I’ll first start off by giving my thoughts on Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the 23-man roster that is going to Brazil. This was the big news last week and I have been asked multiple times about Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to not bring the U.S. men’s national team’s leading scorer to Brazil.
My first thought was if he couldn’t make the 23-man team there would be little chance he would start in Brazil. Donovan’s form hasn’t been great in the MLS. His role for this U.S. team would be as a super-sub when they needed a goal. Instead Klinsmann opted for other options including striker Chris Wondolowski and youngster Julian Green. It was great to see the mainstream American sports media talk about soccer but I think it was a bit of an overreaction.
Now on to the Azerbaijan match, which was the first friendly for the U.S. team since the start of their World Cup training camp. The Americans won 2-0 after struggling to create chances for the first 75 minutes. They finally broke through with goals from substitutes Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson. The match wasn’t very entertaining to watch but there were some big talking points about the starting lineup Klinsmann used.
Big news broke before the match as forward and captain Clint Dempsey was scratched from the starting lineup with groin injury. Wondolowski got the starting nod to partner with Jozy Altidore in a 4-4-2 formation. Dempsey was rested as a precaution but that didn’t stop speculation on ESPN and Twitter that Donovan would be the logical injury replacement if Dempsey was seriously injured. Wondolowski had several first half chances but couldn’t convert. Aron Johannsson came on as a substitute for Wondolowski and scored off a well-taken corner kick from Brad Davis.
The midfield lined up in a diamond formation with Michael Bradley playing in front of Jermaine Jones in the center of the midfield. Graham Zusi played on the right side and Alejandro Bedoya started on the left flank. It’s very possible that this will be the starting midfield on June 16 when the U.S. plays Ghana. The diamond allows for Bradley to push forward and give support to the two strikers. Bradley excelled in this role in the April friendly against Mexico when he had a goal and an assist. The play of Bradley and Jones will be vital for the American’s success so these friendlies are important for both players to gain chemistry. Diskerud came on for Bedoya and made an immediate impact wearing the No. 10 shirt. Diskerud certainly looks he will make an impact in Brazil as a starter or off the bench.
The back line for the U.S. was their strength against Azerbaijan. However, they weren’t tested much. Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron started at center back, and Omar Gonzalez came on at halftime for Cameron. Besler and Gonzales were the usual suspects at center back during World Cup qualifying. Cameron is a versatile player who regularly started at right back for Stoke City in the EPL. It seems that Besler and Cameron will start against Ghana. Fabian Johnson started at right back. Johnson’s another versatile player who has spent most of his U.S. career at left back or left midfield. Johnson played right back at Hoffenheim towards the end of the Bundesliga season and it looks like he will stay there this summer. Johnson was subbed off in the second half for 20-year-old Deandre Yeldin. The Seattle Sounders defender was a surprise inclusion to the team because it meant Michael Parkhurst and Brad Evans were left off the squad. Veteran Demarcus Beasley played the first half at left back and was spelled by Timmy Chandler for the second half. Both will try to impress during the friendlies to earn a starting spot in Brazil.
The first friendly left more questions than answer for Klinsmann and the U.S. team. There are only two dress rehearsels left before the Americans go to Brazil. It will be intriguing to see what changes, if any, are made in the final two friendlies against Turkey and Nigeria.