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USMNT face Azerbaijan with plenty to work out in first send-off series match

Jozy Altidore

photo by John Todd/


After nearly a week of talk regarding which players did and did not make it onto the 23-man squad headed to Brazil, the U.S. Men’s National Team can now shift its focus towards games that matter.

The U.S. gets back to action when it hosts Azerbaijan in its first send-off series friendly at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Tuesday night, but there is much to play for for the Americans even if the game’s final result means little. There are places in the starting lineup that are seemingly still up for grabs after their two-week preparation camp and also plenty of questions that need answering as the U.S. tries to get things clicking ahead of its departure for the World Cup in Brazil in two weeks.

One of those questions is how Jozy Altidore will fare after enduring a rough first season at Sunderland in which he only scored one goal. U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is hoping that Altidore can notch his first international goal since October 2013 against Azerbaijan’s defense, as that will help the veteran forward rid himself of some of the heavy scrutiny he is currently receiving while also giving him some confidence ahead of the tough Group G World Cup matches that await the Americans.

“I think we got already a couple of good answers from Jozy the last two weeks here,” said Klinsmann. “He’s sharp, he’s hungry and he’s scoring. Every day of work he puts himself into a better position and he puts himself in more confidence. We want to build on that. We want to do every day more work in order to work and give him that confidence. Then, strikers got to solve it himself as well. Go out there and be hungry and once you get an opportunity you’ve got to put that ball in the net.

“I think he’s in a very good path from what we see. Yes, obviously, psychologically he has to leave behind an entire season at Sunderland. It’s a season that ended thankfully positive for the club being not relegated and getting out of the danger zone there but for him personally it wasn’t what he expected. The good thing about sports in general is you’re always looking forward to the next one, the next game, the next challenge. I think he already forgot what happened during the whole last year.”

“He’s always very confident with this team,” Tim Howard said of Altidore. “He’s a big player for us. We’ve always said we have to ride him to get us to goals. He’s been good and he’s been sharp in training.

“You guys keep writing (Altidore is struggling) but last summer he was fantastic and he hadn’t scored in like four years or something. He’ll be fine.”

How the back line will continue to take shape is also something that will hold plenty of intrigue. Geoff Cameron appears likely to earn a start as a centerback given Omar Gonzalez’s recent struggles with the U.S., and the versatile Cameron will likely need to deliver a solid outing against some light opposition in order for Klinsmann to continue the experiment of having him back in central defense.

Other positions that still seem up for grabs are the wide midfield and outside back spots. Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley, Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya appear to be the favorites for those spots, but Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin could also help their causes with strong showings. Klinsmann anticipates giving the majority of his players a chance to prove their worth on Tuesday night, so there should be ample opportunity for cases to be made.

“Hopefully, once we’re in Brazil and we have the first game kind of we have that back line doing well and being consistent and not changing too many things around because you don’t want to do that with a back four line,” said Klinsmann. “… There’s races for those spots, and we want to give them exposure, want to give them time. We’ll definitely make some changes to give them a chance, to prove a point, but actually with all of them being in here at the training sessions and also the scrimmages we’ve done, we are actually very positive on this whole process. It looks good. Hopefully we can confirm that [Tuesday] night.”

“I feel like we’ll be ready,” Howard said of the U.S. defense. “Last World Cup, I remember we were talking about the same things at Princeton with (Oguchi Onyewu) not being fit, but we came together and played pretty well. At the end of it, it’ll be a month, month-and-a-half. We’ll be fine.”

While Azerbaijan doesn’t pose the type of threat that Portugal, Germany or Ghana will next month, it will provide a unique opportunity in that it will pit Klinsmann against Berti Vogts. The 67-year-old German was recently hired by Klinsmann as a special advisor to the U.S., but Vogts is also the head coach of Azerbaijan, meaning that he will have an interest in both teams as they lock horns in California.

“For me, he’s been, and I’ve mentioned that before, a big mentor throughout my life,” said Klinsmann. “He just has an outstanding soccer brain, an outstanding knowledge. The way he reads the game, the way he analyzes things, with his tremendous experience that he has, it’s unquestionable a huge benefit for us.

“[Tuesday] night he wants his team to do well. He’s under contract with Azerbaijan until 2016 at least. He built the entire structure there since a couple of years, and they love him there, but he obviously is very excited to become part of our process now the next two months. He’s constantly already analyzing Ghana, Portugal, and obviously Germany we both know pretty well. It’s a great plus to have him there and become part of our team going into Brazil.”

Ultimately, the Azerbaijan friendly will not mean much when the games of real importance get underway in a couple of weeks. It will, however, provide the U.S. players with a chance to get their legs under them and develop more chemistry.

That is sorely needed right now, as the Americans begin to really hone in on the World Cup.

“Definitely we want to see there’s a progress happening where they fine-tune each other, they have a better understanding with every training session, every scrimmage,” said Klinsmann. “We’ve played three scrimmages, one with Stanford, one with the (LA) Galaxy II, one with the San JoseEarthquakes II, closed-door training sessions basically, but they went well because we run the guys.

“We want to see even more kind of in action, we want to see that they have a better understanding of each other on the field and also offensively, obviously. We want to just see kind of step-by-step things improving which will give us more confidence. There’s a lot of work right now going on on the training field, and it’s great to go out on the field and measure yourself with a team, an international team and trying to implement that stuff.”


  1. US starting lineup out: 4-4-2 diamond (as predicted)


  2. Serious comment:
    No Angst will wear off, not from the aspect of the limited press coverage we have.
    Regardless of your opinions of JK, his final 23, the decision to cut loose the 7 earlier than we thought, your opinion of Landon and everything that’s happened….
    Regardless of anything…

    All these media guys created their narrative within minutes.. and are sticking to it word for word. Every time one speaks, he says THE same things as if it’s the first time he’s making these statements, and it doesn’t look like it will change.
    There has been virtually zero actual analysis. There are 23 guys on their way to represent us. Yet there are more soccer brains here on SBI

    I’d like an infusion of Ron Jaworski, Buster Olney, Kirk Herbstreit.. but it looks like we’re gonna get a steady diet of one storyline for the next 6-7 weeks, or spinoffs of that storyline, and these guys created their narrative immediately and I bet not a word changes.

    No matter what your opinion is on everything that’s happened, that’s sad for the guys who are going and for the fans who are watching…

  3. Klinsmann’s explanations make my head hurt. For Altidore, training camp is a chance to offset a terrible season, but not for others?? See I thought current form was one of the key criteria for picking both the 30 and now the 23. It’s important to have a stable back four but not, apparently a stable lineup anywhere else. But if you want a stable back four, how come you have changed your back four repeatedly over the past year? And so on. And if you are still trying to decide the starting team, and not just a position or two, how are you going to have any real team cohesion going into the first WC game?

    • There’s a German term called “Überflieger”. It’s someone who not only is a “high-flyer” (literal) but also someone who glosses over the details. We had a CEO once who was supposed to be so amazing, but his presentations never ran right – and he just couldn’t be bothered. Ten years later came the corruption scandal, but he just floated on to another company. The details are for others to work out.

      Is that what we have here? Seems to me you’ve described the head coach’s problem. I thought it was his assistant JL who helped Klinsi do so well as head coach of Germany, of course, alongside the team.

      • He didn’t “do so well,” he took a loaded German team on home soil and crashes out in the semi-final. That was probably the bottom level of acceptable, definately not “so well.”

      • Wtf? You crash out at the group stage, not in one of the final games at the tournament. He took a young German squad and exceeded many expectations by reaching the semi’s. God lord, some people will literally do anything to try and bring klinsmann down, even call his 3rd place medal failure

      • Let’s see what we can do. Team has to play, can’t blame the coach or refs. Players have to do get better as a team to beat any of the teams in our group. Let’s see what happens.

      • True, team does have to play BUT we can blame the guy that picked this group of players. For that, JK is totally responsible

    • Do you ever listen to managers of teams in other sports? I stopped a long time ago.

      I find JK to be pretty easy to follow but then I don’t take everything he says seriously.
      The guy studied with people like Phil Jackson and Pete Carroll and Coach K., great coaches but I don’t waste time trying to find meaning in their talks to the media.

      The only thing I take seriously about him is he wants to win now and refuses to be humiliated in Brazil.

      And everything about how he has gone about his business tells me that the way he is going to try to do that is by trying to recapture the essence of those German teams he played on. Those teams were very talented obviously but had no real super stars (not even JK himself) per se, not like Ronaldo is for Portugal or Zidane was for France.

      Basically they were really awful to play against, very physical, completely relentless, as fit as they could be, not exactly dirty but not exactly clean either. Mostly, it just seems like they won because they wanted it more than the other guy.

      The point is he won’t tell you, and no manager will tell you, the truth; that basically, most of these guys aren’t as good as he wants them to be. He can’t tell you because that would defeat the whole purpose of trying to get these guys, as a team, to play over their heads for at least three games. He shuffles people around because he doesn’t want anyone getting lazy and thinking they won’t play. This exclusion controversy has resulted in aspersions being cast on the competency of the 23-on-the-plane and this plays into the US against the world atmosphere so many teams use as motivation.

      I get most of you think his task would be easier with he who shall not be named but obviously, JK does not think so.

      Whatever anyone thinks, he has an idea of how this team is best going to go about their giant killing task and he does not feel the leader of the Death Eaters fits in.

      • You are a very kind person, and an optimist at that. My only response is that the USA team is not anything like any German team in living memory. Not even close. The USA team has done well in the past when the coach clearly understood its limitations.

      • Gotcha, just saw it. I guess all things considered its not too surprising, a situation specific substitute role.
        Goes against Lalas’ and the other pundits 2018 narrative.. their big heads just might explode…kaboom

    • Doesn’t surprise me. Yedlin is a beast when he attacks. He completely destroyed Lucas Digne at last years U-20 WC. You know PSG’s first choice LB and France’s senior team probable back-up LB.

    • That’s the only reason to take him outside of Ives’ “practice squad” reasoning. We know he can’t defend, so, has to be. We only see him in Brazil if we’re down… way, way down.

    • +1 Last year’s was a smashing success. The way things have been going, I was worried that this year’s could be B.Y.O.Goals

  4. If Bertie Vogts doesn’t let us win by at least 5 goals, he should be fired from USA. I mean whats the point of having the oppositions coach on your payroll if he can’t help you when it counts! 😉 Anybody know what the Vegas gambling line is on tonight’s game? 🙂

  5. If anyone is looking for a drinking game during tonight’s match, I have one. Its called Landon Donovan. Everytime Landon’s name is called, everyone takes a drink.

  6. Can someone teach Jozy how to crack a shot with his laces. I can’t remember the last time he didn’t score a goal with the side of his foot.

    • I’m going to say Jozy turning on his right foot and making a nice shot from outside the box — one can dream.

    • Landon Donovan will score the first goal.

      He will streak onto the field wearing only a Lucha Libre wrestling mask, steal the ball, dribble through all of the defenders and meg the keeper, thereby cementing his place as an American soccer legend and punching his ticket to Brazil.

      • I’m with stanson. Really, I’m not sure what else it could possibly be, once you’ve looked at all the angles.

      • FIFY: “dribble through all of the defenders and meg the keeper …while faking out his own teammate, Brad Davis, so hard that he severely twists his ankle…thereby cementing his place as an American soccer legend and punching his ticket to Brazil.”

      • I have heard that the real reason Landon didnt make it was because JK saw him as a goalie and the other 3 were just a little ahead of him.

  7. They may win tonite alright, but this team will be remdmbered as an epic failure after the world cup. Klinsmann has poisoned this team.

  8. For a man that hasn’t had the best of seasons, this Azerbaijan game is a perfect warm up for Altidore. Forwards depend so much on streaks and confidence that if he can get off one or more goals against this team, the US will have an in form, confident stiker ready to put away some chances.

    • Not sure why so many think Jozy will score tonight? This team hasn’t given up many and if JK sticks to his usual lone forward, we might struggle tonight

    • One positive of playing AZ is that even if they play it with integrity and Vogts coaches to win tonight, he can still give a complete breakdown of what they were trying to do and why it did or didn’t work against the Yanks.

      • Yup… This is one reason Azerbaijan offers a more differentiating proposition than similar alternatives (bear in mind Vogts also probably has a good idea of what the US going to be doing, whether JK told him explicitly for the exercise, or whether from discussion and observation in his advisory role).

        I don’t see how Vogts would tank it, anyway. Azerbaijan are his permanent employers, and we are a temporary side gig. Not a good move for your current or future employment prospects.

  9. Leaving aside the Donovanapalooza, of which I’ve been a part, I think this is a great test. Teams like Azerbaijan are a real pain in that they’re good enough to make it hard on you even though they may not be good enough to beat you. This team desperately needs to play games together in order to gel — the defense especially. If we can start to settle on a steady back 4, then this will be a crucial game.

    • Donovanapalooza. Boy that sure was a magical few days wasn’t it? Heck, I was so strung out on self-righteousness and intellectual non-exploration that I barely even remember Mike Magee’s set. Did a killer cover of that Jonathan Klinsmann Tweet though. After that, it was pretty much a blur… woke up here and it was over and everyone was saying we had to “get ready for Azerbaijan”. Far out.

      Seems empty in here now by comparison….

      Christ. I am very disappointing person.

    • “Teams like Azerbaijan are a real pain in that they’re good enough to make it hard on you even though they may not be good enough to beat you.”

      Sounds like what we normally get in CONCACAF.

      • Well most teams in CONCACAF don’t have their manager working for the US. In theory, Vogts should be able to set up his team to test the US’ weakness’ in a very deliberate way. It should be interesting.

  10. I think it will be a tough challenge, honestly. Azerbaijan played in a tough qualifying group and played very well. I’ve read on several other boards they only allowed 10 goals during all of WCQ. Not too bad against the likes of Russia and Portugal. They might be ranked low, but I think they will bea good first challenge.

    • Agree with you BookNerd, and imperative voice.
      Tune up and work out the kinks etc.
      can’t sleep on the Azerbaijanis,
      can’t sleep on any team.

  11. Not sure an opponent the quality of Azerbaijan is going to help answer any questions…

    That said, hopefully the US wins big tonight and can build on the momentum.

    • My two cents you play good teams to season the players but cupcakes to tune up for the tournament. You want the team to get sharp, get fit, stay healthy, and get the result. I think this is about right.

    • Most countries play an easy team. Belgium just got done decimating Luxemburg who are a far weaker team than Az. To me, this is about getting our players to believe, getting the new backline to work together more, and a way to see who’s going to make a difference off the bench.

    • Azerbaijan is a good confidence builder. Probably an easy win for the US. Then it get’s more difficult with Turkey. The Nigeria game is test run against a Ghana-like opponent and the the Belgium closed door scrimmage is good test run to a German-like opponent. I like the format of our friendlies.

      • I appreciate your point and must admit to being ignorant to their player pool, but sounds like we’re getting their “B” team tonight (domestic based).

      • How is it a B team? Who has been left out? How many Azerbaijanis play outside of their domestic league?

      • Purely an assumption based on the paragraph above:

        “Jurgen Klinsmann is hoping that Altidore can notch his first international goal since October 2013 against an Azerbaijan defense that is likely to be fully comprised of domestic-based players”

        I do not know much more about their player pool…

      • Ah, I see. That sentence does seem to be a bit misleading, as it suggests Azerbaijan has left out some star defenders plying their trades in top leagues.

      • All of the other “recent call ups” only have 2 guys with foreign clubs at 1 cap each.

        I think its safe to say that they are domestic tells us nothing.


      • If you check out the wiki article. It looks like they brought the starting keeper… two guys with 91 and 75 caps. Then 25, 12, and 11. Sooo, I think most of their players are domestic anyway and they have more caps than our back line.

        I can’t really tell if it is a B team or not but it looks like their Starting CBs are there. All their starting goal forwards are too. Midfield is weird. They only brought 4 midfielders.

        Depending on how they line up I would say a A or B+ squad.

      • Based on their last qualifier against Northern Ireland, they brought 7 of those starters (GK, 3 DEF, 1 MID, 2 FOR). So it looks like it is most of their A team defense.

      • Matt,

        If you notice they start easy with Azerbaijan and then move to a much stronger opponent in Turkey and then finish with another WC qualifier Nigeria, who happen to have some stylistic similarities to Ghana.

        Think of those big college football teams who start off with Disco Tech, Wassa Matta U. and Texas’ Sam Houston Institute of Technology

        Whoever put this schedule together is not the mentally deficient person you seem to think they are.

    • Like Rocky Marciano on Coming to America. It doesn’t matter if he’d become anonymous and was stuffed by the passe Marquez in the Mexico game, it’s somehow become the pivotal choice. Even more than having no like-for-like Altidore sub after this lousy season. Or whether the defense holds together.

      • “Oh, there they go. There they go, every time I start talkin ’bout soccer, a yank got to pull Landon Donovan out their *ss. That’s their one, that’s their one. Landon Donovan. Landon Donovan. Let me tell you something once and for all. Landon Donovan was good, but compared to Brad Davis, Landon Donovan ain’t sh*t.”

      • All fairness to Davis, I think FJ and Chandler can move around and play wings, I think JK wants to start Bedoya and Zusi, I think he sees Green as a speed sub, and I think Davis has snuck in here as a late game technical/ deadball option. You need a lefty corner or free kick to tie a game. He also can create his shot from distance in a way Landon can’t. If Landon is losing a step and his touch then maybe the coach cuts him for people who are at least fast or unusually skilled.

        That’s the way the argument goes, that’s the way I used to say Davis could add when he wasn’t a pool guy. My one concern would be does he actually do that in the stars and stripes. Not often that I’ve seen.

      • ” My one concern would be does he actually do that in the stars and stripes. Not often that I’ve seen.”

        How often has he had a long run out, especially with the A team?

        Not very often I would guess.

      • Brad Davis was first a big deal back in 2005, had the clinching goal in the Gold Cup final shootout. That was Arena era. But he wasn’t very fit then and was routinely subbed in club at 60-70′, defensive liability.

        Bradley didn’t like him. So that’s a cycle-plus.

        He got taken seriously again when JK replaced Bradley.

        He has 14 caps (not exactly untried), 0 goals, not a lot of memorable assists. On paper, interesting. Some interesting qualities. Can he hit a deadball for the USA like Houston?

      • I think I even expressed doubts so it’s not like you’ve seized upon a hidden weakness.

        I’m just trying to understand the coach’s thought process and not the pat criticisms, which doesn’t mean I buy his concept. Steve Davis has his interesting theory, which is JK likes a certain mentality and LD doesn’t have it (but then, Chandler?).

      • Kind of like how all those that dislike Donovan are ignoring how bad many of the other players in the team have been lately… statistically speaking there’s a lot of slumps going on.

        Goals in their last 8 league matches…
        Altidore 0
        Beasley 0
        Davis 1
        Diskerud 1
        Johannsson 1
        Donovan 2

      • You know what?

        If JK hadn’t cut LD, LD wouldn’t have been in Phila. to score those goals.

      • Just to talk about AJ for a second since Jozy is the second most over cooked topic on SBI,

        How is his ankle? The conventional wisdom seems to be that his form dipped at the end of the season because he was carrying that ankle injury for a while.

        Ankle injuries are tricky. If it lingers one wonders if he could get disabled for LD . That does not seem likely.

      • He’s able to play on it, but so much of what he does well, is using his quick feet work to get off shots. How effective he can be is still a question mark.

      • Imperative, that won’t happen. JK would be too embarrassed to bring back LD after this firestorm.

      • Come now Jesse, it should be obvious to everyone that JK is man who does not embarass easily.

        Firestorm? JK was called to testify in front of the German Parliament in 2006 because of poor results in friendlies leading up to the 2006 World Cup.

        The he-who-shall-not-be-named firestorm is nothing in comparison…….yet.

      • Okay, embarrassed might not be the emotion. I think if he brought in LD it could in his own mind undermine his authority. I don’t think he will do it.

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