Nigeria-USA: Three takeaways

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. 

15 comments about "Nigeria-USA: Three takeaways".
  1. cisco martinez, June 7, 2014 at 9:48 p.m.

    Side note for everyone, if you watched the game, the USA formation was a 4-3-2-1, not a 4-2-3-1. Like I said Mahoney is a journalist not a soccer analyst. The 4-3-2-1 formation is used to absorb pressure, destroy midfield runs, and counter, which USA did effortlessly. if anyone heard klinsmann's halftime interview against Turkey, he suggested that the midfield runs were causing problems against jones in the 4-4-2 diamond, klinsmanns answer, clogg the midfield and counter.

  2. Mark Hardt, June 7, 2014 at 10:30 p.m.

    today is a good sign as Ghana plays similarly but with this WC group you never know. Portugal looks vulnerable now also.

  3. Kent James, June 7, 2014 at 11:06 p.m.

    I'm generally not a fan of two defensive center midfielders, but it certainly worked well tonight. Giving Bradley the freedom to roam is certainly important, and he utilized it well. Almost more importantly, he was a beast on stripping Nigeria's players and starting counters. I feared we would not have much of a counter with Jozy as the lone striker, but Bradley got forward so fast on the counters he was almost another striker. Dempsey seems to play as a second striker (mostly in the center) rather than wide, but it seemed to work. I was amazed at how many times we broke down Nigeria's left side; I hope that success was because of our strength rather than Nigeria's weakness, but we'll know in a few days! Well done by all.

  4. Zoe Willet, June 7, 2014 at 11:29 p.m.

    Beasley "looked pretty good", "all that experience has to be utilized somehow"? He damns with faint praise! In my book, Beasley is a star, a hero, up there with Dempsey, Altidore, Bradley and Howard. I have to wonder if he is undervalued because of his small stature? He's awesome, both in talent and in attitude- Go Beas!

  5. Andy Wagner, June 8, 2014 at 5:22 a.m.

    This team is playing with very little emotion. You can see in the faces that they are way in over their heads on this one. To me, they have the deer in headlights look. Dempsey is playing as though he knows what is coming and I can see this from a lot of the other players. This team is not polished and not where they need to be. Klinsy is preparing for the next one and you cannot deny his on field demeanor, he is very concerned. There is a reason why Ghana is in and Nigeria is not. Maybe we can muster a goal against Ghana...but it is three and out this go around.

  6. Philippe Fontanelli, June 8, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.

    Agree with AW, Dempsey is a has been...unfortunately. He was much motivated and played better with Donovan's presence. This team is now without soul, playing a vey laissez-faire attitude. Thanks to Klinsman. I can't see winning a game in Brazil. We will be sluttered by Portugal especially by Germany and a draw at best with Ghana (although I even doubt that). Thanks Klinsman for regressing the US Soccer program.

  7. Valerie Metzler, June 8, 2014 at 9:24 a.m.

    Who says that Nigeria plays like Ghana? Not me. I agree that Beasley has been overlooked as a star.

  8. charles davenport, June 8, 2014 at 10:27 a.m.

    Au contraire, the team appeared to be playing with confidence and some swagger; Dempsey will be a positive factor in Brazil. Duece backed off on late game 50-50 challenge from the goalie, which he won't do when it counts. Am much more confident for a great result in Cup play; However, the defense was sloppy late; some diagonal Nigerian runs got thru the back line; watch out for Ronaldo.

  9. Tim Gibson, June 8, 2014 at 11:01 a.m.

    Ok, OK, we all agree we're not going to the finals. Get over it, back this team & the coach. Change is hard & JK had the knutz to make lots of it when his predecessors didn't. We needed a fresh start and you are seeing the rebuild now, so let it play out even if we have to wait another cup. We're not the only losers that will walk away from this 1 but you could at least support our guys as they gain this awesome opportunity to wear our colors. So support what he's doing now & judge him after 2018 when this team has a lot more experience playing internationally unlike any team we will have fielded before. GO USA!

  10. BJ Genovese, June 8, 2014 at 12:25 p.m.

    Also, he says that Altidore chested Bradleys ball,,, I think it fell right in front of him. Also, interesting to hear about Brad Davis injury. Is there anymore about this. Is anyone thinking what im thinking...

  11. Frank Heavner, June 8, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.

    BJ G, Davis is a midfielder, so NO! no one who matters is thinking what you're thinking. LD is done. And it is well-deserved. When it was time to step forward during qualification, he was on vacation. Moving on... we are now closer to winning our first World Cup.

  12. Walt Pericciuoli, June 9, 2014 at 9:41 a.m.

    I thought it was a good solid all around performance. Confusion and loss of fluidity didn't happen until late, after subs entered. (Omar and Tim) I hope Altidore can build on this performance. I would have liked to see Johannsson into this game. I am concerned about Dempsey. As a captain, I don't see his inspiring anyone right now. Seems to me he is just going through the motions. And, does he have to complain to the ref after every call?

  13. Barry Thomas, June 9, 2014 at 11:34 a.m.

    Frank - - if Donovan was physically injured during qualifying instead of being on a self-imposed hiatus, would you be so critical of him? Of course not! Well, perhaps even more than most people, Donovan's mental/emotional well-being is as much of his identity as his physical self. If he needed a physical break (or a metphysical one), then he needs one. He came back reinvigorated and play with more heart than before he left. Even in USMNT camp, other players ranked him in the top 23. if JK had considered him as a midfielder instead of a forward, he would DEFINITELY have beaten out Davis (and probably Bedoya and Zusi). And he's started many NT games under Bradley and Arena at left or right MF.

  14. Greg Morris, June 9, 2014 at 1:26 p.m.

    Andy and Philippe,

    Amazing take on the game. I suspect it wouldn't matter at all how they played, your take would be the same. I saw a team that played as if this was a tune up and they were confident in their ability to win. Maybe you prefer the old days where a pre-cup game was life and death but I think the team had productive tune ups heading into the cup, showed development and adaptability and emerged healthy. I don't like the way Dempsey has been playing but it is ridiculous and transparent to try and attribute that to Landon. Regressing the US soccer program? Please. Any coach worth their salt knows that for real, long term development, you have to have the courage to try and play the right way, even against the best. I don't agree with everything JK does but I admire his willingness to try and transform our program and not simply play it safe. By the way Andy, apparently you didn't notice that Nigeria is in the Cup. Don't worry though - whether they win or lose all 3 group games, they aren't going to win the Cup so you will be able to continue your bash the coach, if only Landon was there rants. I'll be rooting for them.

  15. Daniel Clifton, June 9, 2014 at 9:16 p.m.

    I am getting a little tired of the LD issue. Does he have the wheels to be a midfielder anymore? I don't think so. That is why Klinsmann only had him listed as a forward. Is LD playing better than the other forwards chosen in front of him? The answer to that is no. I wanted to see him play in this World Cup. All good things have to come to an end. I liked Klinsmann's courage to try something new with Beckerman and Jones on the field at the same time. That freed up Bradley. It looked pretty good to me regardless of what formation you want to call it.

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