By IVES GALARCEP
The U.S. Men’s National Team has made it to Brazil, and has already begun preparing for its World Cup matches, but it’s time to take a look back at the encouraging performance that has them feeling so confident as the tournament draws closer.
The U.S. team’s 2-1 victory against Nigeria wasn’t a masterpiece, or blowout, but it was the very first clear sign of significant progress for a team that was very much still trying to figure things out during the World Cup Send-Off series. Several questions were answered, and at least one important solution was seemingly unearthed amid what was a strong team showing.
The 4-3-2-1 system deployed by Jurgen Klinsmann showcased the strengths of some of his best players, and covered for some of the issues that were keeping previous combinations from working ideally. Yes, it is just one match, and against a tired Nigeria team resting some of its best players, but the results were still a reason to feel optimistic about the direction the U.S. team is heading in.
Here is a look back at how the U.S. team’s players fared in the 2-1 vs. Nigeria, with SBI’s Player Grades:
USA 2, NIGERIA 1: SBI PLAYER GRADES
TIM HOWARD (6). His 100th cap didn’t see him face a ton of shots, but when Nigeria threatened late he stood up to the challenge well with some key saves.
FABIAN JOHNSON (6). Continues to dazzle as an attacking right back, and his assist on Altidore’s first goal was quality. Where he falters a bit is in tracking back after his attacking forays, and he also had a few head-scratching moments defensively.
GEOFF CAMERON (5.5). Steady for the most part, though did appear to lose his mark at times during Nigeria’s numerous corner kicks. Looks set as a starter at this point.
MATT BESLER (6). His best showing of the Send-Off Series saw him look more like his steady self. Gave up the penalty kick, but it came at the tail end of some other defensive breakdowns by teammates.
DAMARCUS BEASLEY (6.5). Had the best performance along the back-line, if not the most flashy. He successfully pulled off every defensive challenge while also getting forward at times. Still has the speed to deal with fast wingers, locked down the starting job.
JERMAINE JONES (7). His best USMNT game in recent memory, Jones took full advantage of having the freedom to attack, but also showed a willingness to hustle and help out teammates. Showed why Klinsmann has considered him a locked-in starter.
KYLE BECKERMAN (6.5). Did the dirty work in central midfield, using his impeccable positioning and crisp passing to support Jones, Bedoya and Bradley.
ALEJANDRO BEDOYA (5.5). Played in a bit of a deeper role than usual, but it worked well to take advantage of his impressive work rate. He needed to do better on several attacking opportunities, but did have a hand in the first U.S. goal.
CLINT DEMPSEY (6). Very active in attack and probably scores at least one if not for the outstanding work of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. Will be a big beneficiary if Altidore can heat up as defenses key on the big striker.
MICHAEL BRADLEY (7.5). Was at his playmaking best, creating several top-notch chances, and delivering some tasty passes.
JOZY ALTIDORE (7.5). His first goal was a tap-in, but it came via some hustle, while his second goal was a combination of skill and brute force, showing off all the qualities that make him such an enticing forward option. You can see the confidence building as he heads toward his second World Cup.
GRAHAM ZUSI (5.5). Came on and provided good energy, staying active in the attack, even if he wasn’t as sharp as usual.
MIX DISKERUD (5). Looked smooth on the ball, once again showing a good passing touch and movement. Wasn’t his best sub’s performance, or usual instant impact, but tidy.
TIM CHANDLER (5.5). Showed off his impressive speed as he brought fresh legs late in the match. Could definitely be a difference-maker in the second half against tired teams as he attacks from deep, though he has lost out on catching Beasley for the starting left back spot.
OMAR GONZALEZ (3). Only played 10 minutes but managed to put together a handful of frightening moments in that short amount of time. Looked slow, and almost looks injured, in being beaten and caught out of position.
What do you think of the grades? Which player do you feel deserved a higher grade? Who do you feel we gave too high a grade? Which performance were you most encouraged by?
Share your thoughts below.