USA v. Nigeria: Live Commentary

In 2006, Jurgen Klinsmann played 10 players in his final friendly tune-up who would start the first World Cup game days later.

Starting line-ups shortly.

Will Cameron contain Nigeria's front three?

Will Cameron contain Nigeria’s front three?

 

USA vs. Nigeria Preview: Fun With Lagos?

* A momentary pause for the school girls who were recently abducted in Nigeria. May they make a swift and safe return.*

Air Klinsmann One ... nearly on the tarmac.

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.

1st half shots differential as a loose proxy for chance creation.

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.

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, sleep at the wheel! Sleep at the wheel!

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.

okugo

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.”

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Evolution: The American Soccer Snob Cometh

The Soccer Snob is the sports-fan version of that person who corrects others grammar on Twitter.

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by KYLE MARTINO

The influx of American “Soccer Snobs,” while at times detrimental to our sports image and obtusely obnoxious is a positive indicator of the ascent in popularity of our beautiful game at home–represented by MLS.

Identifying the “Snob” type can be tough because they are a sub-group within that hardcore crowd and go relatively unnoticed, walking around right under our noses like ghosts only that weird kid could see.

They are generally characterized as having regal and overly entitled dispositions, as if they come from the same bloodline as Ebenezer Cobb Morley (look it up). You normally hear them before you see them: waxing poetic on the pros and cons of a 4-3-3 vs. a 4-2-3-1.

But don’t be fooled by this alone.

....

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It is only when this behavior is combined with contempt for Major League Soccer and new fans to the game that these Soccer Snobs truly reveal themselves.

Look closely among the blogs or keep one ear open at the bar and you will hear them deriding MLS:

“Its only good attribute is athleticism– other than that it’s a joke,” ridicules an anonymous Soccer Snob in the comments section of an MLS website.

“This phony probably still has the tag on that Arsenal jersey” was a comment that I overheard myself at Ye Ole Kings Head in Santa Monica towards a “green” fan with subpar soccer vernacular and a mint Wilshere jersey.

They even love to insult ex-pros who have moved on to commentating, helpfully inquiring “Why are you saying ‘Err Zil’ when its ‘Oh Zeel’ you moron, how do you have a job!”

That just another gem offered, to me, during Premier League Weekend by an anonymous Soccer Snob on Twitter.

The Soccer Snob is the sports-fan version of that person who corrects others grammar on Twitter. You know the one, unnecessarily patrolling the world to discipline those who they deem broke the rules no one cares about. Its as if they have a pathological urge to insult or belittle what they deem to be inferior, whether it be MLS or another sports fan. Energy and education misplaced.

 The fascinating part is not that this type of fan exists, or even that its group is growing, but that this group–the American snob–is now targeting its own people.
Back in the day, “You just don’t understand, and therefore can’t appreciate our game” was the verbal reflex of many hardcore Soccer Fans in their decades long battle with the Non-Soccer Fans–those who mocked a game they perceived to be flawed and imported.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 9.41.30 PM

While those battles are still fought, that mustering on either side of the “legitimate” border is becoming more and more rare. The inevitability of “The World’s Game” infiltrating the American culture’s sports market is arriving right now.

The outward derision is becoming obsolete, but a new one has begun.

The condescension hasn’t regressed; it’s just redirected.

It used to be a defense mechanism, triggered by purely ignorant views on soccer by those who never cared to understand or appreciate the game. Now, however, these defensive insults and patronization are strategic offensives directed at other fans of the game.

It has become a civil war in which these elitist look to discredit other fans’ rights to join in on the fun and have graduated from merely accosting the close-minded.

I was always a little embarrassed by the “You just can’t understand our game” argument against soccer haters. I’ve always felt it wasn’t that they couldn’t understand, just that they chose not to. Those individuals could start liking soccer, they just didn’t want to. So when the soccer community would get offended by others’ lack of interest and make that condescending argument, it felt to me like the famous playground “I know you are but what am I” comeback.

But this new form of Soccer Snobbery really saddens me.

I hate the attitude that being a fan of the game or a team is a badge you must earn.

It reminds me of those Green Day fans taking shots like “I bet that fraud’s first album was Dookie!” at fans who got on the train after the Indie stage. I, along with many of my soccer peers, feel that we have no more right to this game than someone watching for the first time.

There is no hierarchy when it comes to being a fan.

It’s binary, you either are or aren’t.

Such vapid snobbery feels like an attempt to try and validate one’s self worth by belittling others, which doesn’t make you a fan….

….it makes you a bully.

Soccer Snobs aren’t using their high soccer IQ’s or passion to grow the game by embracing fans of all types. Instead they choose to spread vitriol aimed at scaring the casual fan away. They could be the lighthouse helping guide sports-fans through the treacherous American sports waters onto soccer’s sandy shores, but instead these snobs tend to be more like the interrogation lamp making them feel uncomfortable and unwanted.

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Michael Bradley: This Is SportsCenter

The Procrastinator’s Guide To A Proper US Kit

Like the US MJ instead of FJ these days.

Like the US MJ instead of FJ these days.

Matt Biggerstaff & Eric Giardini go shopping for icy pops.


We’re backkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk. You might remember us from a time long ago called December.

The 23 is set, whether you like it or not.

If you don’t like it, be sure to take to social media and let your friends know! We did. Or didn’t. But we did notice the team and a certain someone were still trending more than a day after the announcement.

If nothing else, at least people care! People that regularly use Twitter anyway.

Poor Brian Ching, he was ahead of technology on this one.

After one moderately successful friendly that was incredibly windy and one amazing chip and volley goal that soothed some fears, we have no Tonya Harding-style injuries to report, so your jersey choices stay with the original 23, or maybe not. We will see.

You have two weeks to get your jersey, so read up and then order it today. Like, now. NOW. GET TO THE CHOPPA!! Wait, where am I? Anyone who can rock Schwarzenegger on the back of a kit has my respect. In case you aren’t that legit (and trust me, you aren’t) we’ve got a few more options for you. Joining me is the maestro of Roma, Eric Giar-somethingorother. Why does everyone that writes for this site have such a ridiculous last name. We need a Smith or two. Speaking of last names, away we go.

___

Alejandro Bedoya

Still ... standing...

Still … standing…

Biggy: Homie’s still here. Not only is he here, he started at the Stick. There are lots of things to like about Ale, starting with his ability to lead Nantes fans in great chants, his taste in electronic music, and his skills on the field.

He works hard, takes players on, and knows how to score.

He also crushed it in the last summer tournament the US played in, and is ready to ball out in Brazil. He may not always be the flashiest guy, but he certainly is consistent, and I see him sneaking in a goal against Ghana.

Heard it here first.

Unless you said it to yourself in your head earlier, then this would not be first. This is also a solid choice for the next cycle too, as Ale is going to see a lot of the field going forward. Invest in his future and your own, so you look like you know what you are talking about come summer of ’16 at your local bar/pub/house party of choice.

Alejandro Bedoya, the TSG Ambassador to Brazil.

Eric: Way back in December, I said this and I’m sticking to it: “I think December might be a bit too early to splash the cash for Alejandro, but once May comes around I think you’ll be in a better position to see how he will fit in with the team.” December was too early but he now looks like he’s going to be walking out in Natal with the Starting 11 so I guess he is fitting in to the team nicely. Buy for the “investment” but mostly for my clairvoyance.

GET YOURSELF A LOVELY US KIT NOW BEFORE THE WORLD CUP KICKS OFF!


John Brooks

The dude had to get a tattoo to remember where he was born... but he's got potential.

The dude had to get a tattoo to remember where he was born… but he’s got potential.

Biggy: Speaking of still here, YEAHHHHHHH John Anthony Brooks! Way to make the 23!

A dark horse all along, he’s now a dark horse to start. Like one of those ridiculous 1,000:1 bets that you laugh at, then get sad when it happens and someone actually bet on it and you didn’t, even after you legitimately considered it. JB is a beast, and has a real future with this team, however it appears unlikely that WC 2014 is going to be the beginning of that future. So scoop up this jersey if you’re more of a “What’s Coming Next” person versus being cool right now.

Also, if Brooks gets on the field, Eric is going to shit himself with fear, so if you are pro-Eric shitting, this is your man. And your jersey. Nothing wrong with being cool before it’s cool to be a Brooks fan. Or is there? Who knows. Solid center back in the making, unsure how strong his Gooch face is though.

Eric: DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THIS! I mean, I’m happy for Mr. Brooks that he is going to Brazil as his view of the games will be much better than mine when I have to quickly minimize my World Cup feed from my office, so good for him. I mean it, he seems like a likeable person and his tattoos on his elbows are pretty rad. There are other German-Americans jerseys I’d rather have (Oh, Terrance where art thou?).

Nice job Jimmy.

Geoff Cameron

"Stop right there."

“Stop right there.”

Biggy: Speaking of defenders, let’s jump to one that should play a huge role at the World Cup. It’s looking like the Besler/Cameron pairing that so many of us greatly desired is finally happening. Maybe Brooks/Cameron though?!

Weird to say this, but Cameron is currently the best American field player playing in the EPL. Yep, America’s finest plays at Stoke.

Just let that simmer for a minute. Fortunately Cameron has turned into a steely defender who can play both right and center back and has had to deal with some of the best attackers in the world on a regular basis as he lined up against teams like Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea.

You might say “Chelsea?” and I would remind you that they have a midfield that is top notch, despite the absence of forwards. If you like to rock the center of the park, boss the pitch, and hold down the shutout, this is the jersey for you.

Also, if you like Cameron’s stylish hair and stoic on-field facial expressions, you might as well get his shirt. Just to complete the look, you know.

Eric: If you would have told me that Cameron would be the best American field player playing in England a year ago I would have laughed in your face and then probably slapped you for good measure, but here we are. I think Cameron will be poised to have a solid-to-good tournament down in Brazil and is the defender that I feel the best about – especially after the lackluster game Besler had at the Stick. This would be a solid pickup for a solid player. Nobody is going to come up to you and say “Geoff Cameron, sick shirt brah!” but you also won’t get laughed out of the bar. The best you’re going to get is a nod, a raise of a PBR, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Green_1

(Editor’s note: Allow me to blow your mind for a second. You have three picks left for your 23-man USMNT squad and you can select from four players. Those four players are: Landon Donovan, Julian Green, Juan Agudelo … and …. Freddy Adu. Who do you take?)

Julian Green

Eric: First off, I am all aboard the Julian Express. His “recruitment” (let’s call it what it is) is a master stroke from Klinsmann in a move that likens him more to John Calipari than to a proper national team manager. He’s quick, seems to be creative, and can score, if YouTube and Wikipedia are to be believed. More importantly, he signifies a hope of what the USMNT can be: full exciting, brash, multicultural players who can and do play with the super clubs in the world. Now I’m just waiting for Zelalem to follow and that 12 year old who is at La Masia to follow suit.

Biggy: The super sub. The man who could inflict all the hurt in the world coming from the 75′ on. Your tired legs mean you are struggling to keep up with his pace, and boom, he’s past you and ohhhhh sh*t, now your team is behind. Can Julian Green be that man? Is it too soon? Is he ready? Is Portugal ready?

Are YOU ready?

All questions that are floating around that could be answered in Brazil. All questions that might not be answered in Brazil. SO MANY QUESTIONS. If you are in the Green jersey, people will need to recognize that you clearly know the USMNT. Now that he made the 23, you might not be as edgy as you were a month ago. It’s a tradeoff. Can you deal with the fact that this might become other people’s favorite player? Perhaps that you won’t be the only person in your town who is knowledgeable about the German fourth division? Or does Green crush it off the bench and find a spot on Bayern’s squad next year? Should I stop asking questions that no one has an answer to yet?



Chris Wondo(w)lowski

More "W's" guaranteed on Wondo's jersey then the US in Brazil...

More “W’s” guaranteed on Wondo’s jersey then the US in Brazil…

Eric: I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Get a Wondolowski Quakes jersey, not a USMNT one, and save me from having an aneurysm #TeamBoyd. Other things I dislike: Puppies, sunshine, smiling, Christmas music, general mirth and merriment. (Also, these views do not reflect The Shinguardian or any of its other writers or sponsors).

Biggy: First, good luck getting his name on the damn jersey to start with. Long enough to make a nice half circle on the back of your jersey even without that extra W, Chris making the World Cup team is nothing short of a dream, an extremely well deserved dream for an incredibly hard working individual.

If you can’t cheer for this guy, you can’t cheer for America. You can feel his passion any time he is on the field, and he wants to score more than you do at the bar on your birthday. Copping his shirt means you believe in hard work, extreme passion, and exuberant misspellings that inspire buckets of goals to pour out of the heavens like a delicious fountain of whatever tasty beer the Free Beer Movement is currently enjoying. WONDO IS GOING TO BRAZIL!

Mix Diskerud

Eric: Be still, my heart. What’s that I hear tickling my ear? Is it? No, it can’t be “Careless Whisper,” can it? What? It is?! Now that we got that out of the way, we can get back on track. Out of everyone on this list, he would be whose jersey I’d get. Bradley is a very close second but if we are going hair vs. no hair, hair wins every time. Also, remember when Mix wanted to have “Mix” instead of “Diskerud” on the back of his shirt? How perfect would that have been?

Biggy: HAIIIIRRRRRRR FLIPPPPPPPPPP! Seriously, sexy Mixxy looks nice, he plays nice, and he is nice. Have you looked at his Twitter? I feel like we would be friends. Actually, I feel like he would be friends with everyone. What a guy. Not to mentioned he grabbed a solid goal versus Azerbaijan. There certainly is some serious weight rocking that number 10 shirt, but those broad, muscular shoulders certainly can carry it. Rocking the new number 10 says that you believe in Jürgen and his plan for 2014 and beyond! It also says that you not only recognize talented soccer players, but good looking ones as well. Get it Mix!

HAVE HAIR LIKE MIX? SWOOP UP HIS SHIRT ASAP.



Michael Bradley

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Selected Images: USA 2 – Turkey 1

From eye of Matt Mathai–the Ansel Adams of American soccer imagery.

FJ1

Chandler

aron_mix

team_us

Clint Jozy1 Bradley Cameron

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Positioning: Catastrophe Averted, 43′, USA 2 – Turkey 1

First, of all, I love Jermaine Jones. To me, he gets too much stick from the US fanbase. He often does the grunt work of carrying the ball despite opponents draped all over him. (See, USA 4 – B&H 2 or even USA 2 – Mexico 0 over the past year.)

That said, he’s being thrust into a role that is less than ideal for his skillset right before the test of a lifetime. Many commented that it was Jones’s distribution at issue, if any, on Sunday.

Take a look though at the sequence below. It’s a curious defensive display from the States in the least.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.05.03 PM

Michael Bradley goes to close down a Turkey midfielder whose checked to a pass, but Jones goes too. Why? (And BTW, lot of greenage there in between the lines.)

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.06.27 PM

Later on in the sequence, the US swarms in the middle of the field, Jones is neither coming up to support, guarding the linking player or otherwise….

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.07.50 PM

The ball gets played by the Turkey midfielder to the support square pass on the right flank. Jones, with two players, behind him goes to close the player down. Jones is the CDM–there are as many as four Turkey players central ready to break down the US if a ball find its way vertically.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.06.50 PM

The Turkey rightback launches the ball to his striker counterpart. The break is on! There are three central trailers bearing down in support. Only a misplaced ball by the striker allows the US to barely escape what could have an excellent chance.

There are a number of issues here. (1) The US spacing between its backline and its midfield can be measured in acres instead of inches. (Arrigo Sacchi is unimpressed.) (2) There is half-commitment from Jones with no failover in midfield–that’s probably Zusi? in that final slide who doesn’t stay with a runner and (3) Jones appears to be positionally naive at CDM and gets sucked exceedingly high. (Note: I would also think that Besler should be face-guarding his opponent–or in front of him–but I’m not sure the right positioning there.)

This type of defense Ghana for one and likely Germany and Portugal will pounce on. This was–in the end–an innocuous play; overlooked by broadcasters, but scouts for the US Group G opponents no doubt caught this.

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