United States vs. Azerbaijan: A Preview
Tonight it’s real. Coming out of the tunnel this evening in the old bay-area stadium will be the 23 players representing the United States in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. The opponent tonight is Azerbaijan, a middling Central Asian squad strangely being managed by United States assistant coach Berti Vogts. This initial less-challenging matchup may be the ideal matchup for a tired team, seeing its first game action after a rough ten days of camp. Below are three thoughts to keep in mind watching the matchup this evening.
Donovan Won’t be There, Now Let’s Move On
At 10pm tonight, Candlestick Park will have an exciting, albeit peculiar atmosphere. For the first time since 1998 the US Men’s National team will take the field for a pre-World Cup international friendly without Landon Donovan. The uproar following the announcement that Donovan will not be part of the final 23-man squad has been tremendous to say the least. Make no mistake, assuming Klinsmann’s decision was indeed the correct one and the best team is the one without Landon, it will still be an unusual night. With that said, no matter how heartbroken everybody may be to not see Donovan on the pitch, the worst thing for the national team will be for the fans in San Francisco to show them animosity. Landon Donovan said it himself, the decision has been made and it is in the past, no matter how the fans feel, they need to throw all of their support behind the current guys on the squad. While this upcoming sendoff series inherently is designed to prepare the squad for the tournament, it also serves as a glorified pep rally for the fans to show the team off in sensational-patriotic fashion. The country needs to leave for Brazil knowing what and for whom they are playing for. The team won’t be inspired to play its best ball if the nation and the media are focused more on the one guy who isn’t there rather than the 23 that are.
Will the Starting XI be Indicative of World Cup Lineup?
Jurgen Klinsmann announced that the lineup tonight will more-than-likely represent the lineup that will take the field against Ghana on June 16th. However, in typical cryptic Klinsmann fashion he qualified that statement saying that the six-substitutions he has at his disposal with allow him to “tinker” with a few things, at least in the second half. With Omar Gonzalez still reeling from his knee injury Geoff Cameron should get the starting nod at center back next to Matt Besler. Bookending the two ought to be Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley, the former of which has found a home at right back after shifting through multiple positions during qualifying. Assuming Klinsmann will be using his customary 4-2-3-1 formation, we should see Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the middle with Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya on the flanks. Clint Dempsey, not the undisputed captain and leader, will most certainly take his familiar role up front with Jozy Altidore. Look for Brad Davis, Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, and Aron Johansson to see significant time tonight as well. If injuries or yellow card accumulation cause any of the starting XI to miss time, the aforementioned group will be the first called up to step in.
Exciting to See Some Unfamiliar Faces
After all of the hullabaloo surrounding the inclusion of so many young players on the squad its time for Klinsmann to show the country exactly what he has seen in camp to warrant their inclusion in the final 23. US fans haven’t seen Timmy Chandler since February 2013 in a loss to Honduras, a game in which the German-American struggled, mainly due to 95-degree heat that day. It’d be nice to see an impressive showing from him this evening in order to feel more comfortable with the American right-back situation behind Fabian Johnson. The same sentiment applies to 20-year old DeAndre Yedlin. If he plays with composure and isn’t intimidated by the situation he could provide excellent box-to-box pace from the defensive back. Last but not least, let’s address the new most-famous teenager in America: Julian Green. An Azerbaijan squad ranked 85th in the world and made up of primarily low level and semi-professional players may be the perfect stage to showcase the technically and athletically gifted half-German teen. Klinsmann has raved about Green’s performance in Palo Alto, repeatedly saying that Green was guaranteed nothing and earned his way onto the final squad. With no game tape to speak of, tonight could be the beginning of Julian Green’s coming out party, not just to the national team but to the rest of the world as well. Inspiring play from some of the younger and less-heralded players is exactly the remedy the team will need for the fans and the media to move on from the Landon Donovan omission.
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