After all of the qualifiers, roser shenanigans, and grueling training camp days, Tuesday night marked the beginning of the journey for the U.S. Men’s national team. Finally, all of the hype, excitement, and drama were put to rest in favor of live football action.
The U.S. opened the Send-off Series against 85th ranked Azerbaijan on a chilly night in San Francisco. Manager Jugen Klinsmann, competing in his greenhorn World Cup, deployed his best eleven for the match; however, captain Clint Dempsey was scratched just prior to kickoff as a precautionary measure, for Dempsey did not want to aggravate his injured groin. The consensus among reports was that Dempsey will likely feature Sunday against Turkey. Klinsmann played in-form striker Chris Wondolowski, who has scored nine goals in his last twelve caps, alongside striker Jozy Altidore(who, in contrast, has scored just one Barclays Premier League goal for Sunderland this season).
The game started on the front foot for team USA, as Chris Wondolowski created a golden chance of a set piece four minutes in. The Kansas City striker headed the ball straight to the Azeri keeper, wasting the chance. As the game progressed, the tempo slowed dramatically: Azerbaijan stood all eleven players back behind the ball to defend, making life difficult for the Americans. Ironically, the team facing the US Tuesday night resembles nothing like the ones awaiting them in June. Both Portugal and Germany will present relentless strike forces, and will force the US on the back foot; in contrast, Azerbaijan stayed defensive, aware of the the difference in quality between the sides.
After going into halftime scoreless, the two sides revved the engines with three substitutes each. For the US, Omar Gonzalez replaced Geoff Cameron in central defense, and was able to test his reconstructed right knee. Timothy Chandler replaced DeMarcus Beasley at wing back, and Brad Davis entered for Graham Zusi. Davis lit a spark under the team with some excellent balls off of corners, ultimately creating the first goal. Substitute Mix Diskerud scored off of one of the corners, while Aaron Johansson headed home the second goal(albeit with acres of space around him).
The second half team gave Klinsmann plenty to ponder after opening up the Azeri wall. The excitement has already begun, and sensation has yet to even feature.
Photo: USA Today