Five points after USMNT's encouraging send-off victory over Nigeria
JUN 07, 2014 8:12p ET
Jozy Altidore scored twice to send the U.S. national team off to the World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla.
Altidore pounced either side of halftime – a simple tap-in for his first U.S. goal since last year during the first half and a rasping finish for his second after the interval – to pace this altered side to a victory over the disappointing Nigerians.
Victor Moses responded from the penalty spot for the Nigerians, but the Americans offered good value for their victory on the day. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann will take his team to Brazil with a positive display to highlight and a few developments to ponder as the preparations start in earnest for the Group G opener against Ghana on June 16.
1. The first-half mindset reflects the practical realities of playing in Brazil
Klinsmann scrapped the expansive brief from the Turkey match and shored up the team shape (more on the structure shortly) to address the frailties highlighted in that affair. He included DaMarcus Beasley at the expense of Timothy Chandler to buttress the back four with a more disciplined operator on the left. He threw Kyle Beckerman into central midfield to increase the numbers in that department. He also told his players to drop behind the ball and fill the right areas to limit the space afforded to the Nigerians. The reinforced commitment to defending made the U.S. more difficult to break down and provided a base to push forward from intelligently at the right times.
This dose of pragmatism makes sense considering the tasks ahead in Brazil. This team will expect to concede most of the possession to Germany, Ghana and Portugal in its three group matches. It must conserve energy appropriately, manage the game effectively and strike efficiently in order to achieve the desired results.
2. Peculiar midfield shape requires communication and discipline
The inclusion of Beckerman alongside Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones encouraged a more fluid approach in the middle third. Beckerman sat deep in central midfield and permitted others around him to shift accordingly to close down the Nigerians and cope with any threats as they arose.
Jones often drifted out to the left to provide cover with Clint Dempsey favoring that flank. Alejandro Bedoya dropped alongside Beckerman and Jones at other times to create a 4-3-2-1 in the defensive efforts. Bradley floated from spot to spot to locate space to prompt the break and tuck into the right areas to ensure the Nigerians could not break through the middle. And Beckerman's presence allowed liberal interchanging as the U.S. moved forward quickly.
In this sort of hybrid shape, the emphasis falls on the players involved to cover the proper areas with active recognition and constant communication. By and large, those efforts worked well against a Nigerian side eventually overmatched in midfield. They must persist in order to cope with the different and more imposing threat presented by Ghana in the opening match.
3. Fabian Johnson continues to pose a threat in the channels
Credit the U.S. for consistently making intelligent runs in the attacking third to create the right sort of gaps for Johnson. He can offer problems on the overlap, but he tests teams most often when a midfielder or a forward drifts wide to pull apart the back four and create room for him to exploit between the center back and the left back.
The opening goal highlighted the utility of those runs. Johnson latched onto a pass after surging through the channel. He then reached the end line and squared for the oh-so-open Altidore to turn home from close range. The buildup to that goal – plus Johnson’s similar influence in the victory over Turkey – underscores the sort of menace he offers when given the invitation to roam into those areas.
4. Double must provide a World Cup platform for Jozy Altidore
Altidore revealed the benefits of breaking his duck in the first half with his wonderfully taken second after the interval. He collected a delightful Bradley clip over the top, cut inside Joseph Yobo deftly and thrashed his shot inside the near post. The entire sequence revealed the sort of impact Altidore can exert on matches if he receives the right services and uses it well.
This exercise must serve as the impetus to push Altidore onwards ahead of the trip to Brazil. One match doesn’t provide a solution. It can, however, supply the sort of spark required to ally industry with end product as Altidore prepares to lead the line over the next few weeks.
5. Late riposte from Nigeria offers a helpful reminder about balance
Nigeria flailed around for most of this game, but the Super Eagles managed to punish the Americans for pushing forward too earnestly in the late stages. Quick and tidy work on the break caught the U.S. out in transition and left space for Victor Moses to exploit as he pushed through the middle. Moses managed to procure a penalty kick and sweep it home to give his side something to take from the game.
The entire sequence reinforced the need to maintain the necessary deportment in the search for goals. This side cannot afford to charge forward wantonly and leave spaces defensively. One or two lapses in concentration could prove deadly at the World Cup. This little exchange – one of the last meaningful moments in an encouraging display – underscored the need to tend to that solidity first and foremost to avoid more painful blows at some point down the line.