The United States' 2-1 victory over Nigeria was a massive, confidence-building success. ASN's John Godfrey shares five thoughts about what this Send-Off Series finale means for the team, and the World Cup.
June 07, 2014
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1. This Is Jurgen's Team Now
Did you hear the name "Landon Donovan" mentioned once during the ESPN broadcast, or in the conversations you had with friends wherever you were watching?
Though the process might have seemed chaotic at times, though the coach may have contradicted himself on numerous occasions, though the greatest player in U.S. soccer history was cut from the squad over his protestations, let the record show that the United States will now head into Brazil with confidence, three successive victories, and a clear sense of direction.
Jurgen Klinsmann did that.
During the match against Turkey last weekend, it looked as though the U.S. back line had never played together before. On Saturday against a talented Nigeria squad, the visitors could barely muster a good chance.
Credit the coach for making the appropriate adjustments and sending his squad out in a defense-first mindset. It absolutely worked.
2. Kyle Beckerman is a Paradox
Kyle Beckerman didn't have a very good match against Nigeria. He looked slow among international-quality attackers, he made some questionable decisions, and he gave the ball away far too often—especially in the first half. But the United States always—always
—looks better when he is in the lineup.
He's the weak link, and he makes the team stronger. It's a true paradox.
But it's not so much what Beckerman does as what he represents. When he is in the lineup, Jurgen Klinsmann and co. are clearly committed to defending in numbers. Especially if Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones are also in the lineup, Beckerman's only
job will be to clog the middle and support the back line.
If the U.S. does that, and is tied or ahead 45 minutes into any of its Group G clashes, Beckerman will more than have earned his cap.
3. Dispossess and Attack
For the first 15 minutes or so, the U.S. defense looked tremendous.... and the offense seemed like an afterthought. But an extremely aggressive, extremely fit United States midfield created turnovers that turned into chances.
The first goal was built out of the back, but the second? DaMarcus Beasley broke up a Nigerian attack down the right flank, tapped it to Jermaine Jones, who nudged Michael Bradley forward, who lofted a sick pass to a surging Jozy Altidore, who trapped the ball beautifully, created separation, and shot a laser beam past Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Time of possession: 10 seconds.
And this was just one of many such sequences. Against Nigeria the United States national team played soccer a bit like the 2013-14 San Diego State men's basketball team did in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Stingy defense. Quick counters. Off-balance defensive players. Surprising success.
The Aztecs made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Question: What is the World Cup equivalent for Klinsmann's crew?
4. Geoff Cameron is a Vertebra Too
Klinsmann made a bold statement in February when he said the U.S. national team had a "spine" of essential players. According to the coach, it included Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore.
After these three Send-Off Series matches, another player needs to be added to the spinal column: Geoff Cameron.
Like the original members of Klinsmann's Spine, Cameron now plays in the center of the field an he brings steady, confident play to the heart of the U.S. national team. Cameron never really fit in at right back for the U.S., and now that he is ensconced in the center of the defense, the Americans have another reliable talent in the middle of the action.
5. Despite what he says, Jozy is relieved
Last weekend after he failed to score against Turkey, Altidore chided reporters for asking about his confidence. "I'm fine," he said, smiling and #SMH like he couldn't believe we were asking the question.
After Saturday's match against Nigeria, Altidore once again downplayed the drought he had been enduring and the importance of his two goals on the eve of the World Cup.
"Felt fine," he said, shrugging and deflecting all attention away from himself. "It was great team play. The first goal was a beautiful give and go with Fabian and Alejandro, and the second goal was Mikey's great vision and just having a shot on goal. So it was good."
"I felt fine before, and I feel fine now."
Note: If you're sick of this line of questioning, don't let six months go by between goals.
Those are my thoughts. I want to hear yours. The Comments section is open for business.
John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.