You have to give Jurgen Klinsmann credit for a bit of shrewd scheduling here, by hosting Nigeria in Jacksonville, FL as his final game it will give his United States squad a great final tune-up in both soccer and physical environment for the World Cup opener against Ghana.
It will be a hot, humid, muggy and the opponent will be stubborn. Sounds like a pretty good day for soccer.
Nigeria has been of the better African sides in continental play in recent years, finishing third at the most recent African Nations Championship (ANC) after losing to Ghana on penalties in the semi-finals and winning the 2013 African Cup of Nations over Burkina Faso.
They boast a strong, mainly European based squad with a big name at every position. Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama currently plays for French club Lille and has also played in Israel. Defender Joseph Yobo has played for both Everton and Norwich City in the EPL and has 96 career international caps. If he plays against the USA and in all three group games, that would give him 100 in his career. Midfielders John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses also play in the EPL for Chelsea and Liverpool respectively and form a really solid core in the midfield. Up top, Peter Odemwingie has stints with West Brom, Cardiff City and Stoke City but his club scoring form hasn't translated to international play, with only 10 goals in 60 career caps.
For the US there are a few key points that I'm looking for in this game:
Brad Davis is nursing a injury and will likely be kept out as a precaution, which leaves Alejandro Bedoya, who started against Azerbaijan, as the most likely replacement. Surely Mix Diskerud and Julian Green could cover as well, but I'd still like to see Fabian Johnson get at least a half at his best position.
I know that would give Klinsmann a hole at right back that isn't easily plugged, but coming off a tremendous performance against Turkey where he scored the opener it's not the worst idea I've ever had.
SIMPLIFY THE MIDFIELD
I think Klinsmann is trying to hard with the diamond midfield. He even says that tactics and formations are overrated and what matters are the players supporting one and other on the field from their positions.
Well, then make the formations and positions easier for everyone to play. Michael Bradley is great box-to-box but perhaps isn't best suited at the top of the diamond. Bradley's almost better sitting back and carrying the ball forward with one of his trademark 30-40 yard dribbling runs and distributing off those. Jermaine Jones is a good center midfielder but a lousy partner with Bradley, Kyle Beckerman would act as the true number six and stay back and distribute allowing Bradley to go forward.
LET THE FULLBACKS OVERLAP
Players like Graham Zusi and Davis are natural wide players, but by staying wide it prevents fullbacks like DaMarcus Beasley, Johnson, Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin to get forward and wreck havoc on the flanks. The US wingers should be able to cut in from time to time, giving the fullbacks space to occupy on the attack.
This will also give Jozy Altidore more targets to find up front when he's holding up the ball. I love the work that Jozy's been putting in to keep possession but too often I don't think he has as many options to play the ball too. Getting the fullbacks more involved in the attack will benefit everyone. DeAndre Yedlin put in a solid defensive shift over 26 minutes against Turkey (no, really, he did, 10 combined tackles, interceptions, etc.) but never even attempted a pass in the attacking half, which is really what he's best at and Timmy Chandler had just two unsuccessful crosses in the final third.
Yes, the US was trying to protect a lead, some of their best attacks come from the fullbacks. See, Johnson's goal. Even with the USA winning, getting the fullbacks forward more will unlock more opportunities for the rest of the team and I'm not sure that's been happening that well in the US diamond midfield.
Aside from that, I would expect more of the same from Klinsmann. Many of the usual starters going 90 minutes and lots of subs in the second half. With Davis likely out, it'd would be a great opportunity for Green to get some minutes against a World Cup opponent and cause a little trouble late in the game.
It would also be nice to see Altidore get on the scoresheet and boost his confidence going into Brazil. It's not that he's playing badly but he's expected to score or at the very least create more chances directly playing up front. And with a strike partner in Clint Dempsey that should, in theory, be easier.
USA-Nigeria kicks off at 6PM EST on ESPN.