The United States finished their 3-game sendoff series with a 2-1 win over Nigeria. Two goals by Jozy Altidore put the game out of sight for the Americans, while Victor Moses earned a penalty late in the second half to flatter the visitors.
The lineup offered by Klinsmann was a curveball to some US fans and a welcome sight for those (like myself) who believed that the US’s strengths lie in the midfield (and not in defense… meep). The projected lineup was a 4 – 2 – 3 – 1, showing:
F. Johnson – Cameron – Besler – Beasley
Jones – Beckerman
Dempsey – Bradley – Bedoya
Klinsmann’s only changes to the back four were the addition of DaMarcus Beasley on the left, opting for speed and experience, likely after Chandler’s blunder which led to Turkey’s lone goal in the prior friendly. Fabian Johnson made this, easily, his best match and has definitely landed the starting spot for the RB position. His ability to get forward (and backwards) with speed and his passing accuracy showed his lethality.
Jones and Beckerman sealed up the defensive midfield, with Bedoya starting on the left. This proves to be Beckerman and Bedoya’s first start in the sendoff series, with Bradley at the tip of a pseudo-diamond and Dempsey on the right followed by Altidore as a lone striker.
The game started quite cagey with plenty of poor passing. Nigeria, in a 4 – 3 – 3, spent their time playing the ball wide to their strikers, with which Beasley and Johnson both had a good handle on their marks, but conceded several corners early (of which none posed a threat). Communication was an issue in the second half when Emeneke was introduced, and he did a very good job of running in on the back shoulder between Besler and Gonzalez. Fortunate for the US, he was unable to finish – which may not be the case in the World Cup.
Gonzalez’ inability to communicate and stay on the same page with whichever CB he lines up with will prove to be a threat to the integrity of the back four during the Americans’ campaign. Whether or not the knee injury is lingering should not be an issue. He was not necessarily directly to blame for the penalty, but the habit of giving up late goals is an obvious concern and will hopefully be addressed in the buildup to the closed-doors friendly against Belgium.
Most (or all of) brightest spots came out of the midfield, especially in build-up sequences which were quick one/two-touch movements. An early chance featuring a buildup between Jones, Johnson and Bradley forced a corner and would be the foundation for the two goals by Jozy on both sides of the interval.
Bedoya had two gilt-edged chances early and midway through the first half to provide a killer pass onto Dempsey and misplayed both. Although his misplaying of the ball were wasted chances, it makes me semi-satisfied to know the chances are opening up. I believe Zusi would have been a better start over Bedoya to balance out the defensive posture of the team. When substituted in the second half, there was much more of an open game and key passes through the midfield.
Side note: Mix has had some good positioning late in the game, but needs to take a first time shot on goal.
With Beckerman sitting more central in front of the back four, Jones pushed out to the left and had enough defensive cover to give Bradley enough space to work his magic in the midfield. The trio of midfielders showed good positioning and work rate, especially when they lost possession. Bradley’s role in both goals easily demonstrates his value to the team and what they missed during WC qualifying. Keeping him free to dictate the play in the midfield is the key to progressing from group G.
Nigeria looked at a loss when trying to play the ball through the middle, especially when the traffic could not be funneled into Jones/Beckerman. As a result, movement of the ball when the US lost possession moved out wide, and put a little more pressure on Johnson/Beasley, who, again, dealt with the pressure well.
Jozy simply finished his two chances well. His positioning for the first goal was where he needed to be (Dempsey was right behind him) and his second goal was well taken. It is very possible that the floodgates have yet to open up – Klinsmann was right, confidence is everything in a striker. It upsets me when critics take their shot on Jozy; Sunderland is not exactly a special club, and service is almost everything to a striker. Today proved that point, in my opinion.https://web.archive.org/web/20140909222730if_/http://www.youtube.com/embed/FhjLa2-iR4k?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent
Alternatively, Dempsey did well in movement on and off the ball, but his finishing was poor. He had several good chances to put the game completely out of reach, but was unable to take them, in one instance, opting to shoot on goal with Jozy in an arguably better position. Wondo was also a victim of slowed play toward the end of the second half, and would have benefit from quicker play out of the midfield. We will have to see yet whether or not Wondolowski will pose a threat at the end of matches.
Klinsmann opted to not make his first substitution until the second half, which might be a partial show of hand and a potential starting lineup against Ghana. It can be argued that Nigeria was not playing strongly in the first half due to poor discipline throughout the match, but their second half proved a lot stronger and exposed our weakness to being countered late in matches.
Overall, a great improvement from the USMNT and a good show before traveling to Brazil in similar conditions. This should be a boon to optimisim in Brazil! #COYY #YTID
Tim Howard: 6.5
Made the saves expected of him and was unfortunate to have conceded his clean sheet on a penalty that should not have been. Congrats on his 100th cap! Tim-timiny…
Fabian Johnson: 7.5
Demonstrated good speed, accurate passing and a purposeful run leading up to the first goal. Nailed the starting RB position down.
Matt Besler: 6
Better coordination with Cameron since the Turkey Friendly. Unfortunate to have given up the penalty, which Moses made a meal out of on the challenge.
Geoff Cameron: 6
Good positioning, and well played throughout the match.
(Substiute) Omar Gonzalez: 4
Not sure if his injury is holding him back, but his positioning during the Emeneke run off his shoulder was poor. I don’t think the penalty was necessarily his fault, either.
Kyle Beckerman: 6.5
Good passing and tireless work rate. Won a good percentage of the balls that went his way.
Jermaine Jones: 6.5
The best I’ve seen him play in the sendoff series. Still occasionally smashing balls at teammates in close proximity, but much better when given the license to roam out to the left.
Alejandro Bedoya: 6
Good movement that gave him two massive chances to get a killer pass in, but also played a big role in the 1st goal.
(Substitute) Graham Zusi: 6
Would have liked to see him start instead of Bedoya, and might have been able to play the passes, in my opinion.
(Substitute) Mix Diskerud: 6
Please, hammer the ball in instead of taking that extra touch! Ahh!
Michael Bradley: 8.5
Excellent work rate and midfield bossing. He was the key to several turnovers that led to good chances in the Nigerian half, and played a role in both goals. Glad to see him hitting form.
Clint Dempsey: 6
Good positioning on and off the ball, but unable to finish some good 1-1 chances.
Jozy Altidore: 8.5
Finally broke his scoring duck in style. Did well to drop into the midfield when needed and should overall be in good spirits after a match like this. 500/1 odds on Golden Boot? Why not?
(Substitute) Chris Wondolowski: 5.5
Didn’t get involved in the play enough and suffered with slower play in the end game. Will definitely still see some minutes in Brazil, but hope he is confident enough to take chances when needed.
Bring on Ghana! #weghanawin