Tag Archives: Azerbaijan

World Cup 2014: Part 3: USA-Azerbaijan As It Happened, Player Ratings, 5 or so Takeaways

USA. Azerbaijan. San Francisco. Read my preview if you haven’t yet.

Klinsmann FC Lineup: Howard; Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson; Jones; Bedoya, Bradley, Zusi; Dempsey, Wondolowski*, Altidore

4-1-2-1-2, or “diamond” if you want to simplify it and like shapes. Besler-Cam at center-back, FJ at right-back, Bedoya at left-midfield. I like it.

Dempsey strained his groin. I hope he’s okay. Wondo is in.
If Dempsey can’t go to the World Cup, do you know who is most likely to replace him in the roster? I won’t say it in order not to jinx it, but his name rhymes with “Bandon Bonovan.” That would be nice (and awkward) but does it have to be Dempsey who goes out? It’s all pure conjecture, anyways.

Berti Vogts United Lineup: Agayev; Yunuszada, Budak, Shukurov, Ramaldanov; Dadashov, Abatsiyev, Abisov, Qarayev; Aliyev, Cavadov

Yeah, I don’t know any of these guys. Dadashov is the best they have, I hear. He’s been struggling for time in the German second division. Oh look, it’s a bird outside.

1’ – The game has begun!
2’ – The US has yet to have a serious chance at a serious chance. If the game doesn’t end as a multi-goal win, riots will break out.
3’ – FJ fouled. Wondo with the pass. Free kick.
4’ – Zusi…WONDO!…denied! Agayev! Wondo may have been just off-side, but it was close. Wonderful ball in by the SKC winger, a nice header, and a great save. Do I sound too positive? The marking was atrocious.
6’ – By the way, as expected, Mix Diskerud is in the #10 shirt. After Donovan’s departure, I thought that it would’ve been best to not give it to anyone, but Mix is likable and no one can blame him for taking Donovan’s spot. Oh, and they kind of have to, because FIFA hates numbers 24 and higher.
7’ – Matt Besler with a key pass–to the bad guys. Fortunately the Azerbaijani’s shot was saved by Howard, but he cannot do that against Ronaldo or Asamoah or, say, the entire German team. The corner kick is botched, but it doesn’t matter. Matt Besler with a mistake.
10’ – Zusi with another not-bad delivery. Cleared away by the bad guys.
12’ – Shukurov! The free kick, just off the post.
14’ – Ball sent into the six by Zusi; Bradley with the first pass. Michael Bradley is the architect of both the attack and the defense.
15’ – Zusi, short corner, Bedoya, cross, WONDO!!!! SAVE!!! Agayev AGAIN!
15’ – By the way, Chris Wondolowski has had the two best chances for the US so far.
16’ – Bedoya with a screaming run down the left, taken down outside of the box. Now Zusi has a great free kick opportunity. Bedoya at LM; Klinsmann has struck gold.
17’ – Jones with a first-time shot from about 20. Easy save.
19’ – Jermaine Jones miscontrols the ball, Besler back-passes to Howard weakly, Howard has to clear. All of this while being pressured by the Azerbaijanis. If they make simple defending look that horrifying at the World Cup, I will go insane by the Germany game.
22’ – Fabian Johnson horrendously miscontrols it, sending it like a rocket off of the field. He needs to show more composure in the World Cup.
25’ – Apparently Clint Dempsey’s injury was just a precaution. I hope so. There are many players I’d take out for Donovan. Dempsey is not one of them.
28’ – Oh look, an own-half turnover by Jones. There’s that bird outside again.
28’ – Beasley, Jones, long pass, nifty touch by Bedoya, Altidore, Wondo open, PASS, HANDBALL!!! NOT CALLED!!! Was it deliberate? Not sure. If so, it would’ve been a PK!
31’ – Collision between Bedoya and a bad guy! Bedoya’s okay, but if he was hurt can you guess who would be a likely call-up?
33’ – Bradley! Deflection! Corner!
33’ – The corner doesn’t come to much.
33’ – BenchCam. Green, Brooks, and Davis hanging out. The latter two are laughing. Green looks like he would think it was funny but…he has other things on his mind.
37’ – Bedoya and Zusi seem to have switched wings.
40’ – Good attack by the US. Nice hold-up play by Jozy, good attacking play by Bradley, corner won. The corner leads to Matt Besler giving Agayev the ball. Nice. Oh look, the bird outside has a friend.
41’ – I know it’s annoying for me to comment on the commentary, but Taylor Twellman just said something a bit off. See, there is a BIG difference between a Messi-like “false 9” and a non-goal-scoring hold-up play center-forward.
44’ – I’m surprised that the US hasn’t scored yet. Maybe they can alleviate that before half-time.
44’ – The anarchist in me says that players should be allowed to argue with the refs, but they aren’t and Jones needs to be careful.
45+1’ – End of the first half.
46’ – Second half. Davis in for Zusi. Gonzalez in for Cameron. Chandler in for Beasley. All like-for-like changes.
48’ – That was a penalty, but it wasn’t called! Chandler to Davis, Davis taken down. Free kick, although it was in the box so it should’ve been a PK.
49’ – Bradley! Over the crossbar. Again, it should’ve been a PK.
52’ – Nifty work in tight spaces by Fabian Johnson.
57’ – Bad guys in the box. The US still hasn’t scored. I think the bird is writing a match report on my match report. He’s making a face that looks like he just made a cultural reference.
57’ – Bradley TO SPACE!!! Davis has done well, and Bedoya-FJ on the same side seems promising.
61’ – Double-sub. Wondo out (he kind of deserved a goal, but he’s been getting so many already) Jóhannsson in, FJ out (he’ll be key in the World Cup) young DeAndre Yedlin in.
64’ – Jóhannsson with a nifty lay-off pass…to no one.
66’ – Giveaway and then foul by Yedlin. Michael Parkhurst once went an entire season with only 5 fouls. Just saying.
69’ – No, Taylor Twellman. DeAndre Yedlin is not a good option off the bench. Aron Jóhannsson, Chris Wondolowski, Mix Diskerud, and whoever doesn’t start of Bedoya/Davis/Zusi are all better attacking options.
71’ – Here comes Mix Diskerud for Alejandro Bedoya; the last US sub. Mix, as I said earlier, is #10. He seems to slot in at RM.
73’ – DeAndre Yedlin just flattened that guy. Where did he go in the NFL draft again?
75’ – Bradley with the shot! Blocked! DISKERUD! GOOOOOAALLL!!!! U-S-AAAAA!!!! MIX!!!! MIXMIXMIXMIXMIXMIXMIXMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIX!!!!! GUSJOHNSONNOISESAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!
76’ – Apologies.
76’ – In 2010, Benny Feilhaber was either the first or joint first non-injury sub to come on the bench in three of the four US games, when the team was looking for a result. That is Diskerud this year. He, Jóhannsson, and Wondo are the main substitutes to chase the game. Beckerman is the defensive sub in my eyes; the closer.
81’ – Unruly ball in the corner, Davis sends it in, KEVIN BACON!!!! Ahem, ARON JÓHANNSSON!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAALL!!!!!
82’ – How do you say two-nil in Azerbaijani? I’ll just keep it Spanish: DOS A CERO!!!
83’ – Again, though, a 2-0 win isn’t that great vs. Azerbaijan. I mean, the Sealand National Team beat them 3-0! (Not really, I just wanted to mention the Sealand National Team.)
86’ – Chandler sends in the cross, corner. Davis…’keeper saves.
87’ – Jermain Jones went down, but he’s okay. You know, if he were to get hurt he’d probably be replaced by…Maurice Edu.
90+2’ – The final whistle.
The USMNT seemed a bit a bit dull. As if they were devoid of energy because they have been running around for a long time for the last couple of weeks. Why? Because they have!

Player Ratings

Everyone was mediocre. Hence the short blurbs:

(Note: the ratings aren’t as bad as they look. I like to use all the numbers 0-10, so 5 is average. Most people seem to only use 4-8.)

5.0 Tim Howard – he didn’t do much, but he made a couple saves and got a clean sheet.

4.5 Matt Besler – he wasn’t tested much, but he looked nervy in the first half. Hopefully he shakes that off.

5.0 Geoff Cameron – he wasn’t tested at all, really.

5.5 Fabian Johnson – he was active, but, again, the whole team was dull.

5.0 DeMarcus Beasley – he was only on for a half, and wasn’t tested much.

5.5 Jermaine Jones – yeah, okay, he didn’t do much memorable outside of general Jermaine Jones WHAT IS HE TRYING TO DO?!?!?! stuff, but he stayed solid in the #6 role, and that will be very helpful in the World Cup.

5.5 Alejandro Bedoya – yeah, the whole team was dull. And Bedoya didn’t do much outside of the first 30 minutes, and even then he was no Messi. But I’m feeling generous today.

5.0 Graham Zusi – he only played one half, and he did a few good things on set pieces. But he wasn’t really Cristiano Ronaldo.

5.0 Michael Bradley – playing Bradley as a #10 is like a band playing their drummer as a piano player. Sure, the diamond is great, but 4-2-3-1 Klinsmann. Bradley is better when he is sitting back and he can playmake when the opportunities arise, and where he can also defend and set the pace of the game Pirlo-style, as opposed to pressing him forward where he is forced to do #10 stuff all the time.

5.5 Chris Wondolowski – he did well! Sure, he could’ve taken those chances a bit better, but I’ve seen players miss worse, and those were good saves. Plus, not many other players were getting in positions like that. It’s what he does, he gets in position.

5.0 Jozy Altidore – some people are too critical on Altidore. The US needs a target forward, whose job isn’t really to score goals, but to hold the ball up and bring other players into play (the team will need to defend, like, a lot, so when they get the ball back, the other players will need time to get forward). The player who can play this role best in this squad is by far Altidore. Stop acting like he’s the worst ever just because he doesn’t always score.

Subs:

5.5 Brad Davis – he came in and changed the game. The only drawbacks are that he’s slow, and as good with his right foot as I am with my tail. I don’t have a tail. But his left foot is insane, and he continues the tradition of people from St. Louis going to the World Cup.

5.0 Omar Gonzalez – he was barely tested at all.

5.0 Timothy Chandler – he wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great.

5.5 Aron Jóhannsson – the Iceman didn’t have much time to do things, but he scored. And even though he had 16.3 acres of space in the box (I measured it) a goal is a goal is a goal.

5.0 DeAndre Yedlin – didn’t do much for me to move it away from the average of 5.

6.0 Mix Diskerud – he gets an extra half point for the interview afterwards, where he was asked about wearing the number 10 and he said something like “it’s not about what’s on the back of the jersey but what’s on the front of it” while pointing to the US crest. This guy’s great!

5 or so Takeaways

1. Super Subs
Both goals were scored by substitutes. A lot of the best plays (PK, assist) were by Brad Davis, another sub. I can’t really comment about the defensive subs, because no one did any defending! The three subs not in the back 4 were the most effective players in that second half.

Substitutions will be very important. And no, DeAndre Yedlin isn’t an attacking sub. Because he’s a defender (in theory, at least). This is how I see the midfield and attack in the starting XI:

……………..…Altidore……………
…Bedoya…Dempsey…Zusi…
…………Bradley…Jones………..

I’ve got Fabian Johnson as a full-back.

Attacking/midfield players not in that 11: Jóhannsson, Wondo, Davis, Diskerud, Green, and Beckerman.

Klinsmann has several options. He can only add 3 subs a game. I think that they all have different uses:

Jóhannsson: put him on for the worst playing attacker to get a goal in the last 30 minutes. Role: all-use Super-Sub.

Diskerud: you need a creative player to unlock stingy defenses. Role: creative sub.

Wondo: you need someone to finish chances and score a goal in the last 10 or 15 minutes or so. Role: kitchen sink sub for finishing.

Davis: another creative player is needed and you’ve used Mix. Role: kitchen sink sub for creativity.

Green: you’re down 3-0 to Germany in the 85th and whatever. Role: throw-in-the-towel sub.

Beckerman: you’re up and you need to kill the game. Role: John Obi-Mikiller.

Substitutions are powerful. They can change games for the better. Overall, how a coach uses the bench can be the difference between winning and losing. Klinsmann has 9 subs in the group stage (3 per game). 9 chances to either unlock the defense with fresh legs, or just waste another opportunity.

In a group that’s so hard to get out of, everything will need to go right. All the decisions, all the breaks, everything. Including substitutions, because they matter. Which was kind of the only thing this game taught us.

2. Everyone was mediocre.
I only have 2 takeaways in my “5 or so takeaways” segment. It took me an extra day and a half to finish my review. This is partially because I’m an amateur blogger and thus quality is about 7th on my priorities, even behind making Bruce Arena jokes. But it’s mainly because the team was as dull as Bruce Arena if he isn’t allowed to complain about stuff and is a little worn out because he was just in a rap battle with Mike Petke.

Yes. It happens. What goes on in scouting combine stays in scouting combine.

Anyways, it was dull. The subs generated some nice play in the last 30 minutes or so, and some of the starters (Wondo, Bedoya) generated some nice play in the first 30 minutes or so, but overall it was super-dull. It was like each player was in an election campaign to become the Mayor of Dull City. Like each player was auditioning for a starring role in The Dull Show. Like each player was, uh, well…it was dull.

I mean, if the US would’ve played Germany, Portugal, or Ghana like that (a few bad defensive plays here, lackluster attacking there, the second goal coming from legendarily horrific marking, etc.) the final score would’ve been something like 4-0 against the US.

Hopefully the Turkey and Nigeria games will be better.

World Cup 2014: Part 2: USMNT Roster Breakdown + US-Azerbaijan Preview

Greetings, readers. Here I am, in my new location. Because I am not good friends with Warren Buffet, keeping up the self-hosting thing wasn’t much of an option. This is part 2 of my World Cup reports. Part 1 is also on here, but I couldn’t separate the time by that much. Sorry.

This will be two parts: first my roster analysis and then me trying to fill something worthy of a section on Azerbaijan, and why the heck the US is playing them. I’ll talk about the Donovan Double (getting left off the US team AND breaking the all-time MLS goal-scoring record) later. Too much to cover with too little time.

Roster Analysis

First of all, I want to tell you that Jürgen Klinsmann, the USMNT head coach, is a mad scientist. Second of all, I want to tell you that he’s mad. In both ways. He’s mad at Landon Donovan for existing, mad at Michael Parkhurst for not being German, and mad at the cruel world for sending Jozy Altidore to Sunderland. He’s also mad in that I would not be surprised if he comes out of retirement and starts himself as an inverted left-winger/ninja, all the time saying “take that, Cristiano!” while throwing stuff at people.

I’ve determined that of the 20 non-goalkeepers (FIFA rules mandate that you must have 3 goalkeepers in the 23-man roster) each of them have a main position on this team, and there are two players for each position. Sure, there’s rotation and players who can play at different positions, but it’s basically like this (age=age at start of World Cup, caps=US national team appearances):

–Strikers

Jozy Altidore
Club: Sunderland, Age: 24, Caps: 67, Goals: 21

He’s been in poor form, but he’s been at Sunderland. It was a hard situation for several reasons: hardest league in the world, relatively bad team, new club, harder league than before, et cetera.

He’s a hold-up play guy. He’s the only guy on the US team that can do “hold-up play” (Terrence Boyd was cut). Pass it to his feet, and he’ll lay it off to Dempsey or Jóhannsson or someone like that with his back to goal.

Chris Wondolowski
Club: San Jose Earthquakes, Age: 31, Caps: 19, Goals: 9

Wondo is a living club legend with the San Jose Earthquakes, and he’s been arguably the best goalscorer in MLS for the last four and a half years. Since his first national team goal last June, he’s led the team in scoring. He has a great story: from division two in college to reserve league in MLS to MVP to the World Cup. Make a documentary just so that I can see “Wondo” on my TV guide.

He’s a poacher. He can do other stuff, but mainly he just stands around and scores goals. He’s often criminally under-appreciated, but scoring goals is important last I checked and he’s really, really good at it.

–Second-Strikers

Clint Dempsey
Club: Seattle Sounders, Age: 31, Caps: 103, Goals: 36

The Sounders designated player (DP) was uneventful in his first half-season with Seattle, but this year he’s been elite, arguably the league MVP considering his somewhat limited minutes.

He can play as a winger or striker, but for most of the last round of North American (CONCACAF) World Cup Qualifying (aka the Hex) Clint Dempsey played as a second-striker/attacking midfielder behind Altidore, in my opinion his most effective position. This is almost surely where the US captain will start in Brazil.

Aron Jóhannsson
Club: AZ Alkmaar, Age: 23, Caps: 7, Goals: 1

The Alabama-born Jóhannsson grew up in Iceland, and now plays in the Netherlands. He chose to play for the US last year. Oh, and he looks like Kevin Bacon.

He plays as a striker in the Dutch league (the Eredivisie) but that’s mainly because they don’t really play defense there. He’s not as good at hold-up play as Altidore, so he can’t play as the lone striker. Any minutes he get will most likely be behind or in partnership with Altidore, and because that’s Dempsey’s role, he will most likely start on the bench. I think he’ll be the super-sub; the guy to call on when the team needs a goal with about 30 minutes left.

–Left Midfielders

Brad Davis
Club: Houston Dynamo, Age: 32, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

The Dynamo captain, MLS-veteran Davis has a similar story to his former teammate Wondolowski, in that he’s entering his first World Cup.

He’s left-footed, and I think that that got him the spot. Many people are saying that he took Landon Donovan’s spot, but I think that he didn’t. Klinsmann wanted a left-footer to play at left-midfield, so there was no way he was going to call up both Donovan and Green for the left-midfield spots, as they are both right-footed. Davis was competing with Brek Shea and Jose Torres, neither of whom made the 23-man roster. Davis is a set piece specialist, although many agree, including myself, that he isn’t good enough for the World Cup. I will gladly eat crow on this.

Julian Green
Club: Bayern Munich, Age: 19, Caps: 1, Goals: 0

Green hasn’t played a single game with Bayern Munich’s first team, outside of a small 5-minute cameo at the end of a meaningless Champions League game. His only play for the US was about 30 minutes in the friendly against Mexico. From what I judged, he did okay for an 18-year-old (his birthday is within a couple weeks) but he isn’t nearly ready for the World Cup.

Some people say that young Green, born in Tampa but raised in Germany, who plays in the 4th division of German soccer (which is, like, really bad), was bribed a World Cup spot, but I have my doubts. If he was, even if it was necessary to get him to play for the US (he was eligible for Germany before he filed his one-time switch), it’s scandalous. I think that Klinsmann just wanted to bring this kid to the World Cup, even if it’s at the expense of Landon Donovan, who as I said I’ll talk a lot about later.

Green has a good chance to become a star. But if he doesn’t, I’m declaring war on Germany.

–Right Midfielders

Graham Zusi
Club: Sporting Kansas City, Age: 27, Caps: 20, Goals: 3

Zusi scored the goal that ended up eliminating Panama from the World Cup, and allowed Mexico to qualify. See, Mexico, the US’s arch-Rivals, couldn’t qualify on their own. They needed an American to help them. De nada, Mexico.

When Zusi was first drafted to Kansas City, he moved into the home of Matt Besler’s family. Both are now going to a World Cup. This team has to lead the tournament in feel-good stories, right?
Zusi can play anywhere in the attacking midfield, but he does best for the US at right-midfield.

Alejandro Bedoya
Club: FC Nantes, Age: 27, Caps: 26, Goals: 1

Alejandro Bedoya, of Colombian descent, born in New Jersey, grew up in Miami. He previously played in Sweden, before making a move last summer to France’s Ligue 1.

Both he and Zusi are tremendously talented soccer players. I think Bedoya might actually be a better player, talent-wise. Bedoya normally plays right-midfield for the US, but he’s played all over the place at Nantes (left, right, center, underground) and I’d like to see him start at left-midfield. HEAR ME KLINSMANN!?!?!?

–Central Midfielders

Michael Bradley
Club: Toronto FC, Age: 26, Caps: 83, Goals: 12

The son of former USMNT coach Bob Bradley used to play at Roma before making the move to Toronto before this season, and now he’s prepared to enter his second World Cup, this time as one of the teams’ biggest stars.

Michael Bradley can do anything. He can play as a true defensive midfielder (he often needs to when paired with Jermaine Jones), as a box-to-box midfielder (his best position, in my opinion), as an attacking midfielder (he played at the tip of the diamond vs. Mexico–one goal, one assist), or as a Frank Lampard/Carli Loyd/Adam Moffat type third-run goalscorer (he bagged 15 one year in the Netherlands).

Michael Bradley is the best non-goalkeeper on the team.

Mix Diskerud
Club: Rosenborg, Age: 23, Caps: 17, Goals: 2

As he says, he’s half Norwegian, half American: a Mix! He chose to play for the US, and doesn’t regret the decision. He still plays in Norway, for one of their biggest clubs.

He’s a young talent who will be better with more experience, but he can still be effective right now. He can come off the bench, and play an attacking midfield role to try and use his creativity to break down the opponent. Benny Feilhaber had a similar role in 2010.

–Defensive Midfielders

Jermaine Jones
Club: Besiktas, Age: 32, Caps: 39, Goals: 2

The German-born Jones is on loan from Schalke to the Turkish club Besiktas. He’s a Klinsmann favorite, but he was recruited by Bob Bradley, unlike the other German-Americans who are Klinsmann recruits.

He’s a hard-tackling defensive midfielder. I think he’s a better individual player than Beckerman, but he goes forward too much, meaning that Michael Bradley needs to stay back. When Michael Bradley can’t go forward, bad things happen. Considering that Klinsmann probably won’t not start Jones, hopefully he can rein him in so that he plays a true #6 role.

Kyle Beckerman
Club: Real Salt Lake, Age: 32, Caps: 35, Goals: 1

The dreadlocked MLS veteran is making his first World Cup. Klinsmann kept playing him despite poor play early on, and it’s worked out; he was a key member of the Gold Cup winning team. And now he’s achieving his childhood dream when he thought he was never going to do so.

He’s a solid defensive midfielder. He’s a shield in front of the back four. He’s not nearly as athletic as Jones, but he’s a brilliant player; he doesn’t do the crazy amazing emergency defending stuff because he doesn’t need to; he’s already in the right place. He’s also a brilliant passer. And while some people (read: everyone including me) have some doubts that he will translate his MLS play to the World Cup, I think that the fact that he doesn’t bomb forward is good, as it gives Michael Bradley the freedom to do whatever he wants to, and have the team run through him.

Michael Bradley is better than everyone on this team sans Howard and probably Guzan, so I think that’s a good idea.

–Left Full-Backs

Fabian Johnson
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach, Age: 26, Caps: 19, Goals: 0

The German-American Johnson is a really good player. He just recently moves from Hoffenheim to ‘Gladbach.

He provides brilliant service with both feet, and is good defensively. He can play either wide midfield spot, and either fullback spot. He needs to start, in my opinion.

DaMarcus Beasley
Club: Puebla, Age: 32, Caps: 114, Goals: 17

Beasley has had a great career with the US, in MLS, in Europe, and now Mexico, and now he’s coming back for a fourth World Cup. The future US Soccer Hall-of-Famer was transfer listed by Puebla, so he could return to MLS, but for now his focus is on the World Cup.

For most of his career he’s played as a left midfielder, but in a career renaissance of sorts last year Jürgen Klinsmann played him as a left-back in most of the Hex games and in the Gold Cup, where he captained the team to victory (Landon Donovan was the tourney’s best player, but Beasley wore the armband).

–Right Full-Backs

Timothy Chandler
Club: Nuremburg, Age: 24, Caps: 10, Goals: 0

The German-born Chandler was put in the dog-house by Klinsmann for a lack of commitment issues, but now he’s back, and I think he’s the best right-back in the pool. His club team Nuremburg were relegated through no fault of his own, so he will most likely move to another Bundesliga club.

Chandler can play as an attacking full-back, mainly on the right side but also on the left. He’s a solid defender who can get forward. If he’s fully behind the team, he should be big for the US in Brazil.

DeAndre Yedlin
Club: Seattle Sounders, Age: 20, Caps: 2, Goals: 0

I don’t really get this one. He’s very young, a great prospect, but not ready yet. His hairdos should provide some interesting conversation, if anything.

I seriously doubt he’ll play. I would’ve preferred to see Michael Parkhurst, a solid defender who can play anywhere on the backline, or even Brad Evans, Yedlin’s club teammate who helped the US through the Hex. But no, we got Yedlin. See, Yedlin is fast, good in the attack, and a wonderful prospect. But he can’t defend. If he learns how to, he’ll be the next Cherundolo. But if he doesn’t, well, at least he probably inspired some hair stylists.

–Lefty Center-Backs

Matt Besler
Club: Sporting Kansas City, Age: 27, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

No matter what British people say, his name is pronounced “BEE-zler.” He’s the current captain of Sporting Kansas City, reigning MLS Cup champions.

He’s got a nice left foot, and is arguably the best defender in MLS. He and Omar Gonzalez were the centerback paring of choice in the Hex, and they did quite well. If Besler doesn’t start, I’ll bring the pitchforks.

John Brooks
Club: Hertha BSC, Age: 21, Caps: 3, Goals: 0

I’d MUCH rather see Tim Ream or (right-footed, like that matters) Clarence Goodson, but Brooks plays in the Bundesliga so whatever. In Brooks’ last cap, against Ukraine, he was bad. Like, open the windows bad.

He’s tall. He’s supposed to be fast (he’s young, so he’s fast, right?). He’s promising (I mean, he was in and out of a starting lineup in the Bundesliga, for crying out loud). He’s also undeveloped (again, remember, open the windows).
Unless he does well in the friendlies, I’m hoping he doesn’t see a minute. Too raw. He’ll be money in 2018, though.

–Righty Center-Backs

Geoff Cameron
Club: Stoke City, Age: 28, Caps: 24, Goals: 1

THIS IS AN AMERICAN WHO ISN’T A GOALKEEPER AND HE IS A STARTER IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE!?!?!?

Yes. Yes it is. MLS product (Houston Dynamo) who went to Stoke, and is so far the only American in this bizarre Americans Going to Stoke Revolution to get serious playing time (poor Maurice Edu and Brek Shea).

Cameron can play right-back (where he is at Stoke) or defensive-midfielder, but Jürgen Klinsmann sees him as a center-back. I think that in each position he’s the best the US has, but he can only play in one. Center-back is the right choice, I think.

Omar Gonzalez
Club: LA Galaxy, Age: 25, Caps: 18, Goals: 0

He was really good for the US in the Hex last year, and he’s been good for the Galaxy. But recently he’s been quite shaky.

He’s tall, talented, and a set-piece threat, but he’s also error-prone. I’d much rather see Besler-Cameron as the center-back paring, but Klinsmann might go with the paring that got the US there: Besler-Gonzalez. That would be stupid, unless Gonzalez plays well in the friendlies.

–Goalkeepers

Tim Howard
Club: Everton, Age: 35, Caps: 97, Goals: 0

Best US player in the world right now. He’s a starter and club legend to be at Everton, and he just logged an amazing season there at the blue side of Liverpool, even though the Toffees missed out on a Champions League spot.

He’s the guaranteed starter at goalkeeper.

Brad Guzan
Club: Aston Villa, Age: 29, Caps: 24, Goals: 0

In my opinion he’s the second best US player (#3 is Bradley, #4 is on-form Dempsey). And he won’t start. Because only one goalkeeper can play, as you know if you know anything about soccer. He’s one of the better players in the Birmingham team of Aston Villa, historically one of the best in England (“historically” as in like “pre-world-war-two”).

As I said, he’s a back-up. But he’ll most likely be the starter in 2018.

Nick Rimando
Club: Real Salt Lake, Age: 34, Caps: 14, Goals: 0

The FIFA-required #3 goalkeeper is in MLS, and probably European quality. He’s won two MLS Cups and almost won a third last year (they lost to SKC on penalties; he’s normally good on penalties, by the way). He’s good with his feet, and the best goalkeeper in MLS.

US-Azerbaijan Preview

Azerbaijan is a country located in the Caucasus region; it borders Russia, Georgia (the country, not the state), Armenia, Iran, and the Caspian Sea. Their tourism board sponsors Atletico Madrid, La Liga winners and UEFA Champions League runners-up. On the Atletico shirts, it says Azerbaijan: Land of Fire, which sounds like a movie I want to go watch right now!

So…why the heck is the US playing Azerbaijan, the 85th-ranked country in the World? Because their coach, Berti Vogts, is a friend of Jürgen Klinsmann and some kind of “special consultant.” See, with Vogts, we have intelligence on all possible US opponents:

Group stage opponents:

Ghana: the US has played Ghana in the last two World Cups. They also play Nigeria, who play a style similar to Ghana (I don’t quite buy that actually–just because they’re from the same continent doesn’t mean they play the same way; I mean, Scotland is nothing like Spain).

Portugal: Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan was in the same group as Portugal.

Germany: Klinsmann and Vogts are from Germany.

Likely Round of 16 Opponents:

Belgium: the US played a friendly against them last year, and will play another one against them June the 12th.

Russia: Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan was in the same group as Russia.

Does Azerbaijan have any chance of beating the US? No. Anything other than a multi-goal win is basically a loss. Predictions to come.

Players Under Pressure

These players all need to perform in this game:

–Omar Gonzalez
One could say that he has a starting job to lose based on the fact that the starting job was his during the Hex. You can sum up Omar Gonzalez in two games: his wonderful performance @ Mexico in the 0-0 draw last year, and his terrible performance against Mexico, where he was at fault, at least partially, for both goals. Whether he’s the starter or not, he’ll most definitely get some serious playing time in these friendlies.

–John Brooks
You want to see a bad defensive performance? Look no further than Brooks vs. Ukraine. He probably won’t start, but more bad performances will certainly make it where he’d need other players to get injured to see the field.

–Timothy Chandler
He apparently has commitment issues, and thus he’s been in exile from the US team since the beginning of the Hex early last year. If he can do well, the large contingent of people who still despise him might change their mind, or at least quiet down. It will certainly impress Klinsmann as well. Fabian Johnson can play right-back, so DaMarcus Beasley can play at left-back leaving Chandler on the bench. Chandler wants to start.

–Brad Davis
A lot of people are blaming Brad Davis for taking Landon Donovan’s spot. As I said, there was going to be at least one left-footed left-midfielder, meaning that the other people in contention for Davis’ spot were Brek Shea and Jose Torres. Outside of fan opinion, Davis can greatly improve his playing time if he can put in some good performances.

–Julian Green
Green in reality took Landon Donovan’s spot as right-footed left-midfielder. He probably won’t play much, but some good performances can get him playing time as well as respect. Basically, he needs to do more than fall down from a bizarre shoulder injury. I mean, I could do that. Not that I do. Not that often, anyways.

–Jozy Altidore
Altidore had a terrible season in the Premier League. As I said, the EPL is a very, very, very, very, very hard league to play in. Sorry for forgetting a few verys (veries? Spellcheck doesn’t recognize either. Whatever.) He did well for the US last year, and if he can keep doing that all doubts for the US would go away.

Prediction

US win 4-0.

Goals: Altidore, Dempsey with 2, Wondo

Assists: Altidore, Bedoya, Bradley, Zusi

Azerbaijan won’t get past Tim Howard.

 

After the game, I’ll give a recap along with match ratings and 5 or so takeaways. Stay tuned, and come back often to Daniel’s Soccer Emporium, your home for adults kicking stuff.