U.S. defeats Azerbaijan, but performance is far from impressive.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, May 27, 2014) -- Maybe it was the sharp wind off the Bay. Maybe it was fatigue from 10 days of very hard training camp workouts. But whatever the cause, the United States men were not able to break down a bunkered Azerbaijan until late in the match and eventually came away with an uninspired 2-0 victory in front of 24,688 in San Francisco’s soon-to-be-razed Candlestick Park tonight.
The late minute scratch of striker Clint Dempsey, who experienced tightness in his right groin, caused U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann to make changes in his lineup and in his tactics. He replaced Dempsey, who was to have played as an attacking withdrawn forward) with true striker Chris Wondolowski. Instead, the Americans played a straight 4-4-2 with Wondolowski and Jozy Altidore op top, rather than the 4-2-3-1 Klinsmann normally favors.
In the oddity of the night, Azerbaijan was led by its long-time coach, former German All-Star Berti Vogts, who is one of Klinsmann’s oldest friends and the latest addition to the U.S. coaching staff for the World Cup in Brazil. Vogts did the U.S. no favors by allowing his charges to bunker in, often getting all 11 players behind the ball whenever it advanced over the
The Azerbaijanis proved during World Cup qualifying the one thing they could do well was bunker in. Twice, they held off Portugal until late in the match and ditto the Russians. But the U.S. will face much dynamic attacks in the World Cup’s Group G with Germany, Portugal or Ghana, so the exercise of trying to break down Azerbaijan here made little sense.
The one thing that Azerbaijan seemed incapable of was marking on set plays. Twice in the first half, Wondolowski was left all alone in front of the net and sharply directed headed free kicks toward goal. Goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev stopped both.
Finally, in the 75th minute, substitute midfielder Brad Davis delivered a free kick that was headed straight up in the air, Reserve Mix Diskerud got a head on the ball, which fell to fellow midfielder Michael Bradley, whose shot was blocked on the goal-line by a defender. It rebounded to Diskerud, who found net from close range.
Then, in the 81st minute, reserve striker Aron Johannsson was left completely unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box on a Davis corner kick from the right side. Johannsson flicked his header into the upper right corner to give the U.S. its final 2-0 margin.
Klinsmann used his maximum six substitutes, but rather oddly. First, Timmy Chandler, a natural right back, entered at halftime at left back in place of DaMarcus Beasley. Alejandro Bedoya then moved from left midfield, where he had played the first half, to the right while Brad Davis moved to the left side. Omar Gonzalez, who appears to have lost his starting job in central defense, replaced Geoff Cameron at center back. Twenty-year-old DeAndre Yedlin took Fabian Johnson’s spot at right back. Johannsson came in for Wondolowski and Diskerud replaced Alejandro Bedoya.
Clearly, Klinsmann had hoped for more out of his squad tonight. All in all, there was not much here for Klinsmann to be satisfied about. The defense played well, the defensive midfield paring of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones also did well. That was about all. In the first half, the Americans did not have much in the way of offensive flow and eventually were only able to take advantage of Azerbaijan’s poor marking on dead-ball plays.
The U.S. faces Turkey in the New York suburb of Harrison, N.J., on Sunday. If the Americans do no better than they did at Candlestick tonight against the 85th-ranked in the world, American fans will really begin to worry.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: He was not asked to do very much, only making a pair of saves, but he was there when he needed to be to claim another clean sheet.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: He was untested in back, so he was able to get forward often, but to little effect.
Defender Matt Besler - 5: His reputation is for steadiness, but he was surprisingly shaky in the first half. His giveaway gave Azerbaijan its only good chance on the night. Otherwise, he was not under much pressure over the 90 minutes.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He did well in a position he does not think is his best. He moved around well in a half where he too saw little pressure.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6: He was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. He appears to be rounding back into good form after his long injury layoff.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5: His role was clearly more offensive, playing on top of a four-man diamond in the middle. The packed-in Azerbaijanis gave him little room and he was not very effective.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 6: He was a bright spot for the U.S. as the bottom man in the diamond with all the defensive responsibilities. He played very well except for one early giveaway that resulted in the only good chance for Azerbaijan.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 5: He provided two very good free kicks and some effective passing in his one half. Overall, howevert, he was not very impressive.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: He was the most impressive of the starting midfielders. He was active in his hour-plus.
Forward Chris Wondolowski - 5: A last minute starter, he was active and got into position to do damage. Left totally unmarked on a pair of free kicks, he got off sharp headers but could not put either away.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 5: Another performance that leaves one scratching his head. He did very well at times, was very active, but actually accomplished little. He needs to leave more of an impression on a match. He was high or wide each time he shot, such as when he hit the crossbar in the 63rd minute.
Defender Omar Gonzalez (46th minute for Cameron) - 6: He did very well although he faced little pressure.
Defender Timmy Chandler (46th minute for Beasley) - 5.5: He is right-footed and can do little on the left side. He cannot cross with his left foot and showed that tonight. Defensively, he was fine, but he too was put under almost no pressure.
Midfielder Brad Davis (46th minute for Zusi) - 7: He might be the strongest American on set pieces. He did very well in his half and had a central role in both American goals. He showed he belonged on the roster, something many questioned.
Forward Aron Johannsson (62nd minute for Wondolowski ) - 6.5: In a half hour against a mixture of tiring Azerbaijanis and substitutes, he was quite effective. He put himself in good positions and put away an open header for the second U.S. goal. He is not the physical presence that Altidore is, nor does he hold the ball well, but he has quick feet and he can finish.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin (62nd minute for Johnson) - 5: He did not have much to do, but he did show his speed a couple of times.
Midfielder Mix Diskerud (71st minute for Bedoya) - 7: He was the best American over the final 20 minutes. Against a tiring opponent, he was very effective and showed he should be considered for a greater role.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Brad Davis.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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