The post Landon Donovan era opened tonight for the United States with a dour 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Second half goals from substitutes Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson saved the home team the embarrassment of losing, or tying the world’s 85th ranked team, but the biggest moment of the night occurred shortly before the games opening whistle.
All those interested in the U.S. MNT and their hopes in Brazil held their collective breath when Chris Wondolowski replaced captain Clint Dempsey in the starting lineup as Deuce was held out with a groin strain.
Jurgen Klinsmann described the action as precautionary, but it didn’t take long for speculation to begin. If Dempsey is more seriously injured than it seems, will Klinsmann call in Donovan as his replacement?
The match itself was a poor one, with the U.S. playing down to the level of their opponents for much of the evening. Tired legs from intense training sessions in the U.S. camp at Stanford University was one possible explanation for the flat U.S. performance, the windy conditions at the soon to be demolished Candlestick Park another.
Klinsmann started the team that was on display at the team’s most recent training match at Stanford with Fabian Johnson at right back, DaMarcus Beasley at left fullback, Geoff Cameron over Omar Gonzalez at center back and Alejandro Bedoya starting at left midfield, with Graham Zusi on the right.
The team’s formation was something of a surprise, with Klinsmann eschewing his usual 4-2-3-1 in favor of the diamond midfield that looked so good for the Americans in their recent Mexico friendly.
Jermaine Jones was partnered with Michael Bradley at midfield, and the adventuresome German/American managed not to step on the General’s toes, allowing Bradley the chance to reprise the attacking role he played in that Mexico friendly.
Alas Bradley was not at his sharpest going forward versus Azerbaijan, but Jones did stick to his task well. The top performers for the U.S in the goalless opening stanza were the energetic Bedoya, Zusi, who was solid with his set piece deliveries, Jones, Johnson, and Beasley.
Beasley, Cameron and Zusi were replaced at the half by Tim Chandler, Omar Gonzalez and Brad Davis. Davis would have the most impact, giving an aggressive performance that should have resulted in a U.S. penalty. Davis also flashed his left footed delivery skills, the highlight coming when he found another sub, Aron Johannsson, wide open on the six yard box and placed the ball on Johannsson’s noggin for the second U.S. goal.
Mix Diskerud had opened the scoring for the Americans with an opportunistic finish off a Michael Bradley blocked shot in the 75th minute. It was the bit of magic that Klinsmann is banking on from Mix, and the reason the Norwegian-American is on his way to Brazil.
Similarly Klinsmann had to be pleased that Johannsson and Davis provided just what he brought them in for, less happily for the coach Jozy Altidore continued to look toothless when in sight of goal.
It was a difficult night to assess talent, but it was interesting to see Klinsmann bring 20 year old DeAndre Yedlin on as a replacement for Fabian Johnson, who was especially good in the second half after a quietly effective opening 45 minutes.
Yedlin didn’t have an awful lot to do, but he was willing to get forward and on one occasion used his blinding speed to get back on defense.
Next up for the U.S. is Turkey, June 1 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J and then Nigeria in Jacksonville, Florida on June 7.
Both of those team’s will provide far sterner tests for the U.S., as will Belgium on June 12 in Brazil. Questions will begin to be answered then, as Klinsmann and his staff put together the lineup that will take the field against Ghana, Portugal and Germany beginning June 16 in Natal, Brazil.
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Candlestick Park; San Francisco, Calif.
Kickoff: 7 p.m. PT
Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 2 2
AZE 0 0 0
USA – Mix Diskerud 75th minute
USA – Aron Johannsson (Brad Davis) 81
USA: 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
AZE: 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
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)