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USA vs Azerbaijan
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FINALLY, THE TIME HAS COME TO GET REVENGE ON—uh…
well my one Armenian friend is totally pumped?
THE THEM: LAND OF FIRE
The "door to hell" is actually in Turkmenistan, but call yourself Land Of Fire and this is what you get
When not getting way more mileage out of their Atletico Madrid shirt sponsorship than they expected, Azerbaijan specializes in being on fire. This generates tourism? I am unclear on the way marketing works.
The Azeris finished fourth in their World Cup group with a 1-3-6 record (note: using standard American win-loss-tie notation here) and a –4 goal differential. They weren't good, finishing only ahead of Northern Ireland and Luxemborg, but they weren't terrible either, scoring a 1-1 tie and 1-0 road loss against group winner Russia. Their only multi-goal defeats came against USA group stage foe Portugal, which won 2-0 and 3-0.
This represents a high water mark for the country in their short history as an independent entity. Their current FIFA ranking of 85th is an all time high; ESPN's less dumb SPI metric has them 97th, one spot below Canada. Other nearby CONCACAF teams include Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador.
As to the players themselves, I have no idea. The goalies and entire defensive corps plays in the Azeri league; the forwards who play abroad generally do so on the lower levels of the Turkish and German ladder. Judging solely by club stats, midfielder Ruslan Abishov, who plays for midtable Russian Premiere League outfit Rubin Kazan, is the best player available. He's a CB/DM hybrid like Cameron.
If you would like to know more about the Azeris I guarantee you that The Shin Guardian's preview is the only informative commentary on them on the entire internet.
So why is the US playing a game against a team far below the caliber of opposition they'll face at the World Cup? Their head coach, Berti Vogts. Klinsmann knows him and is about to steal him for two months:
Berti Vogts is literally working both sides.
As soon as he's done coaching Azerbaijan against the Americans in an international friendly Tuesday night, Vogts will start his temporary job as a special adviser to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Vogts of course played Portugal twice in European qualifiers; he is also a former Germany coach. After this friendly Vogts is going to flit around the world taking in the USA's opponents in their WC friendlies, and thus deliver the US a Decided Schematic Advantage™.
Projecting a lineup, which is mostly a guess but there is this tweet:
If training is an indication #USMNT starting XI : Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Bradley, Jones, Zusi, Dempsey, Bedoya; Altidore
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) May 27, 2014
Zusi plus Bedoya is bizarre; Bedoya did play well for Nantes in the French top division this year, but mostly as the right winger he's always been (at least when he's scored).
And this shot of the locker room featuring something that looks like a 4-4-2 diamond on one chalkboard; the other one is not distinguishable but is probably the 4-2-3-1 Klinsmann has used most frequently.
DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson.
I've seen many people knocking Beasley off the team sheet, but I just don't see how it happens. Johnson's been playing right back for "all of the scrimmages," and if he's not there the Donovan-shaped hole at left mid veritably looms. Johnson is very capable with both feet, FWIW, which is one of the reasons he's so attractive on the left—gentlemen who have the option of crossing or cutting in are rare. But the hole at right back is just too big to not look at him there.
Besler's no surprise; Cameron has played very well for the US when deployed at CB and has more ball skills than any other defender in the pool. With Gonzalez shaky of late it won't take much of an excuse to yoink him for a guy who facilitates keeping the ball.
#1 thing you want from these three friendlies: Tim Chandler looking great.
Substitutes are likely to include Chandler and Brooks as Klinsmann tries to get a handle on two guys who reputedly played very well over the last couple months of the Bundesliga season but have not played much for the US in the past six months—and not well. For reasons the next section will make clear, you really want Chandler to impress over these three games.
MIDFIELD: Jones, Bradley, Zusi, Donovan-shaped-hole-at-left-mid.
Bradley and Zusi are obvious.
Assuming 4-4-2 diamond is the preferred formation, the question is: what happens when Jermaine Jones is tasked with being a single midfield destroyer? He certainly has more range and bite than Beckerman, but his penchant for silly, card-drawing tackles will only be exacerbated when he is put under more pressure to shut things down himself.
Discipline may be an issue; I say "may" because Jones has never been explicitly cast in a holding role for the US. It's hard to imagine he'd just abandon it. Guy may be a bit of a loose cannon but he is a professional and the DM in a diamond is a know-your-role kind of player. This is the kind of game to give it a shot.
And then left mid, which Galarcep implies is Bedoya's spot. The Shin Guardian agrees. I guess I have to as well, because your other options are a cardboard cutout of Landon Donovan Klinsy is trolling everyone with, Brad Davis, the starting right back, the starting left back, Julian Green, Mix Diskerud, or I guess maybe Johannson. (I know I posited Johannson as a left mid but that was in a different formation where he is pretty striker-y.)
Subs should include Beckerman and then one of a parade of guys they throw out at the Landon-Donovan-shaped-hole to see what happens: Green, Diskerud, Davis.
FORWARD: Altidore, Dempsey
Questionable form brothers, unite! Dempsey's recent form is anything but… in MLS. I mean you guys:
He's been less impactful for the Nats after a torrid two-year run that saw him named captain and end up in this picture.
Altidore is much the same except he was in the EPL this year, and when Altidore is in the EPL he suffers through a miserable season where he barely gets a chance, is asked to be the hold-up guy he looks like but isn't and never will be, and gets disinterested, whereupon his place at the club is threatened. If he was still pounding them in for the Nats you could blame Sunderland and be done with it, but his impact streak stopped a while back as well.
Putting two guys at the top takes some of the pressure of Altidore to hold and gets Dempsey at the front, where he can do the evil things he does. For both, it's "please please please look good, please."
Substitutes should include Aron Johansson, who replaced Altidore at AZ down to the pile of goals, and Chris Wondolowski. Wondo's role is pretty obvious at this World Cup: come on at 70' and find the pockets of space tiring defenders will leave him. Johansson could be the previously-mentioned Winger In Name Only in a single-striker formation or he could push Altidore to the bench at some point.
WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, OTHER THAN EVERYTHING
Is the diamond the new thing? I assumed as much above; the 4-2-3-1 is available and will be deployed based on matchups. With the US looking to win the opener they will likely go with the aggressive diamond, but it'll depend on whether it performs. I'm expecting they switch between the two, either on the fly or based on substitutions. Bradley's versatility allows them to change on the go.
Will Klinsmann see the same thing eveyone else sees in re: Bradley? I'm far from the only US soccer commentator pleading for Bradley to be released upfield, but it's been seemingly obvious that is the best version of the USA for a long time without Klinsmann seeing it. We are all assuming this is the goal, but we all thought Donovan was going to the World Cup.
Left mid: who? I guess Bedoya is getting the first shot. Color me unimpressed. Bedoya's USA career has been minimally impactful. He's like Kljestan for the outside.
Right back: who? Fabian Johnson is a fine choice, but he's pretty obviously the best choice at left mid, so if someone can free him up to play there I'm in favor. Timmy Chandler, come on down.
How does the chemistry between Besler and Cameron look? Individually, Besler and Cameron have been the best central defenders of this cycle. They have not played together much, though, and communication issues are a possibility. If they look good together Klinsmann will be doing a secret jig, as that hypothetical pairing is about 1000x better able to keep possession than the 2010 cycle's hoofers. (No offense to said hoofers, but yeah man.)
Are we secretly hoping for a mild but disqualifying injury amongst the attacking players? Maybe.
SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
ALL RIGHT FINE IT STARTS NOW. If you weren't around four years ago or four years before that, when the World Cup rolls around I cover the USMNT like it is the subject of this blog. I'll be interested to see if the ratio of people pleased by this to people disgusted because 'Murica has gone up.
But whatever man. It's the offseason, and I like the World Cup a lot.
That's that for Landon Donovan, who didn't even make the 23. This made me a little EMOTIONAL last night, because I mean seriously.
This man was in a Mexican lottery commercial trying to sneak into Mexico wherein he says "it's easier to win in Mexico," which brings a threat of violence until he explains he's just talking about the awesomeness of Gana Gol. And then he gets kicked out because Mexicans hate Landon Donovan.
Before the existence of Donovan it was impossible to envision Mexican fans hating any specific USA player more than he hated whatever it was the jerseys stood for in their minds, because he killed them in a way no USA player was capable of before. Because Donovan was a little weird, a little effeminate he got saddled with unflattering nicknames like "Landycakes" as soon as anything went wrong with his career. And he may even have (momentarily) lived up to that nickname when he went a little stir-crazy last year. But never forget: Mexico feared Landon Donovan.
And then there's all this other stuff.
The Analytical Hat in re: Donovan
I still don't get it unless Klinsmann's doing it for You Must Step Up purposes. Brad Davis's inclusion is solely because he can play Tiny Beckerman on set pieces and the (very) occasional cross a high-level opponent will let him swing in. He's a legit A in that department; Donovan is at worst a B+ and is also Landon Donovan.
The only thing that makes sense other than hand-waving motivational stuff is that Donovan's performance on the infamous "beep test" was so bad that they couldn't look the rest of the team in the eye and bring him. I don't mind dragging Green along since player #23 is never going to play, so locking that guy down and prepping him for 2018 is worthwhile.
Brad Davis, though? I look at this roster and see no way he's getting in a game. Might as well bring Landon.
The unquestioned man, then
Not that there was much of a question before, but minus Donovan and coming off this display of Keyser Soze-level will…
I'm also told when beep test ended Michael Bradley was still going. Only happened once b4 in #USMNT history when Donovan and Hejduk did it.
— Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle) May 22, 2014
…Michael Bradley is the engine the team is built around. I mean.
"This will be a World Cup where teams that do well will suffer. We want to be the team that can suffer the most."
This is a man with an armband whether he has it or not.
I've expressed my opinion on this repeatedly elsewhere, but to reiterate: the USMNT looks its best when Bradley is paired with an outright holder and allowed to range upfield as far as he wants. With someone else maintaining a screen to help prevent breaks, Bradley has the fitness to recover when the US is caught out. When Bradley can become part of the rushes upfield on the regular, his passing, vision, and late runs into the box give the US attack verve it lacks otherwise. Bradley also does excellent work providing the kind of high pressure that leads to dangerous turnovers and central backs hoofing it upfield. There is no substitute.
Unfortunately, Klinsmann fave-rave Jermaine Jones is around and likely to start despite his inability to be that player. When paired together it's Jones flying up the pitch more often than not, and generally to little effect other than taking a long shot. Bradley stays back and plays well, but has much less impact on the game. And at this point it's clear that Klinsmann either can't or doesn't want to rein Jones in.
I would prefer Cameron or Beckerman, but with Goodson cut and Gonzalez shaky Cameron is at least the #3 center back and will compete to be #2. Meanwhile Beckerman struggles mightily against speed. The thing he has going for him is that the US has clearly focused on having quick outside backs, which may allow for Beckerman to do his positioning and passing thing as others cover for his lack of range.
Outside backs: fast
Yedlin also brings hair to the table, so much hair that GIS asks you if you'd like to search for not just "Yedlin hair" but "Yedlin hair 2013."
The US cut Parkhurst and Evans to include DeAndre Yedlin, a 20-year-old with one cap to his name, and Timmy Chandler, who hasn't been on the team in six months. And, yeah. Had to do it. Evans and Parkhurst were consistently exploited by low-level players because they simply could not keep up with them, and since they were no less likely to get skinned by the likes of Ronaldo you might as well roll with the guys who can catch up to him after.
Pair with DaMarcus Beasley and you've got a set of gentlemen who can keep up when pressed. Are things going to go spectacularly well there? No. But Evans seemed like a disaster waiting to happen at the World Cup level and I'm saying there's a chance things are okay with Chandler and Yedlin.
Again, I would prefer Fabian Johnson at right back but with the cut of Donovan he is the most obvious choice for left wing. In fact, he is about the only choice.
Who's on the left?
Johnson and Beasley have played a lot on the left side of the US formation. Nobody else on the roster has. And nobody else on the roster seems like a natural fit there. Bedoya and Zusi are right-sided players, Johannsson and Green are striker types, Diskerud is a central player… what happens if injury or cards knock out either one of the presumptive left sided starters?
A: the other one plays left back and the US tries something along the lines of what it was doing with Eddie Johnson playing "left wing" as an in-cutting player trying to get a shot off with his stronger right foot. That could be Dempsey if the US is in a two-striker formation with Bradley its defacto attacking mid; it is most likely to be Johannsson, who has a combination of speed and deftness on the ball that no one else on the roster does except possibly Green, who is… wait for it… really green.
The only thing about that in-cutting formation is that it does place demands on your left back to be a high-placed defacto winger… and demands on your right back to be quite good defensively. (Like the 4-3 under is halfway between a 4-3 even and a 3-4, a setup like this is kind of halfway between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1.) In the event that Johannsson ends up as a left winger that might be a spot where you play Cameron at right back.
Chance to start against Ghana rankings
- Michael Bradley
- Tim Howard
- Clint Dempsey
- Fabian Johnson
- DaMarcus Beasley
- Matt Besler
- Jozy Altidore
- Jermaine Jones
- Graham Zusi
- Geoff Cameron
- Timmy Chandler
- Omar Gonzalez
- DeAndre Yedlin
- Aron Johannson
- Kyle Beckerman
- Alejandro Bedoya
- Mix Diskerud
- Julian Green
- Brad Guzan
- Chris Wondolowski
- John Brooks
- Brad Davis
- Nick Rimando
WAG at what it looks like
Don't take this bit too seriously, as Klinsmann has shown a penchant for changing things based on opponent. Bob Bradley would settle on a thing and roll it out over and over; Klinsmann has been experimenting.
But the most likely things is the 4-2-3-1 he's been rolling out on and off since his arrival:
Johnson Dempsey Zusi
Beasley Besler Cameron Chandler
I would prefer something like the 4-4-2 diamond they tried out in a recent friendly, with Bradley dropping back when faced with opponent possession and Dempsey moving under Altidore to provide an outlet and link to Altidore up top.
WITH THE BALL
Beasley Besler Cameron Chandler
WITHOUT THE BALL
Beasley Besler Cameron Chandler
I do think the Johannson-as-left wing scenario is in the mix, in which case Johnson would likely bump Beasley at left back and Cameron may flip to RB and allow Gonzalez to enter.
How I'm feeling
Nervous, man. This was supposed to be the last hurrah for this generation of players, but there are only five guys on the whole team who were at the last World Cup. This is uncharted territory for everyone save Dempsey, Bradley, Beasley, and Howard. I mean:
The last time Landon Donovan didn’t start for the US in the World Cup, Thomas Dooley was the captain and Preki came off the bench.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) May 23, 2014
But I guess I'd be nervous anyway.
Deal with it. Is this off topic? Yes.
my world cup future's so bright I've got to wear shades thrown at me by irate Salvadoreans
But it gives me a chance to mention that you guys who make college football topics—topics about OHIO STATE—and make them off topic are just as bad as a guy who makes a pokemon thread and declares it on-topic. This section has gone from off topic to META:.
Bombs away. Mike Slive took some soft shots at the NCAA during his SEC Media Days appearance, but he's got nothing on new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who just got off the podium at his conference's event. Choice quotes (or paraphrased quotes) from twitter:
- "Realignment will never be considered one of our proudest moments."
- Bowlsby says big conferences don't want to get rid of the NCAA altogether. That's true. They don't want to stage another softball tourney.
- Bowlsby's remarks are measured but aggressive about the NCAA's lack of innovation. Echoing Slive, sans historical references.
- "The time has come to think about federation by size and scope"
- "I really think we need to reconfigure the leadership in the organization."
- "It's time to reevaluate our core purpose."
- “I’m not critical of Mark Emmert. I’m critical of an organization that is just not very efficient.”
The glove has been removed, and used to slap.
Bowlsby's comments come on the heels of ACC comissioner John Swofford floating the idea of a "super division" that would separate the Indiana States from the big programs, allowing those larger programs to make changes that would make the enterprise somewhere between a bit and significantly less icky.
"That's a potential way of making a change that would basically retain the fundamental NCAA oversight and umbrella, if you will," Swofford said. "If the five conferences were to break off, I mean, that's a complicated move. You'd have to, in essence, duplicate the NCAA in some form or fashion, and then what does that mean for intercollegiate athletics? So if you've got another division, if that's the answer within the NCAA, you can maneuver and find an appropriate way, I think, to address those kinds of issues."
Dollars to donuts Scott and Delany follow up with agreement; these guys don't yawn without a focus group about it and if all three are taking potshots at Emmert and company, there was meeting. With cigars.
Next time read the wall? OSU starting RB Carlos Hyde is a person of interest in an assault that had twitter and message boards abuzz the last couple days. Not helping is Aaron Hernandez and the legion of guys itching to write COLUMNS about Urban's corrupting touch with youth, but the vibe I get is that it's pretty bad. "Sources" tell the Dispatch Hyde is gone, so… yeah. Bad.
Dude, next time read the wall.
I'll take "things you don't have to tell Brady Hoke recruits" for $1000, Alex
OSU is also looking into an incident with corner Bradley Roby in Bloomington over the weekend, the Dispatch says. He was arrested for "battery resulting in bodily injury." Not a good weekend for the Buckeyes.
If gone, Hyde will be replaced by Rod Smith, who's a lot like Hyde, and sophomore Brionte Dunn. The dropoff there would not be huge. Roby would be a different matter, since top-half-of-the-first-round cornerbacks don't grow on trees. Sounds like Roby's thing is more of a two-game suspension kind of thing, though:
Sources told The Dispatch he was asked to leave a bar after a disturbance, refused, and was subdued by bouncers at the bar before being taken into custody.
Unless that bodily injury is ripping a guy's heart out through his chest, he'll hang on.
Random old-ish thing. 1995 ad for M/OSU, amongst other things:
Tim Biakabutuka would go off for 313 yards in a 31-23 victory.
Well, maybe. Michigan and Ohio to face off in a high school all-star game, replacing both the intrastate Michigan game and the now-defunct Big 33 matchup. It's scheduled for June 14th, 2014, which is after the date when Michigan freshmen coming up for summer enroll, AFAIK. Apparently it can't be any earlier because the MHSAA, which remains as up-to-date as a Model T, will kibosh the eligibility of anyone who participates in such a thing before things like track end.
Michigan has always been a little iffy on letting their freshmen participate in such things, and I don't think they'll be fired up to put their recruits through a live-contact game six weeks before the season.