World Cup 2014: Part 9: USA-Nigeria Review

CONCACAF Champions the USA. African Champions Nigeria. Jacksonville, Florida.

US of Bradley Lineup: Tim Howard; DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson; Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones; Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya; Jozy Altidore

This formation is insane. Two D-mids? Bradley as #10? Deuce on the wing? Tim Howard’s 100th cap. More experimentation for Klinsmann. I’m not too fond of all this tinkering, considering how little time the team has and that teamwork is vital, but whatever.

Nigel “Nige” Geria Lineup: Vincent Enyema; Juwon Oshaniwa, Godfrey Oboabona, Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose; Ramon Azeez, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi; Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses; Shola Ameobi

Albert “Al” Geria’s brother Nige is in what you could call a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1.

1’ – The game has begun.

6’ – Shaky defensing by Besler and Cameron. This back 4 still doesn’t have an understanding of each other.

7’ – Beasley to Bradley to Bedoya, corner kick.

17’ – Sorry for not updating for 10 minutes. Oh well. I’m not sure if Bradley is in a box-to-box role, a #10 role, a winger, or what. But he seems to be the focal point of the team.

19’ – Dempsey to Beasley on the over-lap, but he can’t get the cross to Altidore.

23’ – Bedoya to Jones to Dempsey, nice lay-off from Deuce to Bradley, Bradley dribbles, shoots! Save! Terrific play by the US. Attacks need to work like that with great regularity for the US to get out of the group.

26’ – Efe Ambrose seems hurt. The handiwork of Jermaine Jones, right there. He’s okay, though.

31’ – USA bench seating order, as if that mattered: Guzan, Rimando, Omar, Zusi, Davis, Wondo, Brooks, Green, Yedlin, Chandler, Jóhannsson, Diskerud. With the exception of Yedlin in with the Germans (?) it’s MLS guys with each other, Germericans with each other, and Scandinaviamericans (that’s probably the longest word I’ve invented) with each other as well.

31’ – Cameron to Jones, Jones forward for Bedoya down the flank, Bedoya in to FJ on the under-lap, JOHNSON TO ALTIDORE, GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

32’ – That’s Altidore’s first goal since December. In recent games he’s been doing everything else well, and now that he’s scored it could open the floodgates. He’s a streaky player; last year he scored 8 goals for the US in about as many games, and for the two years before that he only had 1 goal, a penalty kick. Even though his goal was just a tap-in, it’s still valuable for a striker to see the ball hit the back of the net.

35’ – Jermaine Jones has been moving around much more freely with Beckerman.

44’ – I wish that people would stop criticizing zonal marking. As I’ve said before, I think that hybrids are best. And if I have to choose one or the other it’s man marking. But zonal marking to some degree totally has a place. See, no one would use any type of zonal marking if there was no value to it.

45+1’ – Terrific pass over the Nigerian defense by Altidore to Dempsey, and the Seattle forward gets off a long shot.

45+1’ – End of the first half. We’ve seen solid defending, counter-attacking, and a Jozy goal. This is exciting, man! I’m excited! COME ON, GHANA! WE’RE READY! Well…I hope.

46’ – Beginning of the second half. Nigeria had 58% possession in the first half. That’s a good thing. As I believe I’ve said before, possession is not a measure of how good a team is playing, but rather a measure of playing style. If a team is comfortable with the ball, they’re going to play a possession style. Good teams are normally talented, and talented players are normally comfortable with the ball, so therefore good teams generally have lots of possession, but I think that when two teams are at a similar level, the team playing the counter-attacking style has a better chance to score.

53’ – Dempsey gets the ball, runs forward, finds Bedoya in space, but the Nantes midfielder can’t hit Dempsey on the return pass.

59’ – Clint Dempsey is taken out by Oboabona. The trainer comes on. I hope he’s okay.

60’ – Graham Zusi is coming on for Alejandro Bedoya. Deuce is okay.

61’ – US substitute predictions: Davis, Jóhannsson, Diskerud, Yedlin, and Wondo. Not necessarily in that order. Klinsmann wants to keep his back 4 together, he wants to test his key subs (the Iceman, Mix, and to a lesser extent Davis and Wondo), and he’ll put on Yedlin for 10 minutes to rest FJ.

62’ – Nifty attack by the US. I don’t think that the Group G teams will be as messy as Nigeria is being in possession. And I mean “messy,” not “Messi.”

65’ – Johnson to Dempsey, to Bradley, to Dempsey in tons of space, Dempsey shoots! Saved! Altidore was open, but Dempsey is one of the top all-time USMNT goal-scorers.  So he can take shots if he wants to. Jozy’s already gotten his goal anyways.

68’ – Wonderful ball by Bradley to Altidore, Altidore controls the ball well around the defender, SHOOTS, GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!! BRACE BY JOZY ALTIDORE!!!!!

69’ – Who said that the flood-gates would be open? M to the E, me! That call was live, by the way, not added in later. I’m a GENIUS.

72’ – Mix Diskerud comes on for Kyle Beckerman. Bradley slots into a more reserved role, with Mix as the #10, both tactically and on his jersey.

75’ – Here comes Timmy Chandler for DaMarcus Beasley. Well, there goes my sub predictions. I was thinking that because Chandler played all 90 last game, plus 45 in the first game, while all Beasley has gotten was 45 in game one, that Klinsmann would let Beasley go 90. I guess I was wrong.

80’ – Here comes Omar Gonzalez for Jozy Altidore. You can retract the “genius” bit from 10 minutes ago. And you can hear the applause for Altidore.

81’ – My initial reaction was that Gonzalez would slot in at right center-back, Cameron would move to right-back, while Fabian Johnson moves to left-wing and Dempsey moves to striker, but no, it’s a 3-man central defense with Besler, Gonzalez, and Cameron, with FJ and Chandler at wing-back. Interesting.

83’ – Terrific save by Tim Howard on Emmanuel Emineke. More poor defending, though.

85’ – Matt Besler commits a foul in the box!!! PENALTY!!! Poor defending on the team in that one. You can’t really blame Besler, but people certainly will.

86’ – PK: Victor Moses to take…GOAL!!! SUPER EAGLES!!!

87’ – You know what? The 3-man/5-man backline apparently doesn’t work. Wondolowski on for Dempsey.

90+4’ – Final whistle! The US beats Nigeria 2-0 with a 4-man backline, and then Nigeria wins 1-0 when the US switched to a 5-man backline. Hmmm…

The team looked better than in the last game. But they weren’t tested in defense as much as they will be in the World Cup, while they also got more chances than they will get in the World Cup.

I’ll get further in to what formation they were playing later (was it a diamond? a 4-2-3-1? I really don’t know), along with other takeaways.

Player Ratings


0-2: Hide the women and children (horrifying).

2-4: Open the windows (bad).

4-6: Average.

6-8: You get a cookie (good)!

8-10: You get a whole cake (superb)!

Note: 5 is the averagest of them all, as I’ve discarded the traditional method of 6 as the average.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what the heck I’m talking about. That can kind of be applied to my whole blog. And life.)

6.0 Tim Howard – he almost got a clean sheet in his 100th cap, but didn’t. He made a few good saves, and the late penalty, which was no fault of his own, was the only goal he let in.

5.5 Matt Besler – the SKC captain has been widely criticized for his weak play in these friendlies, and while he did better in this game the penalty will certainly increase the worries, even though it wasn’t really his fault.

5.5 Geoff Cameron – I thought he did well. All of the US defenders struggled when Klinsmann switched to a 5-man backline. Nigeria didn’t test the defense as much as I would’ve wanted to see, though.

7.0 Fabian Johnson – yeah, he’s not necessarily the best the US has defensively, but there aren’t many who are better. And he’s elite in the attack, as he proved with an assist to Jozy Altidore.

7.0 DaMarcus Beasley – I’ve got to say, he’s done a really good job at left-back. Amazing considering that he’s played his entire career–including 3 World Cups–at left-midfielder.

7.0 Kyle Beckerman – he never does anything that makes people go “wow,” but it’s the little things that he does, the simple passes to retain possession, the perfect position to force the attackers to go a different way, all that stuff, that makes him very useful. Other players play better when he’s on the team. He’s been the best player for RSL, and he allows the USMNT’s stars to shine brighter.

8.0 Jermaine Jones – quality game in his best position: destroyer. He’s a destruction machine, and that’s very helpful to the US. But he can’t go around wreaking havoc when he’s supposed to be the #6, so when he does that in a 4-2-3-1 alongside Bradley, Bradley ends up having to be the #6, staying in a stable position and defending, as opposed to going back and forth. But, with Beckerman as #6, both Jones and Bradley were given freedom to roam. And boy, did it pay dividends. Great send-off series, overall, by Jones.

9.0 Michael Bradley – another very good game from THE GENERAL. And yes, it does have to be all-caps. As I’ve said, he’s the best non-goalkeeper player the US has and the closest thing to Yaya Toure on the team. He can defend, pass from deep, create chances, and even score from deep runs if the game allows him to (he got 15 goals in the Dutch league once). Him doing those first three things (the fourth would be a nice bonus, I guess) is crucial for the US to get out of the group. He’s figuring out to play in the #10 position in a way that suits him best. He’s had a better performance than the last in each send-off-series game, and so has the team as a whole. Coincidence? Absolutely not. The team goes as Michael Bradley goes.

6.5 Alejandro Bedoya – if there were any weaknesses in the team vs. Nigeria, it was in attack or in defense. But they were as solid as can be in midfield. While Bedoya was a bit shaky going forward, he put in solid work. That’s crucial playing on the right side of the diamond, or at right-midfield in any formation in the Group of Certain Death (there are three groups of death–B, D, and G–but Group G is the only one with four really good teams).

5.5 Clint Dempsey – it wasn’t really the Clint Dempsey we want to see–scoring goals, making the right decisions, etc. –but he did give the Nigeria defense a few problems. Hopefully he’ll be a little sharper by the Ghana game, because a flubbed chance by the US in that game means we’re all dead.

8.5 Jozy Altidore – he’s been doing everything but score for the last couple of games, and now we’re seeing the finishing product. Strikers play good or bad, but their goal-scoring, which isn’t necessarily connected to how good they play, is streaky. Jozy Altidore especially has streaky goal-scoring. When he’s playing well, which he has been for the US as I said, he might still be in a bad streak as far as goal-scoring, but a brace is towards the top of the list for opening the floodgates exactly like he did last summer.


I won’t rate the subs. I’m too lazy busy for things like that.

A Few Takeaways

I used to call it “5 or so Takeaways,” but then I determined that I’d rarely make it to 4, much less 5. Here we go:

What formation was that?

Depending on what time of the game it was, it looked like one of these things:

US What Formation

It’s interesting how there could be so many different conclusions for a formation from the same game, but it’s true. How can that be? Well, watching on TV you can’t see all the action all the time. Also, the formation changed.

Formations generally change slightly throughout the game, but this one is built to be flexible. It has many moving parts that are all different. Whatever the players “position” was, you couldn’t argue against the fact that there were defined roles for all the non-defenders:

Altidore: target forward.

Dempsey: second forward who sometimes goes down the left.

Bradley: box-to-box playmaker.

Bedoya: tucked in, two-way right winger.

Jones: destroyer.

Beckerman: calm, stable, central defensive midfielder who, as always, didn’t seem to do much himself but in reality opened up the game for Bradley and Jones to dominate.

See? They may not have stayed in one positional role, and it wasn’t a pure diamond or Christmas tree or 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 or anything like that, but they did have set jobs. It was a Squishy Diamond. It looked like this:

Squishy Diamond

What the heck is that? It’s Klinsmann’s creation. He’s a mad scientist. In this case, his project seems promising.

The US cannot play with a 5-man backline

Late in the game, Jürgen Klinsmann took off Jozy Altidore for Omar Gonzalez.

That cost the team a goal.

The super-tall Galaxy defender is one of the best defenders the US has when he’s on the top of his game. He was MLS defender of the year not too long ago, and the best player when the US played Mexico at the Estadio Azteca last year. That seems like a very distant past.

See, in recent months for club and country, Omar Gonzalez has been shaky at best in defense. He’s rightly lost his starting spot. I’m not sure if it was because of his new DP contract or his marriage, or just a bad slump, but he’s been poor for the US, and it showed vs. Nigeria, even though he only played about 10 minutes.

But it goes deeper than that. Klinsmann did a lot of experimentation. If I had more time (i.e. was better at not wasting time) I would list all the little things he did, but it was a lot. And even though I’m not too fond of the idea of experimentation, you know, right before a World Cup next week, the soccer nerd in me (i.e. me) salivates at that.

(Note: I used “i.e.” twice in that paragraph. What does that say about me?)

One of Klinsmann’s experiments was when he added Gonzalez, the extra defender. The team switched from the Squishy Diamond to this:

USMNT 5-4-1

The diamond is still squishy, with Bradley having moved to the Beckerman role and Diskerud in the Bradley role (note: this is a fire-drill by Klinsmann; we will see Beckerman out for Diskerud if the US needs a goal–a likely scenario to occur at least once in this group), but the three central defenders is what makes it so much different, and why the US got crushed in the last 10 minutes.

An overlooked aspect of defending, and why it’s far different than attacking, is that players need experience with each other.

It all stems from the basic difference of defenders and attackers: a defender can be great for 89 minutes and bad for 1 minute and they did bad, while an attacker can be bad for 89 minutes and good for 1 minute and they did good. Understand that and you understand all the differences between those two position groups.

Including why teamwork matters much more to defenders. You need to learn your teammates, so that you know what you need to do to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. A new attacking player runs in the wrong direction because of a miscommunication with his teammate and doesn’t receive the pass? No big deal, it’s just a chance for a chance wasted. Happens all the time. A new defending player doesn’t know he’s supposed to mark a specific player? We’re all dead.

A defender needs to be comfortable with the teammates and comfortable with the system. This is why Timmy Chandler has been underwhelming, and why the back-5 failed.

True, the 5-man backline may not be needed at the World Cup, but how many ways are there for the US to park the bus if ahead? Add another D-mid? If both Jones and Beckerman are playing, there are no more D-mids except Cameron, who is starting at center-back. So the only way to move Cameron to D-mid would include 1) playing Omar Gonzalez and 2) changing the defensive personnel. If you’ve read this section at all, you know how bad both of those things would be.

So what does the US do to seal a victory? I don’t know. And in the group that the US has, we may not have to find out.

Jozy Altidore is opening the floodgates

On June 14th, 2011, Jozy Altidore scored the lone National Team goal against Guadeloupe. Bob Bradley was the coach back then. It took Jozy two almost two years, June 2nd, 2013 vs. Germany, to score another goal from open play (he scored a penalty kick in late 2011 against Slovenia).

Starting with that goal against Germany, he scored 7 goals in a 5-game span.

Jozy Altidore is a streaky player. In these friendlies, he’s played quite well (you can write off his mediocre performance vs. Azerbaijan to the facts that: 1) everyone was mediocre and 2) he was playing with an unfamiliar strike partner in Chris Wondolowski). But already-widespread criticism was growing louder when he failed to score vs. Azerbaijan and Turkey. Now he’s added two goals to his nifty play in what is basically World Cup preseason, and he could very well be starting another streak at the best possible time.

See, Altidore did poorly at Sunderland, a situation that few players could’ve done well in. An American playing for a bad team in the best league in the world. A very, very hard scenario to succeed in. And he didn’t. Not that any other US player would succeed there (Aron Jóhannsson, who many people falsely thought should supplant Altidore–wouldn’t work, different styles of play–has been doing well in the Dutch Eredivisie, but that’s exactly what Altidore did the year before).

With Altidore more than anyone else, Alexi Lalas’s words ring true: form is fallacy. In that almost two year span where he didn’t score a goal in open play for the USMNT, do you know what he did at club level? Scored 39 goals in 67 games (that’s very good) for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. My point is that his club form and national team form rarely ever correlate at all. So getting freaked out over him doing poorly in the EPL is ridiculous.

Now, I’m not saying that he will score a bunch of goals in the World Cup. I’m not even saying he needs to. But a double is certainly a good start.

Kyle Beckerman is the key to the US making it out of the group stage

Read my “player ratings” on Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones again. Having Michael Bradley in his full Michael Bradley-ness alongside a destroyer is very useful, but it only works with Beckerman. Being in the middle of the field, the midfield is enormously important. If Klinsmann has cracked the midfield code with this one, the team’s chances to advance will certainly be boosted, especially if Altidore can keep scoring. That defense, though…


Unless I splurge and do something else (no promises) this is my last post before I set off for…right exactly where I am right now. And talk more about the World Cup itself, as opposed to just friendlies. Look for my next post to drop on Wednesday, it’s a preview of Group A, Brazil-Croatia, and the first edition of the Totally Inaccurate World Cup Power Rankings. After that I’ll be doing a World Cup report each and every day. Stay tuned, and tell your friends. You’ve been warned.


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