbaijan, Turkey and then most recently Nigeria on Saturday. For the first time the US squad is going into the tournament coming off of three consecutive victories which will give them great momentum heading into the tournament in Brazil.
The first game back on May 27, 2014 was in Candlestick Park, California against Azerbaijan. In what was initially a cagey affair for the first 70 minutes of action became a comfortable 2-0 win for the United States in the end. The US was to start the game with what many believed to be their best starting 11, but due to a small naggling injury to captain Clint Dempsey’s thigh in warm-ups, Chris Wondolowski was given the start as a second striker.
This may of even created a small tactical change with the United States, forcing them to pivot their midfield into a diamond to accommodate the two true strikers and thus playing a 4-4-2 instead of Klinsman’s preferred 4-2-3-1. Two players who are most definitely on the periphery in terms of the starting 11 for the US got the goals, Mikkel (Mix) Diskerud in the 75th minute and Aron Johannsson in the 81st minute both coming off of set pieces from Brad Davis.
Set Pieces are an area of the game that the USMNT will have to exceed at in order to perform well during this FIFA World Cup, so it was good to see them executed well both offensively and defensively. Getting a victory and a clean sheet for Howard was important against a weak Azerbajain team that played with ten men behind the ball for long periods of the game.
The second game was in New Jersey at Red Bull arena against Turkey, usually a strong team who frequently qualifies for the World Cup. The starting 11 were a bit different from the previous game with Chandler coming in for Beasley, Brad Davis getting the start at left midfield after a nice second half performance in the previous game, and Clint Dempsey returned after the thigh injury.
Turkey attacked the USMNT often so it was more rewarding of an experience for the Americans who will be facing three tough opponents looking to bring the game to the US down in Brazil. The game was therefore very open with both teams looking to attack quickly. Fabian Johnson opened the scoring in the 26th minute with a beautiful goal after a signature marauding run up the filed from his right back position. He played a ball into Bradley after cutting into the middle of the pitch and continued his run while Bradley calmly chipped the ball over the Turkish defense. Johnson ran onto the ball and stroked a first time left footed volley into the lower left corner of the net.
The second goal came by luck really with Chandler crossing the ball into the box where a Turkish defender miss hit a clearance and Dempsey pounced on it for a simple tap in finish in the 52nd minute. Altidore had a goal disallowed earlier for an apparent shove in the back on a player off a corner. Sadly the referee, who had been suspended before for poor performances, had a few other questionable calls throughout the game. Turkey got a goal back in the 90th minute when Chandler poorly lost possession and Geoff Cameron blocked a shot with his arm resulting in a penalty kick that Selcuk Inan scored on Brad Guzan.
Ultimately it was another win for the United States in a more challenging game than the previous friendly. Johnson, Bradley and Dempsey had good games and the defense played well besides the late game lapse in concentration from Chandler resulting in the penalty. The biggest problem was the holes left in midfield which left Jones rather exposed in front of the back line, a problem Klinsmann addressed in the next game against Nigeria.
The final game in the warm-up series for the USMNT in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil was another victory. This time in Jacksonville, Florida on Saturday June 7, 2014. Klinsmann decided to change the formation to the modern 4-2-3-1 with Beckerman and Jones playing as the two holding midfielders. Giving the defense much more cover, enabling Jones to push up higher into attack at times, and allowing Michael Bradley to do what he does best, which is hunt down the ball, re-gain possession and transition from defense to offense quickly and efficiently.
Jozy Altimore, the much maligned striker who had a horrible season after transferring to Sunderland in the English Premier League, got both goals for the United States ending a run of 27 games without a goal. His first was a real poacher’s goal, a simple tap in finish after Bedoya released Johnson on the right side after the right back continued his run and then slotted the ball across goal to Altidore in the 31st minute. It was apparent that Altidore felt great relief because he really elevated his game after the goal with his passes becoming crisper and his overall movement looking sharper.
The second goal was much more difficult. Bradley played a wonderful through ball to Jozy to trap and then beat the defender with a quick touch to his favored right foot. He then smashed the ball into the low near corner. The goalkeeper was a bit out of position, sneaking to his left where Dempsey was making a far post run. The goal was no less special though and gives Altidode and the United States a lot of momentum going into the World Cup next week in Brazil.
It was unfortunate the US defense could not earn a clean sheet for Tim Howard’s 100th Competitive appearance for the National Team. The defense played well overall with Johnson, Besler, Cameron and Beasley comprising the back four. Victor Moses converted a penalty in the 86th minute after Besler was called for a slide tackle in the box. Another late miscalculation by the US defense is something they cannot afford in the group stages next week.
The USMNT has been drawn into group G for the FIFA World Cup in what many consider to be the “group of death.” A term used to describe the toughest group of the tournament in which the US will have to play Germany, Portugal and Ghana. The other two groups that maybe could be in consideration as “groups of death” are Group B with Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia, as well as Group D with England, Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, but neither have the parity from top to bottom of Group G. In addition all three of the United State’s games will have some interesting storylines behind them.
The first group game against Ghana game will be intriguing because the US have lost to and ultimately been eliminated by the Black Stars in the previous two World Cups. In 2006 with the tournament being held in Germany the United States played Ghana in the third match of Group E and lost 2-1. In 2010 the same score again occurred, but this time both teams made it out of their respective group stages and played in the round of 16 in South Africa. Therefore the US will be itching to get a victory, not just because three points in the first game is vital to advancing, but also because revenge will be on the forefront of the team’s minds.
Portugal is a team with great expectations because of their super star Christiano Ronaldo. The last time Portugal and the United States met in the World Cup was the first match of the 2002 tournament in South Korea. The United States won in a hotly contested match 3-2 to surprise many viewers. This year if the USMNT were to get a win versus Ghana and then a draw against Portugal they would have a very good chance of advancing out of this difficult group.
United States Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann used to coach the German National Team so this match will be very emotional for him. He will know the opponents well, having brought many of them to the FIFA World Cup just eight years ago. Joachim Low, the Germany Coach used to be Klinsmann’s assistant for Die Mannschaft so both will know the others tactical acumen rather well. The German’s also eliminated the US squad back in 2002 in the Quarterfinals, the farthest the United States has even gotten in the tournament. Hopefully the USMNT will be in a decent position in the group by the time they play Germany in their third group game. Getting a win against the Germans will be asking a lot from the Americans unless perhaps Germany qualify for the knockout round already and rest some of their starters.
These three victories from the warm-up series are a good omen going into the FIFA World Cup for the USMNT. The team will need all the momentum they can get and a bit of luck to succeed. Even though many have already written them off, the US has a chance of getting the out of the “group of death.” With a strong core of fans, in the form of the American Outlaws, who have promised to travel and support their national team, there is no telling what this American team can do in Brazil at the World Cup.
By B. Taylor Rash