* A momentary pause for the school girls who were recently abducted in Nigeria. May they make a swift and safe return.*
Air Klinsmann One … on the tarmac.
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.
USA in top graphic; Turkey in the bottom graphic. 1st half shots differential as a loose proxy for chance creation.
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
John Obi Mikel & Nigeria lift the African Cup of … Something We Got of eBay in February 2013.
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.
How did USSF miss the domain grab for supereagles.us … c’mon Fed, asleep at the wheel! Asleep at the wheel!
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.
Philly Union centerback Amobi Okugo
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.”