Are you ready, America? We’re meeting at the McDonalds in Rio. I’m buying.
Three matches, three wins. With a solid defensive performance and two goals from the previously goalless Jozy Altidore, the U.S. Men’s National Team defeated Nigeria 2-1 in Jacksonville last night. With the World Cup starting this week, the jingoistic Team U.S.A hype machine is about to enter caipirinha-fueled overdrive.
— Andrew Helms (@andrew_helms) June 8, 2014
With the World Cup looming, it’s easy to read too much into these friendly matches. We see an errant pass or a heavy first touch, and we’re ready to banish players from the international stage in perpetuity. Remember when I wrote really nice things about Brad Davis a few days ago like he was David Beckham with a left foot? Yeah, sorry about that. The World Cup fever got to me, too.
While it’s necessary to assess current form, let’s be reminded that Klinsmann has been with this team since 2011; he knows who his guys are. Despite brief fits of fancy (i.e. the Brad Davis experiment), the sound you hear is Klinsmann settling on a rather unsurprising starting XI.
Yesterday’s opponent was Nigeria. Recent victors of the African Cup of Nations, many have called Nigeria a stand-in for opponent Ghana. Though the teams share a common continent, that’s about it. They do not play similar brands of soccer. Nigeria relies on physical, 1v1 play to score goals while Ghana plays a more cerebral game with the vision and skill to unlock an opponent with a killer pass. Chelsea supporters will be mortified to hear that John Obi Mikel is Nigeria’s creative talisman.
Klinsmann’s lineup bore few surprises with the biggest adjustment coming in midfield as Klinsmann packed the center with three players — Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones — and one outright winger, Alejandro Bedoya. Hopefully, Beckerman’s presence will allow Jones the creative license to spread chaos. Silicon Valley startups should watch his movement because Jones truly disrupts the field, stifling attacks before they can begin.
We expected the United States to play a typical American game. Defend and counter. Run and gun. Somewhere, Bob Bradley is smiling.
The Match Report
“Formations Don’t Matter”
In a press conference Friday, Klinsmann told reporters that formations don’t matter, and he’s (somewhat) right. In truth, player selection counts much more. In game, a diamond 4-4-2 can adjust into a 4-2-3-1 and spring back into diamond shape in a manner of seconds. Selecting a squad with the tactical wherewithal to make an in game adjustment will decide which teams get to enjoy caiparinhas on the beach and which teams get to play a few more soccer games.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 7, 2014
As I mentioned earlier, Klinsmann returned Jones to the starting lineup and set him to his usual “DESTROY” mode. With Kyle Beckerman shielding the back line, Jones had the ability to create havoc on the left. Overall, the adjustment worked. While Turkey and even lowly Azerbaijan found space to create chances from the top of the U.S. 18-yard box, the U.S. defensive shell held firm against Nigeria, and the African side lacked the incisive play to break down their formation.
It made for a largely dull opening half of soccer. Nigeria maintained possession but barely threatened Howard in goal. While the game plan endured against a team that lacks creativity, the United States should be nervous about the prospect of conceding so much possession to Ghana, Portugal, or Germany. Cristiano — health permitting — can only be held back for so long in a match.
The Resurrection of Jozy Altidore
Remember the last time Jozy Altidore scored? Neither do I. We could (and will) dissect last night’s brace, but the world will be better served assessing the cosmic weight of the moment. What did those goals mean to Jozy Altidore? I’m thinking that Jozy went home, grinning like this kid.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 8, 2014
Check out Jozy’s first goal:
I can only imagine what went through his head as that ball drifted across the mouth of goal. In that second, an entire season of missed chances, benchings, offside calls, and dreary Sunderland skies flashed before his eyes. He vanquished them all with that goal. A calm, assertive finish.
Jozy’s second goal merits discussion, too.
Let’s see that from another angle:
Another great pass from Michael Bradley, but Jozy’s ability to hold-up play, give himself a yard and a half of space and beat a keeper to the near post was first class. That’s a move that takes confidence. With his mojo back, look for Jozy to keep on keepin’ on in Brazil. He’s always had the tools to be a big-time player. Maybe his play can back it up now.
Under Pressure and Fabulous Fabian
While most of the post-match discussion has been about the solid American defensive shell, the bigger story for me were the select moments when the Yankee midfield applied pressure further up the pitch. Unlike a team like Spain that presses constantly to win the ball back, the U.S. team prefers to conserve energy and only press when a situation is ripe for exploitation. Be aware of that. It won’t happen often in Brazil, but when Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones decide to force a turnover at midfield, look for the American attackers to flood the field and get forward.
Both American goals came from turnovers generated upfield, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones unleashing attackers. On the counter, no American player has been better at getting forward than Fabian Johnson. Jozy’s first goal — a simple tap-in — happened because Johnson bombed into the box from his defensive position. Bedoya picked out Johnson with an incredible pass, and Johnson lashed a cross across the 6-yard box for Jozy’s simple tap-in.
In slow transitions, the United States looks about as comfortable on the ball as kids at a middle school dance, but the American fast break offense is probably the only thing that worries our Group G opponents.
This land is your land.
[A brief message from the America-lover inside Andrew Helms]
Do you know what starts this week? Yeah, the motherfucking World Cup. And I’d like to introduce you to Team U.S.A. You’ve been hating on us, no doubt. Saying that Jozy ain’t got it at this level, laughing at his season at Sunderland. You’ve looked at our roster, wondering whatever happened to that Donovan guy.
We read Four-Four-Two Magazine’s prediction of a three and out performance with no goals and chuckled.
Underestimate us, hate us, laugh at us, at your own peril. It only makes America stronger. Jozy has recovered his scoring touch. Michael Bradley — or should I say Lex Luthor — is going to take all the kryptonite that Ghana gives us and laugh maniacally before dispossessing your central midfielder and threading a perfect through ball to Clint Dempsey who will do this to your defender before lashing a shot past your helpless keeper.
That Group of Death that used to seem so scary? Not so much right now. Portugal without Cristiano is like an episode ER without George Clooney. Why watch? Also, has someone sent a care you package to that Ghanaian witch doctor yet? American Outlaws, I’m looking at you.
Over in Jurgen-land, the Germans are dropping faster than scenesters at Coachella.
It’s time to get irrationally excited, boys. It’s time to let the Don’t Tread on Me flag fly. We may look like Tea Partiers, but we don’t need a birth certificate to know that Barack Obama would absolutely love to hang out with Kyle Beckerman. Paint yourself in red, white, and blue. Crank that Bruce record to 11. We’re meeting at the McDonalds in Rio. I’m buying.
Next stop: Brazil. The next time we see the U.S. Men’s National Team, they’ll be taking the field against Ghana. Rest up this week, my friends. Figure out how you’re going to secretly watch the World Cup at work. Inform your significant other that you’ll be largely unavailable for the next four weeks.
It’s the World Cup. We can’t wait.
Do you know what confidence smells like? This polo shirt. It’s the same one Jurgen wore in the 2-1 victory against Turkey. Like a schoolgirl who just touched the hand of a rock demi-god, Jurgen knows not to take it off, not to wash it. He’s rocking the double tea-pot stance, eyes fixed ahead. He’s watching the game, but really he’s seeing something much deeper, much more profound. It’s the future, and it looks good.
What did you think of the American performance against Nigeria? Who would you like to see start against Ghana? How do you about the United States team heading into the Group of Death? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @8by8mag or @andrew_helms.