Skip to content

U.S. vs. Azerbaijan: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

May 28, 2014, 12:44 AM EDT

FBL - WC2014 - QUALIFIER - USA - HON

The big lesson from Tuesday night? The U.S. has a lot of work to do. There’s no way a performance like tonight’s against Azerbaijan carries water in Brazil; then again, it doesn’t have to. The U.S. has three weeks to improve before meeting Ghana on June 16. Tonight established a baseline, but it’s not the level the team will take into Natal.

That doesn’t mean tonight’s performance was irrelevant. In addition to that baseline, there were some small, subtle indicators of what the U.S. might look like when they finally face the Black Stars. Between the play of its new right back, the positioning of its wide midfielders, and the ease of its center backs, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men provided some hints of what the team might look like 20 days from now.

[MORE: Diskerud, Johannsson come through | Player ratings | Subs shine]

Here’s three things we learned on Tuesday night that may matter in Brazil:

1. The new right back can sure cover some ground …

We all knew Brad Evans was a midfielder doing his best in an improvised role, but it’s still amazing to be reminded how much ground an athlete like Fabian Johnson can cover at right back.

For those who watched Hoffenheim this season, this is no revelation, and fans who’ve called for Johnson to get the call on the left did so remembering his ability to get up the field on that flank. At right back, however, it’s been a while since the U.S. has used somebody that can so effortlessly get from penalty area-to-byline. Johnson, mostly a left-sided player before tonight for the U.S., looked like a solution.

2. … which is good, because the “wingers” are going to have to be very strong in the middle.

U.S. Soccer advertised tonight’s formation as a diamond midfield, but given the depth at which Michael Bradley was playing, this was closer to a setup we’d see on Bob Bradley than something from Jason Kreis’s whiteboard (even if it wasn’t that, either). Regardless, the widest midfielders — Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi, in the starting XI — were often staying as narrow as the defense’s channels, setting up in a formation that will rely almost on its fullbacks for width.

Given the pair Klinsmann’s starting there, it’s not the worst idea. Why not use players like Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley to help the team better use that space in front of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones? If the U.S. can rely on its midfielders-cum-fullbacks to man the flanks, Klinsmann can get numbers in the middle.

3. The new center back tandem looked comfortable together, but they were untested.

Given how little Azerbaijan threatened the U.S., there’s almost nothing you can say about the team’s starting center back tandem: Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron. Almost.

If you’re looking for a reason to be encouraged, look at not only duo’s play on the ball (aside from a few Besler miscues) but the times Cameron jumped into midfield to try to keep possession in the Azerbaijani half. The thin, perhaps premature lesson: After two weeks working together in Palo Alto, the Cameron-Besler pair looked like a tandem that’s used to playing with each other; or, at least, a duo that knows what it wants to become.

Big, huge caveat, though: It’s only Azerbaijan.

Latest Posts
  1. MLS Snapshot: San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Real Salt Lake

    Aug 31, 2014, 1:37 AM EDT

    javier_morales AP

    A controversial penalty provided RSL’s equalizer as the teams shared points at Buck Shaw.

  2. MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 0-3 Portland Timbers

    Aug 31, 2014, 12:53 AM EDT

    maxi_urruti Getty Images

    A second half explosion helped Caleb Porter’s team claim fifth in the Western Conference.

  3. “Gutted” Toronto FC rues blowout loss to New England

    Aug 31, 2014, 12:20 AM EDT

    Doneil Henry Getty Images

    Not the expected sight: Jermaine Jones as the USMNT midfielder walking off the field with three points, not TFC’s Michael Bradley.

  4. WATCH: Louis van Gaal sees chances, wants Manchester United’s attack to convert them

    Aug 30, 2014, 11:11 PM EDT

    louis_van_gaal AP

    Red Devils’ boss was happy with the opportunities his team generated at Turf Moor.

  5. MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-0 FC Dallas

    Aug 30, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT

    robert_earnshaw AP

    A late goal from Robert Earnshaw snaps FCD’s unbeaten run.

  6. MLS Snapshot: Montréal Impact 2-0 Columbus Crew

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:52 PM EDT

    andres_romero AP

    Igancio Piatti’s first two goals give the Impact their second win in three games.

  7. Premier League Sunday Preview: Tottenham host Liverpool, Arsenal face Leicester

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:23 PM EDT

    Source: Mario Balotelli Source: Mario Balotelli

    Three superb games are coming your way on Sunday. Here’s a look at what to expect from all three.

  8. WATCH: Manuel Pellegrini keeps Manchester City’s upset loss in perspective

    Aug 30, 2014, 9:01 PM EDT

    manuel_pellegrini Getty Images

    Defense was Pellegrini’s biggest concern after Saturday’s 1-0 loss.

  9. Revolution feeling a Jermaine Jones boost after unloading on Toronto

    Aug 30, 2014, 8:46 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 8.26.35 PM

    New England’s locker room was abuzz after the team thumped Toronto FC 3-0 in its own house… even before new boy Jermaine Jones subbed on.

  10. Reports: Julian Green to be loaned from Bayern Munich to Hamburg

    Aug 30, 2014, 8:17 PM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US AP

    HSV is close to landing the 19-year-old on a year-long loan.

  11. WATCH: Arlo White, Lee Dixon reflect on a nine-goal day at Goodison Park

    Aug 30, 2014, 8:10 PM EDT

    tim_howard_diego_costa Getty Images

    NBC Sports was on hand for a memorable day in Liverpool, when Chelsea were pressed to preserve the team’s early lead.

  12. MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 0-3 New England Revolution

    Aug 30, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT

    lee_nguyen AP

    A disappointing performance from the Reds saw the Revolution back into the East’s top five.

  13. WATCH: Recapping the Premier League’s seven-match Saturday

    Aug 30, 2014, 6:39 PM EDT

    diego_costa Getty Images

    Twenty-four goals across the day’s seven games made for a highlight-filled open to the Premier League’s weekend.

  14. MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Colorado Rapids

    Aug 30, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    Colorado Rapids v Seattle Sounders Getty Images

    Clint Dempsey’s second half goal pushed Seattle five clear at the top of the standings.

  15. Xabi Alonso debuts as Bayern Munich held at Schalke

    Aug 30, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    xabi_alonso AP

    Second half goal from Benedikt Höwedes gave Schalke a point at home.

  16. Monk has Swansea unbeaten through three, but still eyeing safety first

    Aug 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Swansea City v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    The young Swans manager is hoping to get “to the 40-point barrier as fast as possible” after the hot start.

  17. Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea win classic; Stoke stun Man City

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT

    Costa scored twice, as USA's Howard let in six on Saturday. AP

    All the action from a sensational Saturday of Premier League action.

  18. Pellegrini questioned on Falcao to Man City rumors; Real Madrid lurks

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT

    Radamel Falcao AP

    Real Madrid could be the deepest attacking side in the world right now, and they just may get deeper.

  19. Everton 3-6 Chelsea: Blues prevail in sensational nine-goal thriller (video)

    Aug 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    One of the greatest games in Premier League history played out at Goodison. Relive it, here.

Featured video

Week 3: Saturday Premier League recap