What we learned from the USMNT’s win over Azerbaijan

The easy text to put here is: not much. Azerbaijan sat back, parking the bus in a way that none of the US’s group stage opponents will do. Forced to break down a staunch defense, the U.S. often struggled, but we learned little about how they’ll exploit the counter. That said, some things are worth noting.

Jozy Altidore’s poor Sunderland form is lingering

This is a problem spot for the U.S. Altidore scored just one goal all season in England, and his goals for the national team have dried up in kind. Last night, Jozy had a frustrating game, often looking for the pass instead of trying to shoot, and often losing possession as a result. But with no other pure strikers to turn to, the U.S. desperately needs him to get his groove back in the remaining games before Brazil. In 2010, a 20-year-old Altidore went to South Africa on the backs of a one-goal season with Hull. He started all four games, but did not score.

Zusi and Bedoya are solid out wide

Both had strong games on an otherwise disappointing night for the team. Zusi nearly had an assist within six minutes, when Chris Wondolowski headed his free kick directly toward the Azeri goalkeeper. Bedoya had a good game on the other side of midfield. These are the spots that Landon Donovan might have filled if he were on the squad, and so far Bedoya and Zusi are handling that pressure. Zusi was pulled for Brad Davis at half-time, and the latter’s set pieces proved to be the difference.

The diamond doesn’t suit Michael Bradley

Klinsmann went with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, the same one he used against Mexico last month. Against Azerbaijan, who sat back and defended, this wasn’t so bad. But even then, Michael Bradley found himself isolated at the top of midfield, often having to track back and win balls himself. Bradley’s role was to be something of a creator, but Jermaine Jones often struggled to find him with the ball. During qualifying, the U.S. typically went with a 4-2-3-1, which put Bradley alongside Jones with the freedom to make runs forward. Against their group stage opponents, the U.S. might find the diamond leaves too much empty space in the center of midfield. The game last night didn’t fully open up until Klinsmann brought on Mix Diskerud, who is naturally more of a central player than Bedoya.

 

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