Less than a week from today, the U.S. Soccer team will take the field for their first World Cup match against Ghana. That will be at 5 pm CST on Monday, so plan to leave work early. Juergen Klinsmann has had his team together for three-plus weeks, he’s controversially cut Landon Donovan, and he’s led the team to three wins in the send-off series against progressively more difficult opponents. The 2-0 win against Azerbaijan was a snoozer. The back line didn’t have much to do, the offense looked rough amidst tired legs, and Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson go the goals. The next game, against Turkey, was more instructive. Here the back line looked a little disorganized and loose, while Jermaine Jones had too much to do at the base of the diamond midfield. But the offense looked better, more fluid, and the Bradley-to-Johnson goal was as good as you’ll see:
2-1, USA, with more for the coaches to think about. This past Saturday, the team took on Nigeria, who will also be in Brazil and are easily the best opponent of the three. This 2-1 win was pretty convincing, and should have us all feeling a lot more positive. The defense looked stout, the attacking movements were there, and Jozy Altidore scored twice to break out of his slump. If you had asked what we wanted out of the Nigeria game, those preceding three points are it.
So now it’s on to the grand stage. The wait is nearly over. It’s gut-check time. Insert additional cliche here. Ghana, Portugal, and Germany are on the horizon. Here’s your U.S. Soccer Send-off Series Pentagram, with five points to consider…
- Thank you, Geoff Cameron. #20 may play right back in England for Stoke City, but these last few games at center back have shown why he may anchor the U.S. defense for years to come. His passing has always been a plus, he has the athleticism and recovery speed to emergency defend, and his positioning over these last three games has been excellent. Many of us have been wondering what Juergen would do with Cameron, whose versatility has almost been his downfall – making him a man without a position. If he can continue playing like this, the defense has a chance.
- Those two goals were huge for Jozy and the team. For a second, we thought Jozy broke out of the scoring drought on a corner kick against Turkey, but the ref made a (bad) phantom foul call. His two goals against Nigeria, were pretty much unstoppable. So huge for this squad; when Jozy scores, the team wins. He’s played hard and played well during the send-off series, and now with his confidence up, he should be a threat next week. His understanding with Dempsey and Bradley and the wide players has also improved. It’s time to break that 12-year U.S. Soccer Striker World Cup scoring drought (which goes back to McBride in 2002).
- The athleticism/smarts factor is favorable. Guys like Jozy, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Cameron are perhaps the best athletes the U.S. has fielded in those positions. These guys will not be overpowered or outrun by the opposition. Combine that with the understanding and heady play of Bradley and Dempsey, Johnson again, as well as Matt Besler and DaMarcus Beasley’s growing understanding on the left side of defense. Kyle Beckerman rarely makes a bad decision, and both Wondo and Aron Johannsson are very savvy off the bench.
- Formation talk is nice, but it’s the opening 15 that could tell the tale. Much has been made of the team’s formation – is it a diamond midfield, a Christmas tree, or the old 4-2-3-1? Give Juergen credit – he’s introduced a new wrinkle the opponents will need to gameplan for, and he’s also set up some options. Hopefully the team will be able to shift during the game as the situation dictates. But more importantly – how will the U.S. open each game and each half? Will they defend and counter? Will they pressure high and gamble? This was where Bob Bradley’s team struggled for years. If Juergen can solve the first 15 minute riddle, he may yet earn that paycheck.
- Still wish we had #10 in Brazil. And no, I don’t mean Mix Diskerud #10 (though we like him as a player, too). No single wide midfielder has made anyone forget that Landon isn’t with the team. Zusi, and Bedoya have had good moments, but nothing like what Donovan could do. And don’t even get me started about how much better Landon would be than Brad Davis or Julian Green. He still has the wheels for platoon duty, and he definitely has the smarts and technical skills to combine beautifully with the other key guys in the attack. At some point we’re going to be down and needing a goal, and the nation will look for him. And Landon will be in L.A. somewhere. Juergen wanted this to be his team though, and that’s certainly what he’s achieved.