* A momentary pause for the school girls who were recently abducted in Nigeria. May they make a swift and safe return.*
And Air Klinsmann One non-stop to Brazil is nearly on the tarmac.
The US followed up a 2-0 sleepwalk over Azerbaijan ten days ago with a sloppy 2-1 victory–but victory nonetheless–against the Crescent Moons of Turkey on Sunday. The States train now in a sweltering and humid Jacksonville and take on fellow World Cup-bound Nigeria Saturday in the last home tune-up before heading off to the Big Show.
There are no more observations left.
Save a closed Belgium scrimmage in Brazil, the next time the USMNT will be on display for the masses will be its most important match in a little less than a decade. For a fanbase that crumbled like Claudio under the weight of a Haminu Dramani tackle eight years ago and subsequently got run over, Bocanegra-style, by Asamoah Gyan four years ago, these are trying and nervous times.
That moment is right around the corner and Saturday is the last chance the States has to weigh themselves against the closest available comp to their Lex Luther in the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
It will–or should–be a test.
There was much to like about the Turkey evaluation for the Yanks, but many more lowlights to be concerned with.
World Cup efforts are often more about minimizing mistakes rather than audacious moments. All of it comes back to one thing:
Chance differential or the more standardized TSR (Total Shots Ratio).
It’s the ultimate team metric.
Most teams have to pull themselves out of shape–with an overload or by nature of fast vertical play–in order to create that chance. The good teams are the ones that can do it without losing shape or within a system that covers for the defensive deficiencies broached by going forward.
The US created multiple chances for themselves against Turkey, but when you break down the effort–specifically the first half effort as the more material one–that lone metric pings a warning signal.
The US controlled the possession for the first half, however that was expected against a team coming off two games in a little more than a week and one that prefers to and excels on the counter.
But–using TSR as a proxy for chance creation–the image to the right says it all.
Multiple opportunities within Zone 14 for Turkey; the States with a decidedly lower volume of those opportunities. (The USMNT is displayed as the top image.)
The States just had Tim Howard, some good old-fashioned “USA! USA!” emergency defending and on the other side of the field a Drew Brees-to-Jimmy Graham over the middle pitch-and-catch goal with Fabian Johnson taking it to the house that combatted their shot ratio probability.
Ghana, Portugal and Germany won’t miss the chances they get in Zone 14 as frequently and–although John Mensah (GHA) was auditioning for a role in The Americans in 2010–and all group opponents will be hard-pressed to give up that single chance that Turkey did to Michael Bradley’s right peg.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.
As usual, it goes:
» About The Opponent: Nigeria
» TSG: What Are We Looking For
» 11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent: Nigeria
First of all, how in the world did the US select the name “Yanks” when Nigeria gets the “Super Eagles.” … If you’re picking winners to come out of brackets–like my mom does with March Madness or Sepp Blatter does with the World Cup–aren’t you picking the “Super Eagles” on name alone?
Maybe the US should’ve went with the “Bald Eagles” at least for this World Cup–Bradley, Howard, et all.
Outside of Egypt, perhaps no African team has experienced as volatile a World Cup run-in as Nigeria–its past two years of competition and national current events oscillating to extreme highs and lows.
Nigeria, of course, was the Africa Cup of Nations champ in early 2013, taking down Burkino Faso in the final. Just days later, Super Eagles manager and country icon Stephen Keshi would attempt to tender his resignation. Didn’t stick.
That CAF title led the Super Eagles to the Confederation’s Cup in Brazil where the …. well they almost didn’t get there. A dispute over wages had the players threatening a boycott from a Namibian hotel until the eleventh hour.
Crisis averted, the Nigerians opened up in the Brazil warm-up tourney against a Tahitian punching bag, but then summarily got knocked out with a 1-2 combination from Uruguay and full-on 3-0 haymaker from Spain.
2014 is no less eventful.
The team hurdles into Brazil without long time stalwart Victor Obinna–a TSG fave who was dropped this past Monday–and the cacophony of political unrest over 2015 elections along amid the tragic saga of women–nay children–abducted within their country.
Perhaps Brazil can be the tonic for a number of things.
Let’s bring in MLS defender-of-the-year candidate and–don’t let an address at aol.com fool you–a soccer tactical expert, Amobi Okugo:
“Most American fans don’t know that this might be Nigeria’s best team since the 1996 golden Eagles which the current head coach, Stephen Keshi, was part of. He has a hungry group and although they aren’t as experienced as most teams they will be a team to look out for and show better than Confederations Cup.”
For the States, Nigeria–arguably more in defense–serves as the comp for kryptonic Ghana.
(Amobi) “Personally, I feel like the USMNT should have scheduled more friendlies against West African teams similar to Ghana just because of what has happened the last two World Cups (knock on wood).”
“Although Nigeria plays a little different in terms of formation and philosophy, these two nations are similar when it comes to the type of players and the 1v1 ability.”
Nigeria’s squad rollout shows a team–like Ghana–strong through the front six, but questionable on its backline.
The biggest disconnect between the two styles is Nigeria’s swashbuckling “wide” attack.
Whereas Ghana deploys two inter-working forwards that play off each other and two wingers who tuck in expanding to the most classic of 4-4-2’s, Nigeria plays with a single central striker and two active, off-the-corner wingers backed by three in the midfield completing their 4-3-3.
Forming the spear of the Nigeria attack is Fenerbahçe’s Emmanuel Emnike who’s best comp is probably in the Romelu Lukaku (BEL) -to-Hulk (BRA) range. Emnike is just as happy to body up his defender as he is to blow by him. He poses a primordial challenge for the US defense–collapse on him and he’ll dish to a winger, leave him alone and his odds on going through to goal appreciate.
He’ll be flanked by CSKA Moscos burner
Ahmed Musa*on the left and Liverpool winger Victor Moses on the right.
(Amobi) “Victor Moses is better than Jordan Ayew (his comp) for Ghana in my opinion. I feel like he has a bigger impact for the team and when Victor Moses is on, Nigeria is usually doing well.”
While Moses has appeared to be the primary conduit of the attack recently for Nigeria, Musa is can be nearly as dangerous.
Though he likely starts left, he can play either side and is adept at reading whether the play calls for him to gain the endline and cross or gain the corner. He will be a formidable challenge for Fabian Johnson or DaMarcus Beasley. Christian Atsu–Ghana’s Chelsea prospect–is the Black Stars mirror here who will no doubt take notice of Musa’s performance against the States.
(*As of Friday morning, Musa has been ruled out and in his stead is likely Curbside Peter Odemwingie.)
Nigeria’s three-man midfield is composed of Gabriel Reuben, John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi. Everything flows through Mikel, but many are tabbing Onazi as a budding star. The young Lazio midfielder can be described bluntly as everything Yann M’Villa was supposed to be for France.
Amobi on how the midfield pairing of Mikel and Onazi compare with coupling of Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari (perhaps) for Ghana:
“I think the midfield pairing of Essien and (perhaps) Muntari is better than Mikel and Onazi based on current form. I feel that Ghana’s midfield has more experience and functions better within the team system right now. Ghana relies more on their midfield to help link play because Nigeria is fine with an open game, they thrive on isolating defenders and creating spaces for their individuals players.”
The Super Eagle back four–like the US back four and like the Ghana back four–is not its strength. Efe Ambrose–a Celtic centerback–mans the rightback spot while
Elderson Echiejile* of Monaco steps in at leftback–and is identified by Amobi as an area for the States to attack. (As of Friday morning, Echiejile is out of for the US match and a doubt going forward into the World Cup! Juwon Oshaniwa–who has just been passed fit after a bout with malaria–steps in)
138-year-old centerback Joseph Yobo wears the armband, but it looks like Keshi will stand by a pairing with some reps, Godfrey Oboabona and 20-year-old Chelsea prospect Kenneth Omeruo. Like their Black Star counterparts, both can get pulled way out of the center because of their aggressive and youthful play.
Thankfully, Lille pipescleaner Vincent Enyeama will be behind them. To say Enyeama is “in form” is an understatement as he had one of the best campaigns of any keeper in the Ligue1. He’s good for at least one gem Saturday.
Attack-wise as commented above, Nigeria will be “spread” more than Ghana.
(Amobi) “Against Nigeria it’s a little bit different because they like the flanks a lot. I would make sure you always have balance because one mistake or if they smell a weak point they will drive that side.”
“I would want the game played in the middle and defend in numbers so they would exploit one vs one situations. You can frustrate them by keeping a solid block of 6 so I would play a 4-2-3-1. Once they get frustrated they will start shooting from anywhere and trying unnecessary stuff that can lead to mistakes.”
You can describe both Ghana’s defense and Nigeria’s defense as “Bait-and-smack.” Amobi:
“I would drop the line of confrontation to top of the circle and make sure if they were going to beat us, it wouldn’t be from our own mishaps.
Nigeria really likes to open the game up and take advantage of mistakes and transition from defense to offense, I would make sure I would always have a block of give to clean up any misfortunes.”
[Yes Amobi, I believe Crash Marquez and El Tri agree with you.]
“Nigeria attacking group can be very lethal but also very careless when it comes to trying stuff in the wrong areas, I would be patient and know that sooner or later if we kept the ball that space would open up due to Nigeria wanting to press the game.”
Keys To the Match for the US:
⇒ Avoid the “bait-and-smack” that leads to “oh sh*t” transition opportunities for Nigeria
⇒ Play the game in the middle of the field. Don’t let your fullbacks get isolated.
(Amobi) “I would make sure you always have balance because one mistake or if they smell a weak point they will drive that side. I would want the game played in the middle and defend in numbers so they would exploit one vs one situations. You can frustrate them by keeping a solid block of 6 so I would play a 4-2-3-1. Once they get frustrated they will start shooting from anywhere and trying unnecessary stuff that can lead to mistakes.”
⇒ Make playmaking difficult for John Obi Mikel
⇒ Use Aron Johannsson in the second half; the Super Eagle defense plays to his strengths.
TSG What We’re Looking For
> Like a 1984 hip hop movie dance-off….
Before there were Zoolander walkoffs. There was dance fighting in NY subways. Progression or regression?
John Obi..Mikel..Obi and Onazi for Nigeria simply make the Nigerian team run. Their physical, cerebral and they take responsibility across the board. They know the ball belongs in their possession and they don’t shy away from it and they’re both adroit at shielding the ball and giving the team a respite if under duress or sealing the play back in the attacking half.
Their foils are of course Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley–equally adept managing the middle. Big then the above subway dance-brawl here.
What’s beautiful about this match-up and soccer in general is pulling the right tool out of the box. Push the tempo or pull it back? Carry it out of the back of pass it? This is very much a 2-v-2 match-up here.
And an especially salient point here is that Jones and Bradley often haven’t collectively imposed their individual might–the classic example of this being the 2011 Gold Cup final where both should’ve bossed their weaker and older Mexican counterparts but instead got blitzed.
Positive efforts like the one against Bosnia & Herzegovina or the Costa Rican Snow Bowl have been harder to manufacture.
These guys–and I’m looking at Jones–have to find a way to make it work.
> Stepping on the Accelerator
At what tempo does the US play this game? How do they manage game segments?
The US–and few teams–can hang with the speed of the Super Eagles for 90′ flat… and many coaches feel the best thing to do with teams like Nigeria and Ghana is to beat them back with quick, aggressive play. Do that though and you risk that early turnover and concession.
> Develop something to scare the other team
A little late in the game, but posit this question: What part of the US attack scares its opponent? ….
(Amobi) “When Michael Bradley is getting a lot of touches good things are happening.”
“I really feel that Zusi and Johnson can develop a great partnership with overlaps and crosses that Jozy and Clint will be able to feed off of. I think us will tend to attack more through the right because of those two players and Cameron’s confidence to play passes out if the back.”
Make it happen Bald Eagles. Make it happen.
11 At The Whistle
(As a reminder … this is how we think Klinsmann will use his squad. Not TSG’s recommendation.)
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: Watch Howard’s aggressiveness coming out in this one. Surely Nigeria will get one or two chances on break, getting loose behind the US backline. Howard was an overtly-aggressive keeper in the early part of his career and probably saved more than if he would’ve stayed home. What’s his disposition Saturday?
DEF: Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, DaMarcus Beasley
The skinny: Two subpar efforts by Matt Besler might give away to at least a look-see for JAB with the first team. It’s a mistake, but Klinsmann can’t resist tinkering.
Beasley against Moses will go along way to either allay US fan fears about the DaMarcus McDiamond’s 1-v-1 defending or have them turning lumps of coal into…
“When Cameron was near Disneyland, let my Cameron score.”
CDM: Jermaine Jones
The skinny: Really? Yes, really.
RM/LM: Ale Bedoya, Graham Zusi
The skinny: Can I tell you, I have real difficult time coming up with more than three options to start at the outside mid spots for the US. Is it really just Bedoya, Zusi, Davis. That’s a lot of running.
CAM: Michael Bradley
The skinny: You cannot convince me that Michael Bradley is best used up the diamond…if the US doesn’t press. You’re basically halving his skillset or he has to drift back to the play the defense he’s so good at playing. Back to the CDM. Please!
WFW/STR: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore
The skinny: 90′ more minutes of Turkey from you Jozy. Do it for yourself! Do it for the US! Do it for Sunderland. Okay, not Sunderland, but still…..