USMNT: Azerbaijan Review and Turkey Preview
It was fine; it was nothing inspiring, but the first game against Azerbaijan was a decent way to get the send-off series started. Quite honestly, the game itself was perplexing. One would assume that Azerbaijan, coached by USA special assistant coach Berti Vogts, would have catered his squad to better test the USMNT by providing his best tactical impersonation of Ghana, Portugal, or Germany. Instead, the FIFA ranked 85th best squad in the world, kept all 11 players back in the defensive half, providing no counter attack to speak of and hardly testing the USA back-four whatsoever. The Yanks held onto the ball 70% of the time, but earned very few scoring chances, especially in the first half. In the second half, the game opened up a bit, sparked by the presence of several key substitutes, some of which may have made a case to be a part of the starting XI (more on that below).
We should see a different type of game against a much more formidable opponent in Turkey. The only lineup change I foresee will obviously be the inclusion of Clint Dempsey, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Chris Wondolowski on Wednesday, due to a tight hamstring. The starters will need to provide coach Klinsmann a more inspiring performance in order to hold off a few of those aforementioned blossoming young subs.
Here are a few thoughts going into the friendly against Turkey:
Will the Real Michael Bradley Please Stand Up?
Please excuse my clichéd homage to Mr. Marshall Mathers; it happened, it’s out there, now lets move on. In April’s friendly against Mexico, Jurgen Klinsmann used an experimental 4-4-2 “diamond” formation, allowing Michael Bradley more freedom to roam around in the offensive half controlling the pace of the game. That match may have been one of Bradley’s most impressive performances in a US kit…ever, leaving fans salivating on things to come. Against Azerbaijan, the squad stuck with this formation, however this time instead of Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones was partnered with Bradley in the central midfield. With the more aggressive Jones next to him, Bradley felt it more pertinent to stay withdrawn, almost morphing the formation into a true 4-4-2, forcing Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi to force most of the offensive pressure from the outside, to mixed results. Bradley, attempting to do too much, found it difficult to link up with his forwards all evening, turning the ball over on numerous occasions. The match against Turkey will be a huge test for the Bradley-Jones partnership. It is undebatable that the two are clearly the most talented central midfielders the USA has at its disposal, but if the tandem cannot find chemistry in this, the 11th hour, a change in formation, philosophy, or lineup may have to be made.
Chris Wondolowski Needs to Perform Better
I know I am in the minority here, but I just do not understand the media’s love affair with Chris Wondolowski. Sure, he seems like a really great guy, is an incredibly hard worker, and has a story of perseverance that could inspire even the coldest of cynics, but the guy needs to do better. Wondo has a reputation for being a poacher, the classic center forward who always just seems to be at the right place at the right time. However, at the moment, this US lineup has no room for a one trick pony. The current system relies too heavily on the ball control and defensive presence of the forwards, areas in which Wondo does not excel. Against Azerbaijan, he continually turned the ball over during an offensive build up and then would subsequently play reckless defensive ball in order to make up for his mistake. The team cannot afford sub par outfield play, and if Klinsmann does indeed want to play the poaching Wondolowski in Brazil, he will need to capitalize on the easy chances he gets in the box. Quite frankly, they won’t ever come much easier than the two chances he botched in the first half on Wednesday evening.
Are Aron Johansson and Mix Diskerud the Difference Makers?
Time and time again, these two young northern European phenoms have been the catalysts of second half offensive surges by the USMNT. Both players come from similar backgrounds. Johansson was born in Alabama before moving to Iceland with his family, turning pro at 17 in Iceland’s top division. Similarly, Mix, was born in Norway, carries duel citizenship with both countries, and also turned pro at 17 in his home country’s top division. Both players were huge recruiting prizes by Jurgen Klinsmann. Johansson declared for the United States in 2013 and was immediately called up for senior level play, while Mix played at the youth level for both the US and Norway, becoming tied to the USA in 2012. The two have regularly provided game-changing energy off of the bench on numerous occasions; Johansson famously scored the “dagger” goal against Panama, while Mix’s claim to fame was his brilliant assist to Landon Donovan during the latest installment of “Dos a Cero.” Each player is blessed with incredible natural talent, and after each scoring a goal against Azerbaijan, proved that whether it be on the bench or even possibly in the starting lineup, they are very important to the squad’s hopes in Brazil. A strong follow up performance by either against Turkey may force Klinsmann to consider elevating their respective roles.
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