By Ridge Mahoney
A 2-1 defeat of Nigeria in Jacksonville, Florida, ended the three-match warmup series of games for the USA with its third straight win.
Here are three subjects to consider coming out of a match that drew a huge, enthusiastic crowd:
JOY FOR JOZY. Faith is a powerful force, and the faith shown by his teammates and U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in Jozy Altidore will be an important element at the World Cup. His two goals against Nigeria ended a long scoring drought that had prompted great concerns from fans and journalists but, apparently, not for the player himself.
In a postgame interview with reporter Jeremy Schaap on ESPN, Altidore reiterated previous comments that the drought that extended back to Dec. 4 and encompassed 27 games for the USA and Sunderland, coupled with a miserable season for Sunderland during which he managed just one EPL goal, hadn’t harmed him psychologically. He easily tapped in a centering ball from Fabian Johnson for the first goal, and cut Nigerian captain Joseph Yobo after chesting down a great ball from Michael Bradley to rifle home the second.
Altidore told Schaap he felt fine before and he feels fine now the drought is over.
"The most important thing," he added, "being part of this team for such a long time, is how we perform. Going into a tournament like this, we want to make sure we’re performing at a level where we give ourselves a good chance and I think we’re doing that.”
Throughout the drought, Klinsmann has maintained his message that if Altidore and his teammates are playing well, the goals will come, if not for him then for somebody else. But for any team playing with a lone striker, which is how Altidore was deployed for most of the game, that player must play well for the attack to function.
BRADLEY THE LIBERO. Different terms are used to describe the twin holding mids buttressing the area in front of the back line in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but their purpose is not strictly defensive.
The pairing of Jermain Jones and Kyle Beckerman behind an attacking trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, provided greater protection to the back four, yet also provided simple routes into the channels for Dempsey and Bedoya as well as more space centrally for Bradley. The first goal showed a classic attacking pattern out of this formation, when right back Fabian Johnson got up field to add numbers the Nigerians simply couldn’t cope with. Johnson got so deep he relayed Bedoya’s pass from just yards away from the byline for Altidore to knock into the net.
Beckerman’s addition to the lineup and shared duties with Jones raises the distinct possibility he will start in that spot against Ghana, yet Klinsmann might also drop Bradley into the slot alongside Jones, return Dempsey to his role in the "hole" behind Altidore, and use Bedoya and somebody else out wide. Could that mean a start for Brad Davis, who suffered a tweak in training prior to the game and sat out the Nigeria game as a precaution? Or does this XI take the field June 16 in the opener, because the attack must flow through Bradley, and this formation provides the best foundation to maximize his influence at both ends of the field?
The term has become archaic, but a libero is given more or less free reign offensively as well as defensively, and given the dynamics of how the team plays under Klinsmann, that is what Bradley has become. His through balls and chips -- a superb ball lofted diagonally right to left opened up the gap that Altidore exploited for the second goal -- draw the most notice, but he also gobbled up balls in the middle third, and twice dropped into a spot in front of the back line to head a pair of clearances. His work rate is always impressive, and with two teammates in defensive support, he can run more in all directions, since he has more cover
BEAS IS BACK. Much has been made of the Americans heading to Brazil without any defenders imbued with World Cup experience. The return of DaMarcus Beasley, a veteran of the last three tournaments mainly as a midfielder, to the left-back role against Nigeria suggests Klinsmann is acutely aware of a severe shortcoming. He’s not been given any shot by Klinsmann at left mid, and a veteran who played out of position at the behest of the coach and captained the team during the Gold Cup probably deserved better than to be rudely dumped in favor of Tim Chandler, who hasn’t always embraced national team callups with great enthusiasm.
The Beas looked pretty good against Nigeria. His determination and spirit are unquestioned and all that experience has to be utilized somehow.