By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 8, 2014) US Soccer Players – The USMNT finished the 2014 World Cup Send-Off Series with a 2-1 win over Nigeria. The game itself was the conclusion on 270 minutes of soccer that shouldn't convince anybody that we have a clear idea of what happens against Ghana and the rest of Group G. There was no statement of purpose on the part of Jurgen Klinsmann's USMNT, and maybe that's part of his point. It's not so much that Klinsmann might make it easier on the opposition. It's that his timing is still playing out for this squad. There's another week of work, with part of Klinsmann's job making sure his team comes together for the games that count.
With that in mind, here are five points from the Nigeria friendly in particular, and the Send-Off Series in general.
AKA, rebounds, something that hasn't been falling the USMNT's way during the Send-Off Series. Michael Bradley's shot that turned into a Mix Diskerud goal against Azerbaijan was an oddity for the USMNT. More than once, what should have been a USMNT rebound opportunity turned into a clearance or half chance. That's a major issue for any team entering a World Cup for the obvious reason. Less opportunities on goal normally means less goals. The USMNT can't expect success when their shot and shots on goal totals don't compare with the opposition. We know that Portugal and Germany should produce offensively. The response from the USMNT has to be there.
The Tough American Soccer Player
There was a lot of what we'll politely recall 'tut-tutting' following Brad Davis's handball against Turkey. Davis kept the ball in play with his hand, violating the most basic law of the game. This isn't rugby, it isn't gridiron. There's no excuse for using your hands, especially when the intent is obvious. Davis not only kept the ball in play, he played it. Cue the ruminations on sportsmanship and what it means to be an American soccer player. It was just over two ago when Jurgen Klinsmann addressed the media in the basement of FedEx Field after a lopsided loss to Brazil. Klinsmann said then that the USMNT needed "be more nasty and step on their toes more." That might not mean redirecting the ball with your hand. Then again, taking any and all advantage was one of the hallmarks of Jurgen Klinsmann the elite player. Klinsmann's opinion that players need to 'step on their toes' probably hasn't changed.
Group G Is Wide Open
Yes, I know. Rah rah homerism for anybody suggesting Germany and Portugal won't sweep aside Ghana and the USMNT. Nobody should argue against that as the obvious narrative. Still, watching Germany and Portugal in their pre World Cup friendlies suggests two teams that are also working on their tournament timing. There's no statement of intent from either of them. Germany, a team moving into position as Europe's best chance at beating Brazil in this World Cup, hasn't exactly impressed. Portugal misses Cristiano Ronaldo, reverting to a pragmatic and physical style of soccer that isn't their hallmark with Ronaldo in the lineup. Let's give the best player in the world the benefit of the doubt here and use 'when' instead of 'if' he returns to the lineup, Portugal has no choice but to change. That means the kind of adjustment that wipes out a lot of the work done over the friendly schedule. Someone else in Group G will be in position to take full advantage of Portugal in transition.
There Are No Confederations Styles
Too many of the pre World Cup friendly matchups couldn't help themselves but compare teams across Confederations. For the USMNT, somehow Azerbaijan suggested European giants Germany and Portugal because Azerbaijan played them recently. It wasn't just the USMNT. Other nations also trotted out the similarities with their choices of opponent. Any fan of CONCACAF soccer knows playing Mexico tells a team all but nothing about what it's like to play the USMNT. The same is true with any CAF, AFC, or UEFA team somehow representing the one you happen to face in the World Cup. It simply doesn't work that way. There are no confederation similarities that generalize styles across countries. Nigeria doesn't play like Ghana, Mexico doesn't play like the USMNT, and nobody plays like Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo in the lineup.
There's no figuring out the bench for any team over the pre World Cup friendlies. There's enough speculation with the starting lineup. Add in the full six substitutes and coaches eager to use each and every one of them, and we're not going to learn very much. With the USMNT, we don't know who comes on with the team down a goal and facing a World Cup exit. We don't know who Klinsmann uses to reshape the defense in crisis. We don't know who gets the opportunity to be a super sub, especially considering some of those crucial players from qualifying and the Gold Cup aren't in the USMNT World Cup squad.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him email@example.com.
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