XI: The Weekend of June 8th

-The USMNT turned in the best of three friendly performances in dispatching Nigeria 2-1 on Saturday. In conditions not too disimilar to Manaus, the US faced an opponent chosen to mirror Ghana and the Americans were largely impressive at both ends. Klinsmann defied previous expectations by selection both Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. The combination of the two both secured a defense that looked shaky against Turkey, and allowed Michael Bradley to focus on moving forward with the ball.

-Jozy Altidore scored. He scored twice, his first goals for club or country since December. I am inclined to think that the significance of this fact cannot be overstated. Though he wouldn’t admit it, he played like a striker without confidence in recent appearances for the USMNT, and even just finishing a simple chance like he did in the first half against Nigeria seemed to transform him. His second goal was an excellent individual effort, of the sort he was making with regularity in 2013. Having said that, this doesn’t necessarily mean he will score bucketloads in Brazil. In 2010, a 20-year-old Altidore was called in for the USMNT’s World Cup Squad despite scoring just once in his club season for Hull City. In the second of three preparatory friendlies, Altidore scored. But in South Africa, he was kept off the scoresheet despite starting all four matches.

-Klinsmann won’t say so, but he has found his World Cup back four. Fabian Johnson has been excellent bombing forward from right back. The central pairing of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron started all three friendlies, and it should be noted that Nigeria’s only goal came after Omar Gonzalez was introduced as a third centerback. Timmy Chandler and Damarcus Beasley saw roughly equal time at left back, but Beasley should be Klinsmann’s choice. Chandler was slightly better going forward down the wing, but the defense performed much better with Beasley next to Besler.

-The World Cup hasn’t yet begun, but the story is injuries. Franck Ribery, Marco Reus, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all saw injuries damage their World Cup dreams in the past week. Roman Shirokov, the captain of Russia, will also miss the tournament, while lingering injuries nag Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a shame, but it is also expected as the season takes up more and more of the year. It’s not clear what can be done about this.

-The Red Bulls went into Foxboro on Sunday and stole three points. The Revolution had more shots, more corners, and more possession.  But Luis Robles stood on his head, making 10 saves, including some stellar ones, in preserving the clean sheet for New York. Bobby Shuttleworth, on the other hand, ran into his teammate on a first half corner kick that led to New York’s first goal. It was the first win in New England for New York since 2002, when manager Mike Petke was playing for the then Metrostars. I the second straight loss for the Revs, who still lead the Eastern Conference. For the Red Bulls, it’s their first win in five matches.

-The Sounders head into the World Cup break with the best record in Major League Soccer, following a testy win in Chicago. Obafemi Martins, who was left off the Nigerian World Cup squad, scored two goals before getting sent off in the first half. By that point the Fire were already down to ten men themselves. The Sounders have scored more goals than every team in MLS, and they have a league-best goal differential. Harrison Shipp scored both goals for the Fire, bringing his season total to five. He scored a hat trick earlier in the year against New York.

-I am growing tired of writing about Vancouver’s defensive woes. In an eight-minute stretch of the second half against Philadelphia, the Whitecaps let a comfortable 2-0 advantage become a 3-2 deficit. A Pedro Morales penalty secured a draw, but it should never have come to that. Vancouver has allowed three goals in two straight games, but to their credit they’ve managed four points. A poor man’s Liverpool has emerged in British Columbia.

-All three Cascadian teams were on the road on Saturday. All three scored three goals. The Portland Timbers gave Real Salt Lake their first home loss of the year on Saturday, and did so despite giving up an early goal. It was their first win against RSL at any location in twelve matches, a stretch going back to early 2011. Fanendo Adi scored twice for the Timbers, and Will Johnson added their first penalty of the season.

-Sporting Kansas City had a gut check victory with 10 men in Houston. Toni was sent off after 21 minutes, but despite the disadvantage, Sporting scored twice against the Dynamo. SKC had just two points from their prior five matches, with a squad shredded by injuries and international duty. Winning in Houston is no small task with 11 men, and the three points are huge for the defending champs. They’ve struggled in recent weeks, but Kansas City find themselves in second place in the Eastern Conference nonetheless.

-DC United held a double-header at FedEx field, playing their match against Columbus after a friendly between El Salvador and Spain. More than 53,000 tickets were sold, but the largely Salvadoran crowd did not stick around in great numbers for the MLS match. Truth be told, it didn’t provide many reasons. The game was scoreless through 94 minutes, and Fabian Espindola sent a penalty straight to the keeper deep into stoppage time.

-Just two Wednesday night matches separate MLS from a two-week break for the World Cup. At this stage, almost half-way through the season, the Western Conference seems to have distinguished itself more. Seattle and RSL have the league’s two best point totals, and Seattle has seven more. It feels like every team atop the East is sputtering right now, and the race in that conference is wide open for someone to get hot down the stretch.

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