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6 Big Questions to Consider Before the Azerbaijan Game

Oh yeah—there's a game to play. Against Azerbaijan, a team coached by Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant coach. At Candlestick Park. Here's what's top of mind as the Send-Off Series approaches.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
May 25, 2014
10:53 AM
PALO ALTO, Calif.—Was it personal? Had he lost a step? What’s the real story? These are alll valid questions about a certain veteran's omission from the United States’ World Cup roster, but they're the same questions everybody has been asking for a few days.

As you know, this is American Soccer NOW, and while there will still be opportunities to ruminate about a certain 32-year-old Ontario, Calif., native, we’re all about living in the present. So here are six big questions for the U.S. to answer Tuesday when it faces Azerbaijan (10 p.m.; ESPN2, UniMas) in a World Cup warmup at Candlestick Park.

1) Who’s on the left?

A certain player we're trying not to mention was widely regarded to be the team's left midfielder, no matter what system Jurgen Klinsmann ended up deploying. Well, that's not going to happen. So who slots in?

Fabian Johnson is certainly capable, but that would mean DaMarcus Beasley becomes the starting left back. Possible, but it doesn't seem likely.

Failing that, Alejandro Bedoya could be an option there. He’s shown his versatility at Nantes but hasn’t played much on the left. It seems a bit farfetched to imagine Julian Green rolling into the starting lineup, but that has to be a consideration as well.

Clint Dempsey played on the left for Fulham and Tottenham. Brad Davis is certainly a candidate, although he doesn't seem like a probable starter on this squad.

When the roster is released an hour or so before Tuesday's game—and then retweeted seven or eight thousand times—we'll all have a much clearer sense of Klinsmann's plans.

2) Does Beasley have the legs?

We’ve seen his progression from converted left back against Costa Rica to...a still-converted left back we’re a little more used to seeing fill the role, so if DaMarcus Beasley is the left back will he be able to hack it against Ghana, Portugal, Germany and a potential knockout stage opponent Belgium? Despite the fact that Puebla has been trying to shed him for the last few transfer windows, he was a pretty bright spot on a team that didn't have many. Most of that was as a wingback, so fitness isn't as much of a concern as keeping up with the big boys is.

3) Does Chandler have the heart?

It seems like Timothy Chandler has himself slotted in on the other side with Klinsmann planning to play Geoff Cameron in the center. Chandler has shown his talent with his club but has yet to do it in a national team shirt— in part because it seemed like he just wasn’t feeling it in San Pedro Sula, Honduras Reports filtering out of camp say he's more fit and more concentrated, and Klinsmann naming Chandler to the 23-man roster backs that up, especially since it came at the expense of Michael Parkhurst, who looked to be an option in the final few months. A focused and devoted Chandler could go a long way toward fixing the fullback issue.

4) Which Jozy Altidore Will Show Up?

Jozy Altidore had a terrible season at Sunderland. There’s really no two ways about it. He didn’t do enough with the Black Cats. But last summer was so magical for the forward that perhaps the U.S. setup will be a safe place for him and he will remind us why he was U.S. Soccer's 2013 Male Athlete of the Year.

Klinsmann has expressed his trust in the 24-year-old striker, and a goal or two against Azerbaijan could go a long way toward helping Altidore the form he showed against Panama, Honduras, Jamaica, and Bosnia.

5) How will they line up?

Klinsmann experimented with a 4-4-2 and used Michael Bradley as a playmaker in a 2-2 draw against Mexico last month. Azerbaijan is coached by a member of Klinsmann’s staff and a personal friend, Berti Vogts. It’s a match the U.S. should be able to win, considering the Milli finished a full 12 points off the playoff in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying.

It will be an excellent opportunity for experimentation before facing formidable foe Turkey and fellow World Cup qualifiers Nigeria.

6) Who’s the super-sub?

For some reason, a lot of people keep running down this scenario: The U.S. is a goal down in the 80th minute. It needs an attacking injection, and it needs it now. Klinsmann nervously thumbs the top button on his Nike polo, glances at the players warming up, and calls out the name of…who?

Is it Davis, who can pump a set piece into the box—or perhaps even into the net—with his left foot? Is it Chris Wondolowski, ready to pop up into the right spot? Is it young Julian Green, darting in and out from the side? Does that player even exist? It’s up in the air.

OK, folks—share your thoughts below. Do you have any answers to the questions we raised? Do tell!

Jon Arnold is an ASN contributor and podcast maker. He will be covering the U.S. national team in the Bay Area through Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter.

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