Isn't it at Chad-Denard Field?
spoiler alert: i linked this
|WHAT||USA vs Nigeria
Send Off Series Friendly
|WHERE||Chad Henne Field
|WHEN||6 PM Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||I don't know man|
Super Eagles! via Vanity Fair
The US finally draws an opponent in the World Cup in their final open-door friendly. (They'll play Belgium in Brazil behind closed doors.) Nigeria's in group F with Argentina, Bosnia, and Iran. They're ranked 44th in the FIFA rankings and yes I hate World Cup draws, too.
Here is the part where I'd tell you where Nigeria falls in ESPN's Soccer Power Index, but it evaporated last week so I'm not entirely sure. This article ripping the World Cup draw process that I agree with so hard seems to have gotten them just before they disappeared, though, and it shows Nigeria 28th, approximately equal to the Greek squad Portugal just drew 0-0 with (albeit without Ronaldo) and in the vicinity of Costa Rica and Honduras.
In qualifying, Nigeria went 3-0-3 against a weak group of Malawi (122nd in the FIFA rankings), Kenya (102nd), and Namibia (120th) before defeating Ethiopia 4-1 (101st) in a two-legged playoff to claim their bid. In January they finished third in the African Nations Cup, losing the semifinal on penalties to Ghana after a 0-0 regulation; in recent World Cup friendlies they've drawn Mexico 0-0, Scotland 2-2, and Greece 0-0.
You may have figured out that this is a boring team that relies on its defense, and yes, yes they are. They had seven goals in their six group games despite playing some really bad teams, and you remember that USA-Scotland friendly. Nigeria omitted Seattle Sounders star Obafemi Martins in favor of unattached 32-year-olds with six caps and five goals for club over the past three years like Shola Ameobi, seemingly because the coach has a problem with him. So I guess it's not just Klinsmann.
Anyway. The Greece matchup was as dismal as you'd fear:
Defense and goalkeeping controlled the game in a 0-0 draw played in front of a largely pro-Greece crowd of 10,131 fans at the Chester stadium. Each team held the other in check throughout the game, preventing many quality scoring chances.
The teams managed just four shots on goal apiece.
But Klinsmann says Nigeria and Ghana play similar styles, so here they are.
Despite having an identical scoreline, the Mexico game was wide open and attacking:
So maybe the Greece thing is just Greece's ironhearted determination to be the least watchable football outfit on the planet.
Nigeria is threatening on the break and looks to counter; they are seemingly disorganized on set pieces, though: Mexico had four grade-A opportunities from dead balls.
While the lineup against Mexico was listed as a 4-4-2, it looked like a 4-3-3 for big chunks of the game; Liverpool-by-way-of-Chelsea forward Victor Moses is one of those striker/winger hybrids with Fenerbache's Emmanuel Emenike the main guy up top; Chelsea's John Obi Mikel is the heart of the midfield.
Like Ghana (and the US!), defense looks like it may be the Achilles' heel. A quick glance at the clubs of the players called up is enough to confirm that: the Nigerian defense includes two local players, a couple of guys in the English second tier, and just one player at anything resembling a big club: left back Eldereson Echiejile plays for French runners-up Monaco, and by "plays" I mean "mostly watches"—he had five appearances last year.
With limited exceptions, Nigeria is young and very athletic. They're likely to have one guy older than 27 start, that 33-year old captain Joseph Yobo, a central defender.
DEFENSIVE DEBACLE ON THE LEFT
Fancy soccer charting service Opta defines a "key pass" as the last pass before a shot attempt. The above is a chart of Turkish key passes against the USA. While the end point of the pass is not always the location the shot comes from*, it's a pretty good approximation when combined with your first-hand observations. The above chart amply demonstrates the debacle that combining Timmy Chandler and Brad Davis resulted in. The vast majority of chances originated on the USA's left flank; exactly one remotely threatening ball—the horizontal ball from #18 that ended up in the box—came in from the right side of the defense.
*[For instance, that super-long cross field pass from the Turkish side of midfield was the WTF ball that beat everyone and resulted in a shot from just outside the six-yard box.]
Crosses tell much the same story.
The Turks got in three crosses on the USA's right flank from the dangerous areas near the end line versus eight from the left. there were eight-ish more from moderately dangerous areas compared to three or four on the right. (The extremely deep crosses from 18 are almost harmless.) Whatever the US was doing on the left, it was not working.
While any soccer event has a thousand fathers, to my eye the chief blame was because of a mutual and profound cluelessness from both purportedly left-sided players. I noted some positional issues in the Turkey recap, where scoring chances came with Davis not even on the left half of the field; SI's Liviu Bird highlights another instance:
A taste of the U.S.'s poor defensive shape — in midfield and the back line — against Turkey. Should've been punished: pic.twitter.com/IrrGHYlzNf
— Liviu Bird (@liviubird) June 3, 2014
Bird also posted a stunning shot from just before the Chandler gift where Brooks is in fact outside of Chandler, because Chandler has once again inexplicably pulled up from the back four to no purpose.
Could this have been intentional? Is the US sliding its formation right, pretending that Turkey is Portugal and getting the ball off of Ronaldo's foot? It does not matter. Giving Portuguese right wing Nani the kind of time and space on the ball that the Turkish right was afforded in this game and Ronaldo's just raining in headers from Nani's pinpoint crosses.
So this is the thing that needs to get fixed.
GOALIE: Whoever, but I'd guess Guzan gets the start.
DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson/Yedlin.
Well, you know my opinion on how Chandler did. This is probably the last time I'll get to mention it, so let me just reiterate how unbelievably bad he was on the goal that he handed to the Turks: not only did he give the ball away like a six-year-old, not only did his bizarre positional error start the move, but when the guy with the ball got to the near post, Chandler ran away from him! Guzan and the Turk had a jerky dance-off, and then the guy used the epic amounts of room provided to plink one off of Cameron's hand.
And the above charts. My God man. Beasley's not perfect, but neither does he run around handing out goals. To favor Chandler over him after the last two performances from Timmah in a US shirt is pure eurosnobbery.
Brooks looked pretty good in his run-out in the last 45 minutes but made too many big errors (that last image from Bird is very much a WTF thing) to displace Besler. I would guess we see him again at some point; the two starters will keep starting in an effort to get some chemistry together.
Johnson is your starting right back; might be time to put him on the shelf to keep his legs fresh and avoid injury. If Johnson does start, Yedlin at halftime is highly likely.
MIDFIELD: Jones/Beckerman, Bradley, Bedoya, Zusi.
Bradley is the man; unlike Johnson he's still working out positional kinks and trying to find his passing boots more consistently. Meanwhile the holding mid war will likely continue in 45 minute increments.
Look for the US to adopt an approach closer to the one they deployed in the second half, with Bradley shuttling back and sometimes interchanging with the other central midfielder, then taking over when it's time to surge forward. This will allow the wingers to spread wider and hopefully prevent the same kind of exposure the left endured against the Turks.
On the wings, Bedoya and Zusi look like near-certainties. Zusi is by far the USA's best set piece option who isn't a defensive trainwreck; Bedoya has the speed and athleticism to help cover the USA's weaker flank. Even if he's not looking like much going forward, he's got to be it.
Diskerud should see more minutes as a sub, and I guess Davis.
Might they play together?
ALTERNATE UNVERSE: if the US is truly dedicated to the idea of a narrow diamond midfield, there's little need to pretend your right and left midfielders are anything that looks like a winger. Zusi remains mandatory because set pieces, but if you're going to tuck your guys in so extremely a setup featuring all three of Bradley, Beckerman, and Jones is feasible, with Jones your nominally left-sided midfielder.
That provides a ton more bite and defense on your weak flank without sacrificing much, if anything. It's clear Davis doesn't know WTF he should be doing; Jones is not going to be a downgrade there, and then his pressing, ball-winning ways come with another pure holder on the field. He can also cover for an advanced fullback reasonably well.
Squad depth then becomes a major concern, of course.
FORWARD: Altidore, Dempsey
Absent a drastic change in formation, Altidore is mandatory as the only holder. Dempsey is trying to learn how to work with him and Bradley; the US should value whatever chemistry they can acquire over the distant chance something goes awry. Johannsson and Wondo should both pop in, you'd think.
Diamond versus 4-2-3-1, part III. The US tried to shut up shop a bit in the second half by withdrawing Bradley, and the pace of Turkish chances did slow somewhat. Clearly something has to change lest more ruthless teams than the Turks pile up the goals. The thing that makes the most sense is to go back to more of a flat midfield four with a designated holder who allows Bradley to maraud forward. The US were forced into something similar in their qualifier against Panama last year, when Cameron was the other central mid:
That game could easily have ended 5-0. Call it a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1; either way it seems like the best balance of defense and attack available.
Do we see something weird? See above about Jones and Beckerman on the field simultaneously. If the idea in the Turkey game was to overload the Ronaldo side of the field and force the ball away from it, I can see that being workable… but obviously not with Davis. Given the holes on the roster, some outside the box thinking might be in line.
Is there a way to get Diskerud or Johannsson on the field for a start? A corollary to the "something weird" question: will Klinsmann look at either of those guys for the Donovan-shaped hole at left mid? Is it completely crazy to consider a 4-3-3 with the three holders and something like Johannsson/Altidore/Dempsey up top? Probably! Almost certainly! I will do just about anything to displace the Landon-Donovan-shaped hole!
Can Yedlin force his way into the lineup? Johnson is locked in on the right for Portugal, you'd assume. But Yedlin showed very well against the Turks and it's not going to take that much for a Johnson-LB, Yedlin-RB lineup to seem like the best option in a non-Ronaldo world. I'm still guessing that Beasley has the edge unless there's a major issue with his play against Nigeria.
Can a forward score a real goal? Not just to shut Twellman up about it, because he's not entirely wrong. But, yeah, partially.
Isn't it at Chad-Denard Field?
As long as Chandler does not see the pitch and noone gets injured I'll be happy. I wouldn't mind seeing Beasley and either Yedlin/Brooks as the fullbacks and letting Fabian Johnson get forward (maybe move Bedoya to the bench??)
With Beckerman in the game, the formation almost turns into a 5-3-2 because he hangs so far back.
I suspect Klinsmann could use Beckerman and this 5-3-2 against Portugal to help cut off the passing angles to the wings (Ronaldo).
Jones doesn't have the defensive ability to move side to side like Beckerman. Bedoya and Zusi will also have to track back big time to help slow down Portugal's runs up the side.
I don't expect to see it during this game but the closed door friendly might be offer Klinsmann the ability to do this.
Hi, in the main posting, it looks like there was a lot of play to the US left back side. I was wondering since the majority of the world is right handed (not sure about top flight athletes where I believe there has always been a much higher percentage of left handed athletes than the general population) wouldn't one expect more play towards that side since it is the opponent's right hand attacking side? Or are international caliber teams like baseball or hockey teams more balanced - I noticed some hockey teams have left handers as left wingers, and baseball teams strive to have balanced hitting from each side.
So is this sort of left tackle situation where the natural distribution of handedness makes one side more important from a protection and defensive reason - and not just purely of who is playing there?
but yes, high quality international teams are typically more balanced. Even when they have a strong preference for one side a la Portugal with Ronaldo as Brian mentioned, they tend to not be that overloaded on the attacking side.
That much pressure to the defensive left is definitely an attempt to exploit the weakness we had over there. You can have right footed guys on the left side, but they have to be at least competent with the off-foot especially for crossing; but pending formation it's not uncommon to have a left winger prone to cutting in with his right foot.
When the US trots Brad Davis out there, he is the most left-dominant footed player I've seen in ages. He can't do anything with his right foot. He's out there because he can make occasionally excellent service from the left (which is nice because natural spin pulls ball from the keeper) but that's all he can do really. Bedoya, the likely left wing is right-footed primarily, but he can play to his left and isn't useless with it. With him and Beasley out there it's highly unlikely teams will target our left flank nearly as much as seen above.
keep the diamond, put Dempsey out left as a very aggressive winger instead of Davis/Bedoya, and throw Wondo out there to be the poacher playing underneath Altidore. Wondo is probably the best "right place, right time" goal scorer the US has and has a knack for finding little holes to sit in. That would give Dempsey some space to do Dempsey things, probably be a dip defensively but give them pretty good offensive ability going forward.
The trio of Green/Smith/Isaac should be the best in the conference.
And speaking of college basketball - what do you think about the whole banners up v banners down debate with the Fab Five? Seems like an appropriate thread to have that discussion don't you think?
Not sure, but do you like the odds California Chrome got in the Belmont? How 'bout that number 2 post?
Heat in 6, no doubt.
if game 7 isn't on the road.
I think we need to play 4-5-1, with Dempsey dropping back further. The level of offensive talent we're going to be up against in the group stages makes me nervous. I just don't think we're good enough at the back to be able to have two up top. It used to be our greatest strengths were playing as a strong defensive-minded team and hitting on the counter-attack with pace, but this team just doesn't seem to have the same commitment to sound defensive principles.
Brian, given your soccer nerdery have you ever made it into Detroit for a Detroit City FC match?
The Greece thing is pretty much accurate. They aren't going to win based on speed, or being more skilled or creative than their opponents. So they're content to play to their strengths - defense, playing smart soccer - hopefully stealing a goal somewhere along the way. It worked for them in 2004 and while they might not be threatening to win a World Cup, they've qualified for two since then...so I'd say they're still doing pretty good by Greek soccer standards.
Yeah, it's boring. But they know who they are.
"the Nigerian defense includes two local players, a couple of guys in the English second tier, and just one player at anything resembling a big club: left back Eldereson Echiejile plays for French runners-up Monaco"
And Efe Ambrose. As a Celtic fan, I swear, we're still a big club. No, really.
I'd rather have them in the EPL over QPR. Hate QPR. Send them back to the Championship again.
I'm down, but it's not up to Celtic to get to decide which league they get to join. The Premier League has no interest in seeing how Celtic could do with real money.
Seeing this post today made me perk up thinking the match was tonight.
Then I saw it's on Saturday.
Can you please write something about Michigan instead of soccer the most boring sport to ever watch...... Golf is A better sport to watch then soccer. Sorry soccer fans but this sport sucks to watch. I was awesome at it but never played on a full size soccer field just not enough action for most people
I hear they love soccer there!
I'm am sorry Brian made you read this piece on soccer. I really feel bad for you.
Here is the part where I'd tell you where Nigeria falls in ESPN's Soccer Power Index, but it evaporated last week so I'm not entirely sure.
The new ESPNFC site is the worst thing they could have possibly done heading to the World Cup. Nothing makes sense. There is no order. Just picture everywhere, many without a line of text to tell you what the picture or story's context is.
ARGH I HATES IT.
Glad I'm not the only one who noticed this. Nightmare to navigate, horrible layout. Why even change it from the format they use for every other sport.
What is with people that dislike soccer, and their obsession with posting how much they dislike soccer on message boards. Not just here, ESPN is the same way, and it's always exclusively on soccer.
If your not a fan, nobody and I mean NOBODY cares about how much you hate the sport. All posting about it does is certify what an epic attention grabbing douche you are. If your life is so empty and pathetic where you have enough time to continually post on something you hate...then I feel sorry for you.
The analysis on here of the USMT is top notch, and it's the football offseason in June within a week of the most popular tournament in the world.
people get so bent out of shape just because there's some off-season soccer coverage?
Besides, those Weasley Brothers are 2 of our best Beaters!
Someone with a contrarian view express themselves. Don't like soccer. Never will. Don't like it? Don't care.
It's not that we give the slightest shit that you don't like soccer. It's the bizarre need to express that opinion here that we find irritating.
I think that about covered it.
He made my point for me, and emphasized it to a tee.
This should offer a better test than the Turkey game of how the U.S. may fair in the group, with the U.S. facing a team that is equally as athletic. There was an ostensible advantage for the U.S. in terms of physical strength, height, and even speed against Turkey. When the Turks whipped in crosses during the end of the game, there wasn't much of a threat as Cameron and Besler headed them away. I expect a more physical game, especially in midfield.
Mentioned in the same write up. As a Newcastle United supporter my head just asploded........#nevershouldvesoldmartins
is the team emenike plays for, not fenerbache.
Kenneth Omeruo should get signifcant time at Chelsea next year. He tore up the Eredivisie two years ago and was solid on loan again this year but he really shines when he's playing for Nigeria. He is only 20 but in 8 years he could be one of the best defenders in the World Cup.
Can anyone give me any insight into how Michigan soccer (both sexes) will be next year?
Also thanks for the post Brian. Not a huge soccer fan but I love following the World Cup and the USMNT.
Our beloved Armenia just got spanked by 'Schland, 6-1.
A few quick thoughts on the game:
Great stuff. Hell yeah!
- Bradley looked better than he had in the previous two games.
I’m not sure he’s back to the form he showed in that Mexico friendly but he at least looks to be at least at his 2010 form, which is pretty good. His work rate was incredible today.
- I liked the formation.
Playing Bradley, Beckerman, and Jones together really limited Nigeria’s chances and allowed both Bradley and Jones to play to their strengths a lot more offensively. I’d still love to see Fabian Johnson play as an outside midfielder (the only real outside midfielder in this formation) but that ship has sailed. It’s way too late to try a new CB pairing and Cameron’s the only guy on the team who I’d feel comfortable with at RB.
The only slight drawback to playing Bradley, Jones, and Beckerman together, IMO, is that it really tests your depth at that spot. If you’re up a goal and one of those guys gets tired, or hurt, or is on a yellow card, there’s really nobody that you can bring in for any of the three without sacrificing a bit of defense. In hindsight, it might’ve been worth giving a spot to Maurice Edu instead of say Julian Green or Brad Davis.
- The US’s discipline and work rate really wore Nigeria out.
Actually, it seemed like we didn’t really start to have a lot of possession until the second half when Nigeria’s fatigue caught up with them and from then on we mostly dominated - at least for as long as most of the starters were still in. But even in the first half, when we seemed to have less offensive-half possession than Nigeria, we still managed to create way more chances than they did because we were so dangerous in transition.
I thought that our counterattacking reliant strategy was a bit of a departure from the possession-based attack that Klinsmann has tried to employ during his time with the US – but I think that’s a good thing. In all honesty, we were never likely to have a lot of possession in Brazil anyway. The strategy that we used today seemed more like the sort of thing that could actually work in our group.
- We still lacked precision offensively.
The good news was that we created a ton of chances; the bad news is that we wasted a ton of chances. If you’re getting lots of chances but just missing shots I think that’s a little bit concerning. If you’re getting lots of transition opportunities with tons of space and the defense outnumbered and you’re not even turning those opportunities into shots – because of missed touches/passes or misunderstandings between attackers – I think that’s slightly more concerning still.
Jozy played great and Bradley was sharper than he had been, but I still thought that Dempsey at times wasn’t on the same page as everyone else. Dempsey, Mix, Bedoya, and maybe some others were all guilty at times of sloppy play when we were in dangerous positions. Overall, the US is going to have to be more efficient in Brazil because nobody we play is going to be as terrible at defense as Nigeria was today.
- Speaking of Nigeria, they were awful.
I’m not sure how much to make of the fact that we looked good against a really disappointing Nigeria side. They have quality players and they should be motivated by the fact that they’re going to the World Cup so it’s not like our success came against Barbados. With that said, Nigeria showed a total lack of discipline and commitment defensively and didn’t really show any chemistry going forwards. FWIW, Nigeria tied Mexico recently 0-0 (although Nigeria dominated them) and tied Scotland (who shouldn’t be very good) 2-2 last week. So I don’t know what to make of them. It would be great if Ghana played this poorly against us but that doesn’t seem likely.
- Beasley is so much steadier than Tim Chandler.
Anyone who still thinks that Tim Chandler should start over him is basing that 100% off of what league those two play their club football in and 0% off of how those two guys have played for the US.
- Did anyone else think the defense was still kind of concerning?
Nigeria looked awful but still kind of managed to generate a lot of chances. It still seems like Besler and Cameron aren’t on the same page sometimes leading to some dangerous chances. Also we keep leaving guys open on set pieces. Maybe I’m just not being realistic with my expectations defensively but the US has had so many games in the last three World Cups where the other team comes down and buries the first chance they get* so I’d really like to just not give up any real chances. Today Nigeria still had more than a few.
*2002 -Poland, 2006- Czech Republic, Ghana, 2010 England, Slovenia, Ghana again… also Italy’s goal in 2006 was pretty early on against us as well. That’s just a ton of games times over the course of 3 World Cups (including 3 out or 4 games in 2010).
- I thought it was surprising that Wondolowski came on and not Johannson.
Is Wondo above the Ice Man on the depth chart?
- Overall it was a good (but not great) performance by the US.
I feel better about our chances at advancing now than I did after the Turkey match. Still, we’ll need to play much better against Ghana if we’re going to get 3 points.