Recap and reaction: USA 2–0 Azerbaijan

The U.S. faced off against Azerbaijan on Tuesday in the first of three World Cup warm-up matches, and ran out comfortable 2–0 winners.

The lineup was relatively as expected: Tim Howard in goal; DaMarcus Beasley at left back, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron in the center, with Fabian Johnson at right back; Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in the middle, flanked by Graham Zusi on the right and Alejandro Bedoya on the left; with Chris Wondolowski and Jozy Altidore up top. (Clint Dempsey was a late scratch due to tightness in his groin.) What was something of a surprise was the pre-game lineup’s formation: a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, Jones behind Bradley. Jones has never shown the discipline required to truly let Bradley roam free; would he now?

First half

Early signs were good. Jones, along with the rest of the U.S. team, played out the first half with calm control. For his part, Jones looked good in all phases except for his long-range forward passing, which was overly ambitious.

The U.S. opened strongly, carving out several early chances. The star man, to some surprise, was Wondolowski, who found himself with good heading opportunities in the 4th and 14th minutes. The first was a diving header from an excellent Zusi free kick, the second coming from a Bedoya cross after a short corner. Both were well saved, however.

Azerbaijan created little going forward, but was not entirely without bite, only too willing to take advantage of U.S. miscues. In the 6th, a very poor Besler clearance gifted Vagif Dzavadov a shooting chance outside the U.S. box, but Howard saved. In the 11th, a foul gave Azerbaijan a free kick. The ball was rolling due to the windy conditions, but Mahir Shukarov hit it anyway, striking the net support just wide of the upper 90 of Howard’s goal.

The half settled down after that with the U.S. controlling the play and attempting to break down the massed Azeri defense at speed. The U.S. created several more dangerous moments with crosses, and both Altidore and Wondolowski found themselves with the ball at their feet inside the Azeri box, but nothing quite came off. The U.S. seemed just shy of really clicking, and would be disappointed to close the half without a goal.

Second half

The second half was all about the substitutes. Zusi, Beasley, and Cameron came off at the half, with Brad Davis, Timmy Chandler, and Omar Gonzalez coming on. Bedoya moved right with Davis left, and Chandler at left back. The new men looked comfortable, with Gonzalez called on early to shepherd an Azeri attacker into shooting wide in the 47th.

Davis would be influential going forward. In the 48th, he should have earned a penalty, getting fouled inside the box, but the ref gave the free kick a foot and a half outside. Altidore and Davis showed some good chemistry on several occasions. In the 53rd, Davis could have opened the scoring after receiving a ball from Altidore in the Azeri box, but was unwilling to shoot with his right foot, and the chance was blocked.

The game slowed to walking pace for much of the middle portion of the half, but the introduction of Mix Diskerud in the 70th minute, wearing the recently vacated No. 10 jersey, would speed things up and energize the U.S. In the 75th, Altidore earned a hard-fought free kick. Davis’s service was good, but headed up into the air inside the box. Diskerud won the second header, which fell to Bradley. Bradley’s shot was cleared off the line, but Diskerud followed it up and finished for the opening goal.

Then, in the 81st, a U.S. corner would bring a second. Davis’s service was again excellent, and Aron Johannsson, on for Wondolowski, found himself unmarked 8 yards out, and was only too happy to finish the header emphatically.

Azerbaijan petered out at that point, and the U.S. would dominate play, including having another penalty claim denied, but the game would finish just 2–0.

U.S. verdict

World Cup rookies making things happen: In the first half, it was Wondolowski. In the second, Davis, Diskerud, and Johannsson all made telling contributions. Davis, in particular, was a pleasant surprise for how effective his overall play was, not just his dead ball service.

Set pieces a U.S. strength: Both U.S. goals were the result of good set play service, and Wondolowski could have scored early in the game from the same. Against teams that put 11 men behind the ball—but also against teams with superior talent—that’s a good skill to have.

Defense evolving: Cameron looked good at center back in the first half. His partner, Besler, showed some nerves early, giving some poor touches away, but settled down as the game went on. The pairing may be fruitful, but reps are needed. Gonzalez and Chandler also looked fine, but the man who looked best started at right back.

Fabian Johnson looks ready for the Cup: Johnson was the best player on the field until he was substituted, consistently winning his defensive battles and also contributing significantly going forward. With him in form like that, he has the right back position locked down, and the U.S. may have a creditable successor to Steve Cherundolo.

Final thoughts

The U.S. looked quite good for long stretches on Tuesday night, and scored two goals. However, the team should be disappointed not to create more from open play. Set piece execution was very good, but the team had the majority of possession yet failed to get enough shots on goal from that possession. Jones played well positioned below Bradley, but the team may be better served by playing Bradley at the base of the diamond and inserting a more creative player at the top of it.

Also, the resistance put up by Azerbaijan was minimal. The teams the U.S. plays in Brazil will be more talented and more attacking. This game was a good tune-up from a chemistry perspective, but provided little other preparation for Ghana, Portugal, and Germany.

Finally, Dempsey’s injury raises the specter of the absent Landon Donovan. Would the U.S. have performed better with him out there? It’s impossible to say, but if Dempsey’s groin prevents him from being the player the U.S. needs him to be, the calls for Donovan will be loud.

But that’s for another day. Now the U.S. turns to Turkey, June 1 in Red Bull Arena (2:00 pm EDT, ESPN2, WatchESPN. Univision, Univision Deportes).

Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Azerbaijan, powered by Yingli Solar
Date: May 27, 2014
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Candlestick Park; San Francisco, Calif.
Kickoff: 7 p.m. PT
Attendance: 24,688
Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy

1-Tim Howard (capt.); 23-Fabian Johnson (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 62), 20-Geoff Cameron (3-Omar Gonzalez, 46), 5-Matt Besler, 7-DaMarcus Beasley (21-Timmy Chandler, 46); 19-Graham Zusi (14-Brad Davis, 46), 13-Jermaine Jones, 4-Michael Bradley, 11-Alejandro Bedoya (10-Mix Diskerud, 71); 17-Jozy Altidore, 18-Chris Wondolowski (9-Aron Johannsson, 62)
Subs Not Used: 6-John Brooks, 8-Clint Dempsey, 12-Brad Guzan, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 16-Julian Green, 22-Nick Rimando
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

1-Kamran Aghayev, 3-Rasim Ramaldanov, 4-Mahir Shukurov (capt.) (25-Ilkin Girtimov, 46), 7-Vagif Javadov (13-Dmitrij Nazarov, 60), 8-Gara Garayev, 10-Rufat Dadashov (28-Pardis Fardjad-Azad, 66), 11-Rauf Aliyev, 15-Ruslan Abishov (2-Badavi Guseynov, 46), 20-Ufuk Budak, 24-Abdulla Abasiyev (18-Maksim Medvedev, 71), 29-Elvin Yunuszade
Subs Not Used: 5-Shahriyar Aliyev, 9-Jihan Ozkara, 12-Emil Balayev, 14-Rashad Sadigov, 23-Salahat Aghayev
Head Coach: Berti Vogts

Scoring Summary
USA – Mix Diskerud – 75′
USA – Aron Johannsson (Brad Davis) – 81′

Misconduct Summary: None

Stats Summary: USA / AZE
Shots: 14 / 7
Shots on Goal: 7 / 2
Saves: 2 / 5
Corner Kicks: 11 / 6
Fouls: 9 / 16
Offside: 1 / 1

Referee: Henry Bejarano (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Warner Castro (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Carlos Fernandez (CRC)
Fourth Official: Armando Castro (HON)


  1. We are going to get so destroyed in the following 2 games and in Brazil.

    And Donovan wouldn’t make a bit of a difference.

    In a way I look forward to it. We need to take a step backwards before we can finally take that leap forward Klinsmann was brought here for.

  2. I got home from work just in time to catch the last 25 minutes of the game.
    The only thing I have to say is Yedlin played dirty. Real dirty.

  3. DarthLos117 says:

    We looked weak against a weak uninterested team.
    Did our set pieces really look that good or did their set piece defense really look that bad? I believe the latter.
    Very disappointed to see a diamond midfield, feel our talent is better suited for a 4-2-3-1…got us this far.

    • I think with Dempsey out there that would’ve been the better way to go, with Dempsey-Zusi-Bedoya in front of Bradley-Jones. Bedoya wasn’t bad, but I would rather see Dempsey and Zusi flank Mix from the start.

  4. It’s gonna get really old, really fast, when every time a player misses a shot, or when someone gets hurt, someone will say “but Donovan could’ve done it”.

  5. it was nice to see surprisingly good play from wondo and davis. i questioned the inclusion of both of them over donovon but its good to know they will at least be contributing. bringing yedlin still seems dumb. i could see him being competent next world cup but right now he is so frantic and doesn’t seem to to be able to contribute anything that valuable

  6. This team needs a lot of work. I for one would still like to see Donovan back on the team, but what’s done is done. We can string up Klinsmann later. No one can predict how they’ll perform in Brazil which could be a blessing. My concern though is still Altidore. We know that he is capable of dominating when he’s in rhythm. But he can be his own worst enemy when he gets into his own head and starts being a drama queen. Hopefully Dempsey will kick him in the ass if necessary cause we’re going to need him on his game big time.

  7. Watched NYRB and KC last night. It was a good match with each team dominating a half. Watching each teams ball movement offensively and defensively makes me want a coaching change on the Union even more. Each coaches strategic substitutions makes Hackworth look even more like the rank amateur he is. We need a real coach/manager!

    • Funny i watched that game too and thought the same thing. I also noticed how clean the touches were. Noticed how little unnecessary or redundant dribbling happened. Noticed how Henry was in total control of his team, telling players where to go and who to pass to and then when his directions were not followed the look he gave.
      the game wasn’t even that interesting, but by comparison to the slop that The Union have become I was like, ‘wow this is great- yam yam for the brain.’

  8. Thank goodness Fabian looked good on the right. We will need him desperately to defend well against Ronaldo.

    • Agreed. He was a pleasant surprise for me. Jones’ movement was a pleasant surprise as well. I sometimes think he is way too Pirlo like with his casualness and of course, he is no Pirlo. He had some hitch to his giddy up- constantly providing one of the options for outlet.

  9. p-willey says:

    Am I the only person who thinks O Gonzalez is way too slow to play at this level. I know he was hurt and that he sometimes makes up in length what he lacks in speed, but my god, he sometimes looks like he’s playing in mud. Premier attackers will blow right passed him. I’ve always thought the US needed a big guy combined with a speedy guy in the middle, but we always seem to have two bigs that get turned around and seem uncomfortable against top level pressing attackers. Oh well, on to Brazil.

  10. Great One says:

    Johnson and Cameron looked very solid on the right side of defense. That at least took a little worry away. I think Besler will be okay but we’ll see. The problem is the teams we will face are not even close to the team last night. If we play that slowly we will be crushed. If we don’t score those open goals we will be crushed. If we pass it away 25 yards out we will be crushed. I don’t want to sound negative, that’s just the harsh reality we face w our group. There is zero room for mistakes.
    Wondo didn’t impress me as much as some. It’s excellent he was in good spots, but no other team will leave him unguarded and he didn’t finish btw.
    Brad Davis on the other hand really showed me something. I’ve always questioned his skill, but he really looked solid, and you can’t buy service like that.

    • I’m not a Brad Davis fan on this team at all, that being said, if he whips in a ball against Portugal that gets us a draw in the 57th minute….. well hell, I will call JK, The Great Kreskin. Magic.

      • His deliveries were great; possibly better than Zusi’s in 1st half, although Zusi’s freekick when Wondo almost scored was also ace. Had Wondo headed 6 inches more to the right then the ball would have gone is. Unlucky he headed against the legs of the goalie.

  11. Worrisome that we could not score in open play against this team. The last penetrating pass (or cross) was always overcooked or inaccurate. Better teams will me able to defend our set pieces much better giving us less chances to score on set pieces.
    Was not impressed with Bradley. He too often went backwards and lacked that penetrating pass to release a runner.
    Shooting was a nightmare. Think Jozy only had 1 shot and it went sky high. In the first half Azerbaijan had a great shot and almost scored on it…; why can’t our team of pros shoot like that? And too often they telegraphed their shots so that they were easily blocked.
    Was glad to see 1 great move by Jozy in the penalty area when he went around defenders late in the 2nd half. Hopefully that will give him confidence since he looked pretty bad most of the time.

    • the last pass….. forever the gaping hole and doldrum of US Soccer. How much better our play would look, how much more relevant we would be if only to just put the minds together in that moment of synchronicity, make the jazz music come together in 3 4 time- Byrd and Dizzy.
      the last pass……

      • The kid that’s gonna make that last pass is 5 years old somewhere in America right now. We’ll get there though. Think back to Italia 90 and all that improvement!

  12. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    A lot of people over reacting to a glorified scrimmage. If you put it in NFL terms, how much do coaches show in the 2nd preseason game?

    A lot of this group played together in the gold cup and played exciting, effective, positive soccer. Yes, I realize the competition will be better but the impetus to play well and have confidence is allready established.

    USA gets out of the group, and you can quote me!

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