Final tune ups before a World Cup should be about answering the long list of questions that have slowly been building since early on in qualifying. Can Jozy score enough goals? Just what formation will the USMNT play anyway? Etc. Saturday’s game in Jacksonville did that. Well. Sort of. Some questions were answered during the 2-1 victory over Nigeria — thanks from breaking out of that slump Jozy! — but more cropped up.
Will the backline be able to hold up against a talented, pressing team in the waning minutes of a game? Is THAT really the lineup and formation we’ll see against Ghana? Does that mean Kyle Beckerman will be a World Cup starter from Day One?
We can try to answer those questions, but “God, I hope so,” “probably” and “looks like it” are not exactly the most convincing answers. What was convincing was the play of the United States midfield in the first half. It gave hope that Jürgen Klinsmann’s constant tactical tinkering might finally pay off.
Also convincing was the fact that, however unconvincing it seemed at times, the USMNT will go into Brazil on the back of three send-off victories. Three wins are three wins, but it might mean good things, but it might also mean nothing. There we go again, more questions.
Steve Fogarty and I watched and graded the match. All grades are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best and 1 being reserved for the rest of the professional sports that happen in Jacksonville.
Tim Howard: 7
The US No. 1 didn’t have much to do throughout the night but answered the bell when called upon, including a nice save late and a good punch to clear a dangerous ball across the face of goal. Can’t fault any goalkeeper for not saving a penalty, though he did have one weird moment when he went out to a ball near the top of the box and used his body like pinball paddle to knock the ball away when he appeared to have the time and space to collect, but that’s just nitpicking.
Fabian Johnson: 7.5
For me at least, no player has gone from totally uninspiring to a source of constant optimism quite like Johnson (it’s safe to drop his first name now that EJ is home for a while) but it is refreshing. Could be one of the best players on this team in Brazil and continues to make dangerous runs from his right back spot, picking out Altidore for his first goal in this game. Could have been better defensively, but I’m not TOO worried about that from him.
Geoff Cameron: 7
It appears that it will be Cameron in the middle to start the World Cup at least. He’s been… fine? Not much to say about his performance overall. Stood his ground when the US was under limited pressure through the middle — Nigeria’s wingers were far more dangerous in the early going — and got his head to one ball off a set piece at some point. It’s up to him to provide that aerial threat out of the back that Omar Gonzalez/Clarence Goodson usual take on, but it hasn’t completely been there in the past few games.
Matt Besler: 7
Looked much better with DaMarcus Beasley on his left than with Timmy Chandler, as Taylor Twellman repeatedly informed us. Continues to be the most solid defender in the backline and while he did give away a late penalty, responsibility there probably falls more on Gonzalez.
DaMarcus Beasley: 8
Still has dynamic recovery speed and was a force getting into the opponents penalty area against Nigeria. Will need to do a little more defensively in man-to-man situations against Portugal and Germany, but clearly an improvement over Chandler. Secured his status as the starting left back.
Kyle Beckerman: 6.5
A surprising start, but continued to assert himself a stabilizing force in the adjusted US formation. His usual tight passing was a little astray in Jacksonville however, but made some good interceptions and calmed the game down at times. And by calm the game down, I mean he got the ball quickly to Michael Bradley
Jermaine Jones: 7.5
At some point during the first half, someone on Twitter with a far smarter tactical mind than I could ever have (I would give credit here, but I honestly don’t remember who) referred to Jones’ position as a “narrow winger.” That is beyond terrifying. Yet, despite his unorthodox positioning, the Beşiktaş man played well. He dropped back as cover when necessary and even managed to get forward in a somewhat positive fashion. It’s not his best position, but he played well enough that the formation is very much in play for Ghana.
Alejandro Bedoya: 7
As the only true wide player on the field for much of his time in the game, Bedoya had a lot to do. He handled the responsibility well, attacking Nigeria early and often, playing a key role in setting up the first goal. He also took charge of corners and — while not perfect — most of his balls in we better than the supposed crossing maven he replaced in the lineup (sort of), Graham Zusi. That said, he did fade after the goal and needs to maintain two-way effort throughout to stay on the pitch.
Michael Bradley: 8.5
Bradley’s first half was, as I eloquently described at the time, “meh.” After the break he was a man possessed and ran everything for the USMNT. For this squad to make any noise in Brazil that is the minimum performance he’ll need from whistle to whistle. Honestly, I’d bet on that happening.
Clint Dempsey: 6.5
Deuce just wasn’t great. I think he’s better with more freedom — not that his pairing with Jozy is exactly restricting him — but Jozy was freed, so there are few complaints. I’m not worried about the captain in the least.
Jozy Altidore: 9
There you go, Jozy! The first goal was the type that must have made Brek Shea and Chris Wondolowski proud, but they all count the same and no matter what he says, Altidore needed the confidence. You could see the confidence on full display with the second, which was a proper strikers goal. This formation seemed to require a little less hold up play from the big man as the quick breaks came from further back, but he continues to put in good work there when asked.
Timothy Chandler: 5.5
I didn’t see his early performances but it seems to be consensus that Beasley outperformed him. Looked OK when he came on — enough that in a pinch I’m not particularly worried — but nothing to write home about.
Omar Gonzalez: 2
Oh, Omar. How the mighty have fallen. Awful in this game as part of a strange three centreback alignment, misplaying the ball and forcing Besler to concede a penalty. Crushing a clinched World Cup qualification Bud Light looks like it might be his best moment of this cycle, but I’m ready to be proven wrong if it comes to it. I hope it doesn’t come to it, though.
Mix Diskerud: 6
Seeing someone other than Landon Donovan wearing the No. 10 jersey is weird, though it should look good on the Norwegian for the next decade or so. That was my biggest takeaway from Mix’s performance, honestly, but he did nothing to make me think he won’t be a vital sub in Brazil.
Graham Zusi: 5.5
Stripped of his starting spot, Zusi seemed flustered in his minutes, sending in a horrendous corner as perhaps his only memorable moment. You could see the stress about his World Cup place playing out in just how tightly he pulled back his ponytail.
Chris Wondolowski: N/A
If Aron Jóhannsson is healthy and up to acceptable fitness levels this might be the last time we saw Wondo play any role for the USMNT. Who knows though, he could get a chance to poach an important goal or two yet!