Preview: USMNT v Azerbaijan

It was thought, in the heady days before LDWCS (Landon Donovan’s World Cup Snub), that this game would go some ways toward discerning Jurgen Klinsmann’s thinking regarding his eventual 23-man final roster for the World Cup. But then, LDWCS happened, and the final roster is already known.

For professional prognosticators, this is unfortunate, as there is less about which to conjecture. But for the team, having the roster decided is assuredly a good thing. Getting beyond the question of whether or not LDWCS was the correct sporting decision, using the games against Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria exclusively to bed in the team’s tactical understanding is a positive development. No longer are those in camp fighting for places. Instead, each member of the squad is simply learning his role, be it as a starter or a sub.

Important players like Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley are in good form, but others, like Jozy Altidore, have some shaping up to do. And that isn’t the only question facing the team.

Question 1: Who starts in defense?

Right now, there is only one clear starter: Matt Besler. Two months ago, Omar Gonzalez would have been an obvious choice next to him, but Gonzalez’s play since becoming the highest-paid defender in MLS history has been shaky, opening the door for others. Now that Clay Goodson has been cut, however, there is no clear-cut back-up on the roster. John Brooks is the logical choice, given club position and form, but the best bet is on Geoff Cameron if Gonzalez isn’t the pick. Though Cameron began his career in defensive midfield and plies his trade at right back for his club team, Klinsmann says Cameron’s best position is at center back.

DaMarcus Beasley, headed to his fourth World Cup, has been the incumbent left back for the past year, and has played that position with some distinction. However, there has been quite a lot of chatter of late that Fabian Johnson could return to defense, in either fullback position, which may see Beasley relegated to substitute duty.

It is the right back position that is most troublesome, and which is guaranteed a change. Brad Evans, who had been the obvious starter, having played there for much of the past year, is not even in the 23, meaning a new face will grace that side of the field. The competition seems to be between the aforementioned Johnson and Timmy Chandler. Chandler has not shone in previous appearances with the national team, but finished his club season playing well, and as a right back, which may give him the edge.

Question 2: Who fills in for LD?

With Donovan out of the picture, there is a gaping hole on the left side of the front three. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley will surely support Clint Dempsey in the center of the park, with Jozy Altidore up top. On the right, Graham Zusi is the clear favorite. With no Donovan, though, it’s not obvious who takes up the left. Brad Davis is the most left-sided player on the roster, but lacks pace. Johnson, again, may be a good fit there. So, too, Alejandro Bedoya, or he and Zusi could swap sides. Then, of course, there’s Julian Green, a wholly unknown quantity. This position, more than any other, may be chosen based on the opposition, unless a front-runner has emerged during camp.


This tiny formerly Soviet nation has been playing soccer since the early 20th century, but has little international success in the that time, and has never qualified for a major international tournament. A small handful of the current squad plays club soccer in major leagues (two in Turkey; one in Russia), but none for top teams. The rest play in the domestic league.

None of this matters, of course. This game is about tuning up the U.S. team.

Final thoughts

There is a real debate to be had about LDWCS. All jokes aside, Donovan’s absence has serious repercussions for the team. Azerbaijan should not present a true challenge, regardless of the team selected by Klinsmann, but execution matters now. There isn’t any more time to figure things out. Starting tonight, the U.S. will give its best indication yet of whether or not it is ready for the World Cup.


  1. No shout out to former KC and RSL striker Yura Movsisyan? His career has really taken off since he moved to Europe.

  2. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    The impoertant thing about tonight is two fold. One, who partners Besler and what does their communication on the back line looks like. Doesn’t matter if they post a shutout, but we need to see that some understanding is developing in camp amongst the D. Juergen is playing a dangerous game with that group right now.

    Secondly, how is the US playing as a group? Tempo of play and off the ball movement is something to watch as this team tries to gel offensively. I’m hoping the holvovers from the gold cup can assimilate the “A” players and a similar style of play develops.

  3. It will be interesting if we play a 4-man midfield diamond again, as we did against Mexico. If so, it could signal a fairly major tactical shift ahead of the World Cup.

  4. They will be no pushover. They beat N. Ireland and tied Russia. Results do not really matter though. 4 years ago the US did terrible in the 3 matches before the WC and no one gave them a chance, but then they ended up winning their group!

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