Altidore sheds slump, scores pair to send U.S. to victory over Nigeria.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, June 7, 2014) -- United States men’s striker Jozy Altidore finally regained the scoring touch that has been mysteriously absent for many months, scoring both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Nigeria in front of a Florida-record soccer crowd of 52,033 this afternoon at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
Next up for the Americans is the Group G of the World Cup in Brazil, starting with Ghana on June 16.
Altidore had not scored a goal for the U.S. since last October and none for his club, Sunderland of the English Premier League since January. The first goal in the 31st minute was a mere tap-in after midfielder Alejandro Bedoya carried the ball down the ride side, pushed it ahead to overlapping defender Fabian Johnson, who slid the ball across the penalty area to unmarked Altidore.
His second tally was the kind from a top, in-form forward. Midfielder Michael Bradley laid the ball in front of Altidore in the left side of the penalty area. Altidore settled it, took two touches, cut inside to evade a defender and fired the ball at a sharp angle inside the far post past Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
“The second goal was world class, no doubt about it,” U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said with a smile. “You heard the other coaches of the last friendlies, especially the Turkish coach who said, 'This guy is a handful.' Hopefully we can keep him as a handful going down to Brazil now.”
The U.S. started slowly and Nigeria had the most possession in the first 15 minutes. But the Americans gradually took control and pressured the Nigerians for the rest of the half. They could have gotten several goals with better finishing, but did get Altidore’s tap-in to go one-up on the scoreboard.
The second half started much the same way, with the U.S. pressuring. Altidore’s second striker seemed to put the match out of reach, but over the last 20 minutes, Nigeria seemed to wake up and started to pressure. Klinsmann’s putting in a third center back, Omar Gonzalez, backfired, with the Americans suddenly becoming confused and giving up several chances before conceding a late penalty kick.
Just when one begins to think he understands what Klinsmann is doing or planning, he throws another curve. After playing a 4-2-3-1 formation through much of qualifying, he reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2. Today, Klinsmann went back to the more defensive 4-2-3-1, but it was Kyle Beckerman pairing with Jermaine Jones in front of the back four with Michael Bradley used in a more offensive role in the center of midfield.
The U.S. won all three of its pre-World Cup exhibitions and it seemed clear Klinsmann wanted to win this one. For the first time in the trio of games, he made no substitutions to start the second half and, with 10 minutes remaining, brought in Gonzales, a fifth defender for striker Altidore, trying to protect a 2-0 lead.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6.5: Played possibly his best match of the last three friendlies. Made four good saves and organized his back-line well, except for the three center- back situation late.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 6: Did well using his speed to go forward while, at the same time, stayed at home to make defensive stops. It will be interesting to see if he starts in Brazil.
Defender Matt Besler - 5: An odd performance. Did well early but, late, both seemed to fade, perhaps in the heat and, worse, looked totally confused after Gonzalez entered the central defense.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 5.5: Did well for a long stretch, but had some difficulty marking on dead-ball situations. He, too, seemed to succumb to the confusion Gonzalez brought for the final 10 minutes.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6: He showed that he can get forward and do so effectively. Provided the key assist on the first American goal.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 6: As he has in the past, his active defense allowed others to go forward. He pairs well with Jones. Has to be considered as a starter.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 6: Was offensive-minded in the first half with Beckerman staying at home and defending. In the second half, he assumed more of the defensive load as Nigeria woke up.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6.5: If Bradley’s role in Brazil is to be as a distributor of the ball, he showed it’s a role he can assume. Made several passes that sprang players free and Altidore benefitted from a perfect pass for his second goal.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 5.5: Had a reasonably good hour. Worked the right side well and meshed well with Johnson behind him. Provided good cover when Johnson went forward.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 6: A tale of two halves. He disappeared for much of the first 45 minutes, but came alive in the second half. Given his work rate, it was surprising he didn’t score on one of the several chances he created for himself.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 7.5: His hard work in the last two matches paid off today. Not only did he notch a pair, but was a problem for Nigeria the whole time he was in. He will be the starter in Brazil.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (60th minute for Bedoya) - 5: Actually, he played well defensively as Nigeria ratcheted up the pressure. Took several corner kicks with mixed results.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud (72nd minute for Beckerman) - 5.5: Nigeria’s late pressure forced him into a defensive role. Remained calm under pressure and showed he could hold the ball under duress.
Defender Timmy Chandler (75th minute for Beasley) - 5.5: He did well going forward, but was lax in the late going in his defending.
Defender Omar Gonzalez (80th minute for Altidore) - 4.5: Essentially, he shared a role in the center of defense with Besler and Cameron with all three not sure of who was supposed to do what. This almost led to disaster. A miscommunication with Howard led to a near miss by Nigeria in the 82nd minute. Confusion with Besler on a through ball almost gave Nigeria another late chance. He struggled.
Forward Chris Wondolowski (87th minute for Dempsey) – no rating: Brief appearance, but he did create one chance for himself.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jozy Altidore.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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