The USA national team defeated Azerbaijan 2-0 in their first pre-World Cup friendly on Tuesday night at Candlestick Park. Here are five observations from the game:
1. Nothing About This Friendly Was A Good Idea
The reasons the US played Azerbaijan started and ended with Berti Vogts, who is the Azerbaijan manager and a special advisor and close friend to Jurgen Klinsmann. But that’s no reason to use one of three important friendlies before the World Cup to play a match.
The decision to host the game at Candlestick Park was admirable – the famous venue has only days left before its gone, and has never hosted the US national team. But the reason why the Giants and 49ers fled was clearly evident.
With wind whipping around all night, a small crowd of only 25,000 left almost 40,000 empty seats and made for a subdued atmosphere.
The game did nothing to make the occasion more festive. Azerbaijan put ten players behind the ball, defending all night and did nothing to simulate what the US will see in Brazil. And the American defense wasn’t tested all night.
I understand why Klinsmann wanted an easy friendly to start out the campaign, to boost morale and energy – especially if he knew far in advance that he was going to pick a barely understandable squad – but Azerbaijan was not the team to play it against. They don’t concede many goals, making a healing 5-0 win impossible, but are nowhere near good enough to test the US.
It’s harsh, but this game was a waste of time.
2. The Cons of the 4-4-2 Diamond
Before getting too heavy into analysis of the US’ offensive performance, we have to keep in mind that Clint Dempsey didn’t play and was replaced in the team by Landon Donovan Chris Wondolowski.
Immediately without Dempsey, the US attack became less potent. But boy, it looked bad for 75 minutes.
Michael Bradley was poor all day. The US has only moved from its custom 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 to maximize Bradley’s talent and get the most out of the best player in the national team setup. But Bradley has to be great for that decision to work.
Jermaine Jones, who knows his job may hinge on his tactical rigidness, didn’t venture forward and more frequently dropped into the backline. It minimized Jones’ effectiveness, and put Bradley on an island.
It seems like Kyle Beckerman is a natural choice for the 4-4-2 diamond, but Klinsmann knows that Jones is a better player. The problem is, he’s being shoehorned into a system that doesn’t really work for him.
3. The Bench Was Fun
Mix Diskerud’s liveliness off the bench can’t be underestimated. He’s sprightly in bursts, and while he scrapped for the opening goal, he got into dangerous positions all night.
Diskerud is the right choice for the #10 shirt, and he said after the game that he’s just “barrowing” it from Donovan. Diskerud surely remembers all too clearly the 2013 Gold Cup where Donovan dominated, and the cross he sent to Donovan for numero dos against Mexico in Columbus.
Aron Johannsson also looked good, and appears to be in competition with Chris Wondolowski for the first forward spot off the bench. Wondo’s two missed chances – however cruel – will have hurt him when Johannsson buried his open header.
As for Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin, god help the US if they see the field in Brazil. It was interesting that Julian Green didn’t see the field in this friendly. It suggests that he’s behind Brad Davis – who was lively – on the depth chart.
4. We’ll Learn More Against Turkey And Nigeria
Azerbaijan never posed a threat. But Turkey has players who can hurt the US, and Nigeria is a team preparing for the World Cup who will be going full-throttle at the Americans in Jacksonville.
Defense remains the number one concern for the US, and in order for Klinsmann to clearly see his options, the US has to play some defense. The American performance against Azerbaijan wasn’t good enough to beat either Turkey nor Nigeria – let alone Ghana, Portugal, and Germany.
This game was awful overall. ESPN commentator Jon Champion was great, but that’s about it.
5. Donovan Looms Large
It goes without saying, but Donovan’s presence over this team will be a major storyline until the end. Klinsmann backing up on his comment that he would call Donovan back in if a forward got hurt was inevitable and suggests there’s no real possibility Donovan can get back into the team.
Mix Diskerud was a bright spot in a dire game, but a large reason ESPN pulled him over for the postgame interview was to ask him about wearing Donovan’s #10.
Donovan’s martyrdom – he’s always been beloved by some, but has never been as universally popular as he is right now – is worth watching. It wasn’t just that Donovan was dropped, it was the way that he was dropped that has turned people against Klinsmann so forcefully.
The US needs big performances to put the roster debacle behind them. A tepid 2-0 win over Azerbaijan isn’t that, and pivotal days loom near.
Watch the highlights of the game here: