In the first of three tests ahead of the World Cup, the U.S. national team struggled mightily for 75 minutes before breaking through against Azerbaijan for a 2-0 victory at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
USA: Mix Diskerud (unassisted), 75th minute.
USA: Aron Johannsson (Brad Davis), 81st minute.
Howard; Johnson (Yedlin 62nd), Cameron (Gonzalez 46th), Besler, Beasley (Chandler 46th); Zusi (Davis 46th), Jones, Bradley, Bedoya (Diskerud 71st); Wondolowski (Johannsson 62nd), Altidore.
Some thoughts …
While you were sleeping last night … so was I. Except with ESPN2 providing white noise. Not the beautiful game. It picked up at the end, thanks to goals scored by players developed in Norway and Iceland.
Let me get this straight: Azerbaijan’s coach is also a U.S. adviser? Who arranged this game, the Mandalay Bay Sports Book? Even Jack Warner is appalled.
Brad Davis drew a penalty kick, except the Costa Rican referee was using a 19-yard box and didn’t award it. Revenge for the snowy qualifier in Denver, clearly.
Jermaine Jones was not carded.
On TV, Candlestick looks a lot like RFK Stadium. Except one sits next to San Francisco Bay and the other leans against the Anacostia. One is headed toward demolition soon and the other will survive nuclear winter.
ESPN’s coverage was fine, except for constant reminders of Landon Donovan’s absence and, in postgame, Stuart Scott saying something about Bob Ley on location in Azerbaijan when in fact he was somewhere down the hall in another studio. ESPN is a really big place, but not that big.
Okay, serious stuff …
Juergen Klinsmann played a 4-4-2, with Fabian Johnson at right back — his Hoffenheim position — and DaMarcus Beasley on the left. Graham Zusi (right) and Alejandro Bedoya (left) were on the flanks in a diamond midfield, with Jermaine Jones supporting Michael Bradley. Clint Dempsey was slated to start but scratched just before kickoff with a minor groin injury. Enter Chris Wondolowski.
Klinsmann used the maximum six subs. Timmy Chandler, a natural right back, entered at halftime at left back. Bedoya switched sides and Davis manned the left flank. Omar Gonzalez, who has lost his starting job, replaced Geoff Cameron after the break. Later, DeAndre Yedlin took Johnson’s spot on the right corner, Johannsson spelled Wondo and Diskerud bumped Bedoya.
Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, John Brooks, Kyle Beckerman, Julian Green and Dempsey did not play.
Azerbaijan, ranked 85th in the world and 40th out of 53 in UEFA, did not have much to offer and dropped players deep — something Ghana, Portugal and Germany will certainly not do against the Americans in Brazil. Not quite sure how Klinsmann’s crew benefited from these predictable opposing tactics.
Wondolowski had two quality opportunities to score on headers in the first 15 minutes, but the first was at the keeper and the second was saved nicely.
Jozy Altidore, in need of a goal or three in these friendlies to restore his form, enjoyed one particularly nice sequence, holding up the ball and laying it off on the counterattack. He was not a scoring threat, however.
Azerbaijan reached halftime without conceding a goal — just as it had done against Portugal in a pair of World Cup qualifiers last year.
Despite two weeks of training camp down the road at Stanford, the Americans were not connected. Sloppy play for much of the gusty evening.
Michael Bradley failed to put his stamp on the match — a rare off-night for the Americans’ most important player. He takes a mulligan.
A few minutes after entering, Diskerud broke the stalemate by poking in the rebound of Bradley’s shot that had been blocked on the goal line by a defender. Later, with his mark wandering off to Berkeley, Johannsson headed in Davis’s corner from six yards.
Should U.S. supporters be concerned about the lack of cohesion and ingenuity? Concerned, yes. Panicked, no. The last two friendlies will provide greater insight into this squad’s World Cup capability.
Next: Turkey on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2, Univision). For a sneak peek at the Turks, stop by RFK on Thursday night for the friendly against Honduras.