TSG’s USA vs. Azerbaijan Preview: 1 A.D. (After Donovan)

All for one... all good?

All for one… all good?

Well there goes another dramatic return to the beautiful Bay Area for the US men’s national team.

Twellman, snubbed for political reasons in 2006 like another US luminary in 2014.

Twellman, snubbed for political reasons in 2006 like another US luminary in 2014.

Last time in San Francisco, Taylor Twellman lit the lamp once and dropped two dimes in a 3-2 victory over Japan in February 2006.

Bruce Arena left him off the World Cup roster in place of someone from Landon Donovan’s wedding party who had nary a contribution in Germany.

Save for Clint Dempsey late chest-thumping lash“Don’t discount just yet the fight .. the heart … the vigor … the verve of the USA!”—the US would go scoreless of their own accord at World Cup 2006. If not for a Cristian Zaccardo–good thing he wasn’t Colombian–moment of American brilliance, Arena & Co. were coming back from Germany with three “L’s” in their pocket and very little of redeeming value.

This time, the US again assembles its World Cup camp in the hotbed of technology investment and a few basic beep tests later, the US’s all-time leading goal scorer is somehow deemed surplus to product requirements.

The coach’s son uses the Twitter megaphone to broadcast his elation of the Landon news and Jurgen Klinsmann sends the US team cannonballing into the Send-Off Series.

See you again in seven years Julian Green where more drama will surely unfold.

In nothing short of a shocker, American soccer whistleblower Twellman announced Klinsmann’s US selections on Thursday to a stunned fanbase.

No Donovan.

Send-off series...

Send-off series…

No Terrence Boyd–who many thought a shoe-in as Jozy Altidore’s back-up and no Michael Parkhurst, perhaps the best technical defender the US has ever produced.

No Donovan.

No Brad Evans who dutifully soldiered on at an unfamiliar position through qualifying only to be tasked with playing another unfamiliar one, centerback, almost exclusively in the Stanford camp.

In their stead, a combination of MLS wunderkind Chris Wondolowski–a product of nearby Danville, CA, World Cup rookie Brad Davis–who is six months older than Donovan himself and some youngster phenoms: Hertha Berlin John Brooks and Bayern II riser Julian Green.

This is conjecture of the highest order, but if you think Brazil tickets weren’t on the table during the Green negotiations, then I’d like to sell you Myspace … or a rotary phone. Or anything at a premium.

Let’s address the Donovan drop head-on and pithily.

Donovan is one of the US’s top 23 players–according to Tim Howard’s he’s much, much higher up.

Donovan is not the player he once was.

Donovan is one of the US’s top 23 players.

At the end of the day, the US–like most international sides–is short on game changers.

This isn’t England dropping Theo Walcott in 2010; he had potential, not resume. This isn’t Spain dropping Raul before Euro 2008–there was a clear set of those able to ascend to the throne. It’s not Ronaldhino for Brazil. Or, for that matter, Kahn for Klinsmann’s Germany–as crazy Jens Lehman was already making stupid saves.

No team-player combination had the bookends of “been there, done that” (Donovan) and “unsure whose ready to step-up waiting in the wings” (USMNT).

It’s one thing to cut out a cancer. That makes abundant sense. You could say that with Roy Keane for Ireland in 2002 or maybe Samir Nasri being left out of this year’s French drama troupe. It’s another thing to say there isn’t a fit at forward–then you realize if not for Donovan the US may not’ve won the 2013 Gold Cup.

And Donovan’s played the bench role before–after being maligned for being uninvolved, benched for lack of commitment.

The response? Emphatic when called.

He took a Freddy Adu pass and glided past Panama’s left rear flank, slipped a pass between the legs of a defender for Clint Dempsey to push in and to push the US into the Gold Cup 2011 final. He may or may not be a 90′ player (Does anyone really believe the fitness bunk? I hope not.)…

…but–like Giovanni Van Bronkhorst fizzing a pellet passed Frances Muslera’s coconut in 2010–he still can make a play.


You don’t need more than a second to change a game and though it’s not prevalent to be fair, history still gives us the twilighting cases of the aforementioned Van Bronkhorst, Rivaldo and debatably 2010 Forlán.

This whole ever-present debate can really be answered one way. Review this scenario:

It’s June 24th in Recife. It’s 1-0 bad guys.

It’s the 85′ and the US needs to scratch out a draw against Germany to go through the group. Michael Bradley has just artfully pulled a 180-degree turn in possession on Sam Khedira after a corner kick has found its way out of the 18-yard box scrum. Bradley steams down the center of the pitch with the Germans in pursuit and Phil Lahm stepping to him to force distribution, but Bradley’s got two players burning up either channel with Per Mertesacker waiting for the commit.

On one flank is Julian Green. The other Landon Donovan.

Who do you want him to pass to? Who does he pass to?

So now, it’s appropriately the Send-Off Series in more ways than one.

And Klinsmann has his squad.

And there is much merit–to be clear–in his selections.

World Cup defenders are getting younger, especially at centerback–Klinsmann went younger too. The US will still have the second oldest outfield in Group G in Brazil. Germany and Ghana averaging almost two years younger across the defenders, mids and forwards.

Klinsmann brought the aforementioned Chris Wondolowski, a technical player who likely would’ve been eschewed by predecessors for his lack of physical superiority. But Klinsmann sees someone who merely puts the ball in the back of the net. Should Wondo be needed, this will be great theatre for all those who dismiss the US’s historical reliance on physical players over technical players, but them summarily dismiss the MLS goal machine’s abilities.

(Wondo’s subtle movement here is just as important as a Chicharito poking around the near post.)

The manager went Tim Chandler, a player’s whose commitment could certainly be questioned more so than Landon’s. Chandler is a game gambit to defend Ronaldo in Manaus at the whistle, but can he do it in the 75′?

"I want you to play right there now. Are you ready?"

“I want you to play right there now. Are you ready?”

Klinsmann is aping his moves from Germany 2006.

He’s questioning fitness and driving a regimen against it. He’s going with younger, unproven players. But that’s where the comparisons end. The pedigree is not the same. The tactical nous of Jurge Low absent.

And let it be said here, it’s controversial from Klinsmann, but it’s not altogether a poor gambit. Ignorance is bliss and a World Cup can be places where youth is served. It’s usually cold but there are moments when it can be scalding. (See Donovan, Landon, 2002)

Again, it will be fascinating theatre. Half-built stadiums and ESPN shining moments await.

Without further Freddy Adu we get to our preview.

It goes:

About The Opponent: Azerbaijan

11 At The Whistle

TSG: What Are We Looking For (abbreviated)


About The Opponent: Azerbaijan

Should you care about Azerbaijan? Only if they beat the US.

'Bajaini manager Berti Vogts in his playing days. I have to believe that Will Farrell is a top target to play him in the faux documentary.

‘Bajaini manager Berti Vogts in his playing days. I have to believe that Will Farrell is a top target to play him in the faux documentary.

In what surely is a make-good on securing the services Azerbaijan manager and former coach-of-Klinsy Berti Vogts, the US’s opponent Tuesday comes from the nether regions of UEFA.

CONCACAF powerhouses Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago both claim FIFA rankings higher than Azerbaijan’s “85” to add some perspective.

If you agree that Nigeria is the likely match in style for Ghana and that Turkey can be bent into a clone of Portugal than Azerbaijan is Germany.

[Drop mic. Closes Twitter account. Goes to read Inverting the Pyramid.]

In all seriousness though, there are more than a few parallels between Die Mannschaft and the Milli starting with a team, of course, coached by a former German national.

For all its’ lack of talent breadth and bouts with individual execution, Azerbaijan is highly organized like nearly all Eastern European sides. Vogts’ squad conceded just 10 times in nine qualifying matches. That’s impressive considering their dearth of talent and that they do take chances breaking shape on the counter.

Defensively the team will sit in a 4-1-4-1 formation or a flat 4-4-2. Take a close look at the Milli defense because one can see some principles of it being incorporated by the US through Vogts….most acutely a midfield band that functions with five across often.

That shape gives way to a very fluid 4-2-2-2 in transition, one not dissimilar from what  you saw from both the US and Germany at World Cup 2010 (and many other squads too, but we’ll use those comps.)

In fact, dare I saw a very similar “chance”–it wasn’t converted–manufactured from Azerbaijan on tape to this one by the Mainshaft against the Three Kitties in 2010.

The keys for the visitors in their typical gameplan is to clog the top of the attacking third and feast on a mistake high to grab a chance on the break or force the other side to breakdown a compact low-block defense. cut out an ill-timed pass or snatch a turnover … and shuttle the ball quickly high and wide to the free-flowing wingers. The front four for Azjerbaijan all read-and-react to the others’ movement very well. This will a test of the US’s back four team defense.

Where the Milli can capitulate is when they’re late getting into defensive shape or getting overloaded on the flanks. Again, this somewhat plays into their strategy because a mistake by the attacking team can be punished centrally and vertically–the quickest route to chance creation in transition.

Four players to key on for the US defense:  Rufat Dadashov–a product of 2. Bundlesliga’s FC Kaiserslautern–a fuzzy comp for Mesut Ozil–and Rauf Aliyev–who’ll mimic the movement of a Miraslov Klose-type leading the line–pair up top. Former Everton prospect Adul Adullayez does a lot of the ball carriage and chance creation from the flanks. Take a look.

Dadashov will sweep underneath Aliyez and pop-up in dangerous places. Aliyez is sharp at dragging the backline out of shape. He can also be found testing it on long balls out of the back often through the foot of Rubin Kazan’s Ruslan Abishov, Azerbaijan’s best player. Abishov can have the same effect on pinging passes that Anatoliy Tymoshchuk did for Ukraine in dismantling the motley US crue in Cypress–watch if or how quickly the US closes his down near the halfline.

Best guess...

Best guess…

Keys To the Match for the US (if they care):

» Track Dadashov and Aliyez…they’re the UEFA version of Bengston and Costly, but they’re technically better.

» Overload a flank–likely the left one as is typical for the US and look for the horizontal to switch to find the opposite wide player in space.

» Be patient and methodical. Azerbaijan likely won’t chase the game.


11 At The Whistle

A possible US deployment on Tuesday.

A possible US deployment on Tuesday.

G: Tim Howard

The skinny: It’s hard to ignore Tim Howard’s commentary on the US during big moments. While many players are held completely accountable for speaking out, Howard’s veteran presence and guidance appears to allow him a spec of  latitude in Klinsmann’s normal command-and-control environment.

Here’s Howard after the US 2-1 loss at Honduras in February 2013 on the backline selection:

“They never played together in any game, let alone a Hex. The back four is all about gelling. It’s a frying pan. We don’t have time to learn.”

Here’s Howard this week on Donovan after “the news” just days after calling Donovan one of the US’s “top one or two players if he’s on the field.”

“He certainly knows how much the senior players love him and appreciate him …. I think everyone mostly, certainly expected Donovan to be there, but Jurgen clearly had other ideas.”

It’s not much latitude in a camp where Klinsmann controls the message but it’s enough–from a player who played this year behind World Cup-bound starts like Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku. His opinion of Donovan’s place in the US pecking order has to be valued.

DEF: Timothy Chandler, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Fabian Johnson

The skinny: It would not surprise me to see John Brooks in place of Matt Besler here (or in one of the matches) and here’s why: the best the US played defensively against European side in the Klinsmann era was away at Bosnia & Herzegovina. In that match, a poor offsides call was to blame for one US concession and the other tally was the result of a very gracious giveaway on the part of Eddie Johnson in the defensive third.

The centerbacks? John Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Further, if you are committed to Geoff Cameron at centerback–and by golly you should be and you should have been since he started trialling there against Guatemala in 2012–then do you have play the more aerial-endowed Brooks over Besler if you’re going up against Ghana?

Even given that, the likely shout has to be for Brooks and Besler, the latter who has earned his way with terrific organizational and distribution skills in a US shirt.

Similarly to the centerback pairing, you thumb through line-ups of yesteryear and the name that appears at LB in games against the likes of Italy … B&H … Brazil … Russia, is Fabian Johnson at leftback. To this writer, DaMarcus Beasley has earned his keep his unflappable performances in a diversity of settings yet the undercurrent of media murmuring at US camp has the role as Fab J’s to lose.

And then it’s back to Chandler. The US rightback appears at ease, unemotional and light-hearted in camp.

One minor note here, neither Fab J or Tim Chandler possess a strong English vocabulary–will communication suffer as a result of it? It’s a question.

CM: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones

The skinny: Easily a chance you’ll Kyle Beckerman here with Jones a late arrival to camp. That said, Bradley as the midfield nucleus with Jones as the negatively-charged electron careening off of him is the call here. Yup, that’s about spot-on.

(A diamond like against Mexico would see Beckerman deep, Bradley up top, Jones on one side and Zusi on the other, in my opinion)

LM/RM: Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi

The skinny: I have about as much idea about whose playing left midfield for the US as Brad Guzan has of looking good in skinny jeans.

Perplexing… could be an enforcer like Jones with Beckerman slotting in behind. Could be Mix Diskerud, tucking in to allow Fabian Johnson to overlap. Could be Brad Davis in the most regular of calls. Or could be Ale Bedoya, owner of the worst pic on the US roster graphic, mimicking the style of Eddie Johnson as a post-seeking slasher. Your guess?

We’ll take Bedoya though Davis or perhaps Jones would be a good call to let your friend’s money ride on.

The underrated Zusi will man the other flank.

WTFWD: Clint Dempsey

The skinny: By Clint Dempsey’s own admission at camp, he’s been playing the withdrawn forward role. That doesn’t actually scan when you’ve watched Dempsey drop deep through many qualifying matches to receive the ball or gather it in at the top of the attacking third and look-to-drive and dish. That said, the withdrawn forward role–and the more go-at-goal, fire-at-will mentality is the one where Dempsey has performed for his clubs time and time again. Glad you’re back Deuce.

STR: Jozy Altidore

The skinny: Key on Altidore this game, this series because he will start against Ghana and there is no other player that brings his skillset. Jozy is neither particularly strong or adept at hold-up play as US fans know, but he’s capable ever-so-often of the magnificent. While Klinsmann has commented that Donovan was treated as sacred cow by the US media the same could be said of the treatment of Altidore.

The forward’s fitness has often been in doubt, his defensive focus waffling and his judgement often immature. Who can forget it was Altidore who committed a silly yellow card after a qualifier at Costa Rica was nearly decided that ruled him out of a Columbus match-up with Mexico. The one where Eddie Johnson delivered.

The US will have no other target forward if Altidore goes down. Additionally Ghana and Germany often initiate the attack from deep where a committed striker defender could really aid in creating turnovers in the midfield.

Watch Jozy. It’s really his World Cup. The drive needs to be there.

BTW, 49% chance that Chris Wondolowski starts in his own backyard so asterisk here.

TSG: What We’re Looking For: (abbreviated)

♦ EVERYTHING–too much here for the typical TSG nuanced take

What shape is Jermaine Jones in and what role will he truly have? Is he emboldened by going to a World Cup? Does a right-sided Tim Chandler tuck in as Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst did through qualifying or is he given license to roam? With Landon Donovan in SoCal, is Aron Johannsson ready to shoulder the burden of Clint Dempsey’s active sidekick? He’s shown the tools; he’s show flashes, but is he World Cup-sound?

A first look at what US fans will see in a few weeks in Brazil.


59 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Crow on 2014/05/25 at 11:00 AM

    Loved the opening section. This will be my 25th cap and the first game I haven’t flown to or at least driven 3 hours to see. Maybe in 7 years it will happen again.


  2. I find it interesting that Mexico has more Mexican-Americans in its 23 man roster than the USA does after all the early cycle talk from Gulati and Klinsmann. Just interesting. Love your stuff Matt. Thanks.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/05/25 at 12:43 PM

      ….and that is why there are more Germans (Vogts) in the 23 than Mexican-Americans (Vasquez).


    • GCM3… that is a good point. Here is something to note: The U20 team that went to World Cup last year had at least 10 Latinos on there 20 or so player roster and with the likes of Arriola, Greg Garza, and 2-3 other Xolos; then Rubio Rubin and Junior Flores and I’m sure a ton more coming up in the Mexican system to yet be identified but thank goodness for Tab Ramos with his connections in Mexico and others as well. Its a growing population that is still just being tapped into.


      • Yes bro, totally agree it seems that things will change but its still crazy that this cycle Mexico ends up with more Mexican Americans than the usa.


    • Especially love this this part:
      [Drop mic. Closes Twitter account. Goes to read Inverting the Pyramid.]


  3. Posted by Crow on 2014/05/25 at 12:05 PM

    Could Julian Green appear in FIVE world cups?


  4. Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/05/25 at 12:28 PM

    Great piece Matt. Especially appreciate your take on the CBs. Could Jurgen consider giving the Besler – Omar (technically the incumbent) pairing a chance to see if Omar can hold off Cameron for that spot? Or has Omar played himself out of the starting 11?

    Whats your guess on how much of Julian Green we see in the send off series?

    Thanks again for the hard work that went into this piece. Good info on Azerbaijani footballers isn’t frontpage CNN shit.


    • Posted by mbw on 2014/05/25 at 8:11 PM

      To my mind, the only potentially revealing bit of Klinsmann’s last press conference was his statement that Donovan was no longer the type of player who takes players one-on-one and gets in behind — implying he’s looking for a player who does those things, and guess what?, there’s only one guy on the roster who plays that game. I’d expect Green to get some important minutes in the WC, and if that’s going to happen, he’d better get some time in the send off series….


  5. Posted by Linda Sheridan on 2014/05/25 at 12:33 PM

    I agree with Bruce Arena- if the 23 players chosen are all better than Landon Donovan- USA should win the World Cup
    If Landon was half German, he would be on the squad. Too much of that stuff going on!


  6. Posted by dth on 2014/05/25 at 12:38 PM

    Probably not too indicative, but if you look at the chalkboard in this picture, it looks like a 4-4-2 diamond to me: https://twitter.com/StanfordFball/status/470250173562499072/photo/1


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2014/05/25 at 12:48 PM

      Great grab Darius. (I owe you an article review.)


    • Posted by Tim H on 2014/05/25 at 7:01 PM

      It looks like a diamond with “JJ” at the base. The left side mid isn’t being tasked to go forward like the right side. Is that “DMB at left back? Do we know if Fabian has been playing any mid in camp?

      I agree with the folks who think we’ll be playing a lot of diamond in Brazil. Donovan’s bad games came when Klinsmann played him on the side of a diamond – it could have been a factor in his cut.


      • Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/05/25 at 8:28 PM

        Fabian apparently is telling media his has spent the vast majority of his time in camp playing RB, but that its still possible he’ll play mid.

        Honestly, I honestly don’t know WTF to think at this point. I know what I would do, but who in the hell knows what Jurgen is going to do. I just hope it works out.


    • Posted by Paul on 2014/05/27 at 9:47 AM

      it sure does! Nice catch. But I hope someone is more serious about operational security as we get closer to the cup. No need to be tipping our hand via twitter!


  7. I would bet my own money (and my friends) that Davis starts by the way. My sense since the starts of his tenure with the numbers-only-jerseys that Klinsmann’s ideal is a system with interchangeable parts.

    A system is valued in more than getting best 11 on field or in the 23 for that matter, which he justifies as his mandate to upgrade the program. My belief is that he has a depth chart as follows: A team: Howard; Chandler, Cameron, Besler, Fab J; Zusi, Bradley, Jones, Davis; Demps; Jozy. B team: Guzan; Yedlin, Gonzo, Brooks, DMB; Bedoya, Mix, Beckerman, Green; ArJo; Wondo.

    The players who could play multiple positions, the swiss army knife guys, were types cut: Parkhurst, Edu, Landon, Evans, etc. This “depth chart theory” could also explain the Goodson cut since he is a right CB and Omar and Cameron are clearly superior there, while Brooks is kept bc he is left footed so he slots in behind Besler.


    • Another thing related to the “system over best players” theory I posited above. Klinsmann has made it a point frame the argument such that Donovan is a striker, he said it multiple times including during the Bob Ley interview on Sportscenter when directly asked if he’d call Landon in if someone gets hurt, “absolutely, if it is a striker.” If Landon is a striker only, and we are debating the depth chart a compelling argument can made that he should not be included since his direct competition is Dempsey and Johannsen – an argument that nobody on staff would challenge after Vasquez ouster. i’ve been feeling let down by Ramos that he could have been a part of such a bad decision but I have come to rationalize it that it maybe it was framed this way; that is, the coaches sat down and simplistically built a depth chart if two starting elevens… system trumps best eleven guys. Ugh.

      PS if Fab J starts at left mid my theory is blown apart… haha. Thanks again Matt and for providing a forum to vent. sorry for blowing up your board!


      • Kind of works with what we have been told, that JK is the motivator and Loew was the actual tactician – I have to think that only someone very naive, or someone with absolute, corruptible power, would think so simplistically with a roster. But I think you might be right.


      • Your theory does make some sense but I, myself, expect F. Johnson to play LM at least one game if not two as a LM. If we are to believe that we must win the Ghana game or not lose to have a chance to move on, we need our best options at every position and sadly Fabian is best all across the left side but I feel that Beasley at LB is better than starting Davis at LM. Again, I’m only talking the the Ghana game.


        • Thanks for the reply. It is fun to discuss. I think we will find our someday what the thought process was but the more I think about it I think they simplistically came up with two 11s.

          Most pundits thought the versatility or Parkhurst and Edu and Evans would helps them but if you have two 11s it far less important. And you can come up with an argument why each of those guys is behind the two in the depth chart i put out above.

          The craziest pick to me was Yedlin instead of Donovan because of his performances recently and given that there is so much cover at RB since Cam and Fab J can play there behind Chandler whom I’m guessing became the number 1. But again, if the task is to build two 11s rather than include the best 23 guys, Yedlin can easily be argued as the second string RB behind Chandler.


          • Posted by Seybold on 2014/05/26 at 10:44 AM

            Yedlin used to be a winger, and given how Klinsmann put EJ at wide midfield, he might not be bringing him as a fullback.

            I’m thinking later in a match if they go 4-2-3-1, or 3-5-2, Yedlin could provide blazing speed from the flanks against tired legs. His roster spot might be “really fast guy” rather than backup right back, especially with FJ, Chandler, and Cameron all potentially available there.


            • Posted by Berniebernier on 2014/05/26 at 2:37 PM

              I can definitely see Yedlin in the “Shea” roll of using speed to beat a team pushing for a goal.

            • Posted by Paul on 2014/05/27 at 9:54 AM

              yes, the analogy to a right-footed Shea is great. I just hope the staff sees it that way too.

      • On ESPNFC yesterday JK said in response to a question by Lalas about why include Julian Green – “In putting together this puzzle you have your starters and your backups. Julian is a winger and and right now a backup.” I think he did simply come up with two 11s and Landon was not considered as a midfielder.


  8. Nice write-up. I’ve been digging into the details of the most likely scenarios for the U.S. to advance out of Group G and I thought I’d pass along what I’ve come up with. I used W/D/L odds for each of the 6 games to map things out.

    The U.S.’s overall chance to advance to the knockout stage is 34.9%. More specifically, there’s a 22.2% chance that they finish with 5 or more points, in which case they’d be a near lock for the knockout round (all teams with 5+ points in the past 3 World Cups have advanced).

    There’s an 11.7% chance that they finish with a 1-1-1 record and advance, and a 10% chance that they finish with a 1-1-1 record and do not advance. (Not surprisingly, exactly half of the teams to finish 1-1-1 in the last 3 World Cups have advanced).

    And, unfortunately, there’s a 56.1% chance that the U.S. gains 3 or fewer points, which would render their odds next to zero (it’s possible to advance with 2 or 3 points but very unlikely, and hasn’t happened in any of the past 3 WCs).

    The most likely 1-1-1 finishes for the U.S., along with the percent chance that they would advance each situation, are:

    Def. Ghana, Tie Portugal: 35% most likely 1-1-1 finish, and 58% to advance in this situation

    Def. Portugal, Tie Ghana: 26%, and 64%

    Def. Ghana, Tie Germany: 17%, and 41%

    Def. Portugal, Tie Germany: 11%, and 48%

    Def. Germany, Tie Ghana: 6%, and 46%

    Def. Germany, Tie Portugal: 5%, and 47%

    Even more specific, the two most likely scenarios for the U.S. to advance with a 1-1-1 record are:

    1. U.S. def GHA and tie POR, GER W/D vs. POR&GHA, and POR D/L vs. GHA

    2. U.S. def POR and tie GHA, GER W/D vs. POR&GHA, and GHA D/L vs. POR

    Bottom line: Statistically speaking, Germany is extremely likely to advance, whereas Portugal, the U.S., and Ghana are closer to each other than they are to Germany (contrary to what the official world rankings suggest). As such, those three teams are almost fighting for one spot. Any point vs. Germany would be a huge bonus for any of those three teams, which means that a 1-1-1 record in this group has a better chance of allowing a team to advance than in groups where there are 3 stronger teams and 1 weaker one.


    • Posted by Spiritof76 on 2014/05/25 at 8:37 PM

      Cool analysis. I’m wondering how you weighted each potential winner of the games? Bookies odds, your intuition, some complex statistical test I’ll try and make you explain to us simpletons???


      • Thanks. I used ESPN’s soccer power index predictions which I think are more reliable than betting odds.


        • Posted by Paul on 2014/05/27 at 9:57 AM

          yes. I knew your source just from looking at the numbers. Nate Silver is one of the world’s most accomplished statisticians and model-builders. I’d trust him over betting odds as well.


  9. Posted by Gene Vorobyov on 2014/05/25 at 4:19 PM

    Very thorough and interesting article.

    My only quibble is that Azerbaijan is not in Eastern Europe.


    • Posted by Paul on 2014/05/27 at 9:59 AM

      It’s generally considered Eastern Europe, as are Georgia and Armenia. It’s mainly a cultural and economic thing. But strictly speaking, yes, geographically they should be in SW Asia. The Caucasus mountains divide the continents there, and for the most part, these nations are south of that divide. It’s kind of quibbling though, because they’re on the border.


  10. Posted by Ross on 2014/05/25 at 5:37 PM

    First article of yours I have read and miles better than anything on ESPN, Fox Soccer or anywhere else


  11. Posted by Chazcar2 on 2014/05/25 at 8:47 PM

    I don’t think Beasley is losing his spot at left back. I think fj starts at right back and chandler is a defensive sub to cover whichever flank is overrun. Chandler has played in the midfield for club and I believe once for country late when he was pushed forward with lichaj behind. I also believe that he has played left back. To me the staring back line going into camp was always going to be beasley-besler-cameron-johnson. Chandler and brooks beat out parkhurst and goodson.

    I see two formations that the us can use effectively in general, no opponent in mind. 4-diamond-2 and 4-3-3. The diamond is obvious, if Jones can hold effectively the it could work.
    The 433 is below
    Or maybe beckerman at DM and Bradley in Jones spot. Also note: NOT a 4231. Although you could put the same personnel in that formation.

    My subs would be chandler for bedoya, wondo for altidore, Johanson for zusi, diskerud for Jones or beckerman.


  12. Posted by gino744 on 2014/05/25 at 9:31 PM

    Thanks TSG (again) for the enlightening pre-game analysis. Why is it that I’ve never seen one at any of the other websites?

    I’ve gotta say, I really have no idea who Klinsmann will trot out in the opening game against Ghana. Maybe these next 3 games will give a better understanding of his vision. Then again, maybe there’s a reason why some of us were so surprised at some of his selections for the WC roster.

    I’m not going to concede that Loew was the brains and that Klinsmann just the heart in Germany. I wanna believe he’s holding his cards close to the vest so as to keep the other coaches in the dark and less prepared in their game plans. We obviously don’t have the best talent in Group G but the element of surprise shouldn’t be underrated.


    • I think there are 2 lynchpins to what JK is trying to accomplish. 1) is to free up Bradley to contribute to the attack. Placing him at the head of a diamond with a def mid behind him. 2) Find some width somewhere. When Donovan plays on the outside he has a tendency to pinch in bringing him into the space occupied by Bradley, Clint, and Jozy. I like the idea of getting width as I think getting the ball wide and crossing it is one of the best ways to get the ball in the danger area consistently particularly when you aren’t an exceptionally technical squad. What FB outside mid combo can bring that element with defensive competency is a big question.


    • I think there are two lynchpins to JK’s approach. 1) Free up Bradley to contribute to the attack. 2) Develop some effective width. When LD plays on the outside he has a tendency to pinch in bringing him into the same space as Jozy, Clint, and Bradley. What combo of FB and mid provides good wide play and effective defense? I don’t know. If US can find wide play I do wonder if Won do c


      • to finish that thought I wonder if Wondo might be more effective than Jozy. Wondo and Clint crashing with Bradley filling unoccupied space.


  13. Posted by KK on 2014/05/26 at 9:56 AM

    Any chance that LD snub was a motivating one? Say Green (or Davis) gets into rash tackle on Tuesday (Berti is managing the opposition) and Klinsi needs to call in LD to round out the 23 – a pissed off, motivated LD.

    Too Machiavellian?


    • Posted by jb on 2014/05/26 at 12:15 PM

      This explanation makes as much sense as any.

      I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to figure out the Donovan cut, and haven’t come up with much. Was his fitness/form so bad he couldn’t hang with the other players? His interview and previous comments from teammates seem to suggest otherwise, and it seems he had quite a match with the Galaxy last night. A chemistry problem if he doesn’t play? That seems unlikely as he is always described as a good teammate.

      So Klinsmann truly thinks AJ, Wondo, Davis, and Green are all more likely to help our squad next month in Brazil on the biggest stage? Really? I can get going with youth and athleticism to deal with the heat, humidity, and travel, but to not use 1 of 23 roster spots on the guy who has the most international experience (not to mention goals)?

      At the very least I felt like Donovan was the perfect backup for Dempsey in case injury or cards took him out of a match. I promise to put this behind me as the posters above suggest and never fear I will root the USA as hard as ever. In the end, the results will speak to the wisdom (or lack of) of leaving LD home. But consider me confused.


      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2014/05/26 at 7:03 PM

        You’re not alone and not unpatriotic to be asking the questions you’re asking re Donovan. I have tickets for next Sundays game against Turkey and I’ll go and support but still have no really good explanation for why Donovan wasn’t worth a roster spot. Everything that I ve seen put forth on why is speculative at best and just plain batshit crazy at its worst.
        Class is something you can’t just pick up on a wing and a prayer. Donovan has proven to have class and composure in big spots on the intl level and I don’t see anyone that brings that’s on this squad.


  14. Posted by David on 2014/05/26 at 1:48 PM

    Read this thanks to a tweet from the Men in Blazers. Really great analysis! I’ll be coming back for WC coverage!


    • Posted by Nick on 2014/05/26 at 9:15 PM

      David, take some days off work for the US World Cup matches and spend the time leading up to matches reading back through the entire site, it’s worth it. Start with the live blogging of USMNT matches; poignant analysis and side-splitting wit.


      • Posted by Paul on 2014/05/27 at 10:08 AM

        completely agreed. The live blogs are the most entertaining thing I ever read on the web.


  15. […] friends over at The Shin Guardian wrote an excellent piece after watching some game tape on Azerbaijan. One thing that seems clear, […]


  16. Posted by Nick on 2014/05/26 at 9:12 PM

    FYI – This starting XI (swap Gonzalez for Cameron) couldn’t beat Australia in my demo of EASports 2014 World Cup on the XBox360 last night…not sure if that says something about EA’s valuation of US players, the abilities of these XI when put together, or my ability as a FIFA XBox player. Just putting it out there that the FIFA Lab disapproves of this XI without LD10.


  17. […] » The Shin Guardian has you covered with a game preview. […]


  18. […]      USMNT-Azerbaijan preview […]


  19. Posted by Josh on 2014/05/27 at 10:21 AM

    Last I recall regarding 2006: the lads played Italy relatively even; could’ve easily defeated Ghana; and then it would’ve come down goal differential? WCs swing on a dime.


    • Posted by Jim on 2014/05/27 at 11:14 AM

      I’ve been saying the same thing for 8 years… The Czech game aside, we weren’t terrible by any stretch. Heck, we finished the Italy match with 9 men and a legitimate goal (from Beasley, I think) called off. If you think about it, we’ve not been consistently terrible or excellent at the WC since ’94. The relative success of ’94, ’02, and ’10 hinged on some good performances and a lot of luck. We could just have easily have crashed out in all three of those cups.

      On the other hand, we were stunned by the Germans early in our first match in ’98, and then chased an equalizer, opening ourselves up to the second goal. The next two matches we were playing catch up and it wasn’t all terrible soccer. In ’06, just like against Germany, the Czech match killed us early. If you remember though, after the opening goal from Koller, Claudio Reyna hit the freakin post. An equalizer would have changed that match and those two Rosicky strikes may not have happened. The Italy and Ghana matches were by no means horrid affairs for us (I remember an ESPN article after the Italy match declared that Donovan’s performance had proved his greatness… only for us to crash out in the next match).

      Playing in the World Cup requires execution, but also some bounces to go your way, particularly if you’re not a powerhouse.


    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2014/05/27 at 6:33 PM

      06 swung on Claudio Reyna’s knee. Still see that tape over and over in my head.
      Agree wholeheartedly that most people don’t realize that the US squad has competed well in the last 12 yrs internationally, I don’t think this squad compares to the 02 squad mostly because of the defensive quality and missing McBride, the last real target man the US has put out there.


  20. Posted by Nehemiah Ellsperman on 2014/05/27 at 11:21 AM

    Was anyone else able to attend the practice yesterday?

    I thought Dempsey looks absolutely locked in. He has a swagger I don’t know if I’ve ever seen which is a very good sign. I think Bedoya looked excellent as well. He has to be the most improved player of the last 18 months. Wondo was his typical goal crashing self. I see him possibly not scoring a goal in Brazil but ‘creating’ one with his movement like Herc Gomez did on the Bradley goal in 2010. Zusi, the entire backline (Brooks, Cameron, Besler, Chandler, even Yedlin) looked strong.

    Green looked timid and Johannsson was shockingly poor- easily the “worst’ player on the field. I don’t know if his ankle is still bothering him but he does not look well which is very concerning.

    Diskerud looked strong too.

    The lineup (based off the way the team was split) appears to be:


    F. Johnson Cameron Besler/Brooks (split time) Beasley

    Jones Bradley

    Zusi Dempsey Bedoya



  21. Posted by Scottie on 2014/05/27 at 11:40 AM

    I’m still not sure how FJ isn’t a lock for LM. Our attack is just that much better when he’s consistently in the final third.


  22. Posted by Stuart Warner on 2014/05/27 at 12:18 PM

    If Klinsmann really meant it when he spoke of the US playing an attacking style of soccer, then we’ll play 4-1-3-2, in effect a diamond 4-4-2 (if he didn’t mean it, we’ll see a 4-2-3-1 in the games that count). For this to work, we need Jones at the back of the diamond playing disciplined soccer. Is he able and willing to do that? I don’t know. But Beckerman doesn’t have the speed or explosion to cover enough ground against a world-class offensive outfit, such as Ghana. And it doesn’t matter what formation we play tonight–what will matter is the formation we play against Nigeria. As for the starters, my guess is that with one or two exceptions, we’ll see who Klinsmann envisions as the starters against Ghana in tonight’s game. I’d be surprised if it’s not: Howard; Johnson; Cameron; Besler; Beasley; Zusi; Jones; Bradley; Bedoya; Dempsey; and Altidore.

    Like several others, I happened upon this site by chance. In the future I shall come to it by intent: great site. Thanks.


  23. Posted by Steve Davis on 2014/05/27 at 1:07 PM

    Re this point: “Additionally Ghana and Germany often initiate the attack from deep where a committed striker defender could really aid in creating turnovers in the midfield.”

    Wasn’t that one of the things Donovan could do really well? I know he couldn’t do it for 90′ now, but seems like if we’re going to absolutely have to get more than token pressure from our highest striker in at least 2 out of 3 of these games, that’s a role that Donovan has always excelled at. Jozy is certainly not always that committed on high pressure.


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