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USMNT: A Preview of Final Tune-Up Against Nigeria

by Daniel Steele | Posted on Saturday, June 7th, 2014
Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty Images

Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty Images

This is it.

Aside from the closed-door scrimmage in Sao Paulo against Belgium on June 12th, this is the last tune-up opportunity the US has before its game on June 16th against Ghana. Look for this game against Nigeria to be as close to a live World Cup simulation as possible. The opponent is the most talented squad the US have faced during the send off series and the only of the three to be joining the United States in Brazil.

Climate as well, should play a role in the WC preparation. Make no mistake; playing the third and final game in the sweltering heat of a north Florida summer was a calculated decision to prepare the team for a tournament that will most assuredly be defined by punishing temperatures and debilitating humidity.

The first two games against Azerbaijan and Turkey, while important warm up tests, also gave Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff some final opportunities to experiment with starting lineups, tactics, formations, and substitutions. For the most part, players have established their strengths, weaknesses, and ideal roles moving towards Brazil. For better or worse, the team identity has been solidified, the players and the tempo we see today on the field will more likely than not be indicative of what we will see against Ghana. There are a few questions still to be answered in tonight’s game, but the overarching goals are for the unit will be to stay compact, conditioned, healthy, and to board that charter jet to Brazil with confidence.

Here are three things to keep an eye out for this evening’s friendly against Nigeria.


Who will start at Left-Midfield?


After returning from his sabbatical and subsequently terrorizing opponents throughout the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the left midfield position was held down by Landon Donovan. Until the moment he was left off of the 23-man roster most would have assumed that his presence in the starting Xi as the left midfielder would have continued. The uncertainty consuming the identity of the individual that must take his place makes Donovan’s absence even more perplexing. Against Azerbaijan Alejandro Bedoya, the favorite to win the job was chosen to man the position in the starting XI, to mixed results. His job was not easy that evening. Azerbaijan kept all eleven players back making it hard for the US offensive attack to take any shape. With that said, however, Bedoya did provide a very nice cross to Chris Wondolowski in the first half that most assuredly should have been headed in to the back of the net. Aside from a few possession woes, Bedoya provides the type of box-to-box pace and defensive presence that Jurgen Klinsmann prefers.


Bedoya’s counterpart, Brad Davis, offers a less complete but more dynamic element to the position. The only true lefty on the team, Davis has the ability to service absolutely dynamite crosses and set pieces, which in the World Cup could determine the difference between a three points and zero points. Davis is a high-effort guy but lacks the type of pace and box-to-box presence that Bedoya gives the team. Coming off of the bench for each player during both friendlies was the new number 10: Mix Diskerud. Mix is a creative player who uses his superior technical ability and great first touch to make plays, always intelligently finding space inside the 18. However, Mix’s skillset is better used from a middle attacking position, and can only demonstrate its worth late in games when a goal is needed. Mix will most definitely play a significant role in Brazil, most likely coming off of the bench. Whether it be Bedoya or Davis, look for tonight’s starter to be indicative of the starter against Ghana. One thing is certain however, all players need to begin to demonstrate their worth if the US fans will ever truly move on from the Donovan omission.


Stay Healthy


We’ve seen it too often through the friendly season thus far; squad’s losing key players to nasty injuries. Mexico lost Luis Montes for the World Cup after he was on the wrong end of a nasty challenge against Ecuador. England may have to continue on to Brazil without winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after he suffered a knee injury against, once again, Ecuador. Most recently, Germany lost blossoming Borussia Dortmund superstar Marco Rues for the entire cup after rolling his ankle against Armenia. Unlike England and Germany, the United States does not have a deep pool of players to choose from if one of the key members of the team went down. The US should give their best effort against Nigeria, but in a smart way. Players like Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey, known to sometimes play a bit too recklessly need to play conservatively today, for the benefit of the team. The squad cannot afford to lose any of the three players.


Don’t let Taylor Twellman fool you; Jozy does not HAVE to score today       


Its been well documented, obsessed on by media pundits looking for a cheap and easy sound byte, and has served as top lead for every USMNT pre-game show since February. JOZY, JOZY, JOZY, when is he going to score!? Do not get my wrong, it’s always important for your center forward to score, especially leading into the World Cup but all of the little extra things Jozy has been doing have just been superb. Altidore has become a complete forward, using his strength and size to out-muscle opposing defenders, gaining possession in what otherwise would be a turnover. His presence up top has been crucial to the success of Clint Dempsey, who operates at his best in open space. There is no shame in doing the dirty work and allowing the others to get the accolades, its time the pundits start understanding that.

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