USA vs. Nigeria: 6 Things We Learned

John D. Halloran@JohnDHalloranContributor IIJune 8, 2014

USA vs. Nigeria: 6 Things We Learned

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    In its final World Cup warm-up game, the United States men’s national team defeated Nigeria, 2-1, on the strength of two goals from Jozy Altidore.

    The game was widely expected to be a preview of the U.S.’ formation, personnel and tactics headed into its World Cup opener against Ghana, and as usual, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had plenty of surprises awaiting.

    Here are six things we learned from the match on Saturday.

Formations Do Matter

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    Having used a 4-1-3-2 in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, a 4-2-3-1 in the final round of qualifying and a diamond midfield 4-4-2 in its last three matches, Klinsmann once again made a switch, unveiling a 4-3-2-1 “Christmas tree” formation against Nigeria.

    While the new look required a tremendous amount of discipline among the U.S. players to execute and was a bit boring to watch in the first 30 minutes, it eventually led to repeated, numerous and dangerous counterattacks for the U.S.

Credit to Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The amount of discipline required for Klinsmann’s new formation to work against Nigeria was especially impressive among the three midfielders playing in front of the U.S. back line—and that responsibility fell to Alejandro Bedoya, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones.

    All three did their duty, staying home and smartly picking their moments to go forward. Bedoya’s contribution on the opening goal was arguably the most important pass in the buildup and Jones—who has often faced questions about his effort for the U.S.—covered every inch of the pitch on Saturday afternoon.

Jozy Altidore

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    There’s not much else to say. Altidore, who hadn’t scored for the U.S. in six months, scored twice to both end his drought and gain a bit of self-assurance as the team heads to Brazil.

    The first goal was a simple tap-in off a nice combination from Jones, Bedoya and Fabian Johnson, but it was important nonetheless. On Altidore’s second tally, he looked full of confidence as he got on the end of a pass from Michael Bradley, cut back a defender and smashed his shot home for the eventual game-winner.

Michael Bradley Put on a Masterclass

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    After ho-hum performances against Azerbaijan and Turkey, Michael Bradley looked back to his old self against Nigeria, immersing himself in almost every key sequence for the Americans.

    His tackling and backtracking were superb, his passes generated dangerous attack after dangerous attack and, on the dribble, he carried the ball forward with authority.

    It was exactly the type of performance the U.S. needed out of its midfield engine with the first game in Brazil mere days away.

The U.S. Was Wasteful Late in the Match

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    Despite the great work for most of the match, once the U.S. established a 2-0 lead, the players became too complacent, allowing Nigeria back into the game.

    Obviously, the defense ultimately bears responsibility for the breakdowns, but the U.S. offense squandered over half a dozen promising counters in the last 20 minutes. The biggest offender was Clint Dempsey, who looked absolutely exhausted and gave the ball away repeatedly.

    In the warm temperatures of Brazil, Klinsmann might need to look to Aron Johannsson around the 65-minute mark to spell Dempsey.

The Defensive Fears Were Allayed…Sort of

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    For most of the match, the U.S. back line played very well. Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron kept things organized and snuffed out Nigerian attacks when they had to. DaMarcus Beasley proved he could keep up with high-class attackers, and Johnson did his thing.

    However, there were still a few worrying aspects. Beckerman gave the ball away cheaply on a number of occasions, leading to dangerous counters, and Omar Gonzalez simply looked out of his element when he entered the match late.

    Johnson, who did a number of positive things, also gave the ball away on the counter over and over again. The problem with Johnson giving the ball away on the counter is that he did so while bombing forward—meaning no one was behind him to mind the shop.

    Johnson also got beaten down the end line once and had a weak header that went right to a Nigerian player for a dangerous counter. All in all, it wasn’t his best showing.

    Still, the U.S. had a solid game overall and managed to win all three of the send-off matches. Credit the players and Klinsmann for getting the job done. Now the World Cup, and Ghana, Portugal and Germany await in Group G.

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