Jozy Altidore's first goals of 2014, for club or country, made the difference as the U.S. national team completed its World Cup send-off series with a 2-1 win against Nigeria.JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If Jurgen Klinsmann went into Saturday's friendly against Nigeria with a checklist of things he would like to see, most of the things on that list would have been checked off.
See the starting defense play a solid match? Check. Find a midfield combination that could create chances while also supporting the back line? Check. Get Jozy Altidore his first goal of 2014? Check.
Saturday's friendly went about as well as Klinsmann could have hoped for. Facing a tough Nigeria side, the U.S. team trotted out a new system and midfield combination and it worked well. Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman partnered in the midfield, helping the Americans neutralize Nigeria's attack on their way to a 2-1 victory in front of 52,033 at EverBank Field.
Altidore scored his first goal in 27 combined matches between Sunderland and the United States, when he tapped home a Fabian Johnson pass that capped a beautiful passing sequence for the Americans. Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya combined on a sequence that eventually found Johnson, who set up Altidore at the doorstep for a 31st-minute finish.
Altidore's second goal was much more difficult, and much more impressive. Bradley slid in a pass to Altidore in the area, and Altidore muscled off his mark before unleashing a right-footed blast past Vincent Enyeama in the 68th minute.
"It took us a while to get into the game, but after 25 minutes it started feeling better," Altidore said of his team's performance. "It can always be better but I thought we created enough chances today."
"I felt fine before, I feel fine now," Altidore said of his goal-scoring drought. "The most important thing is how we perform, and going into a tournament like this we want to make sure we're performing at a level where we give ourselves a good chance. I think we're going to do that."
A Victor Moses penalty kick in the 86th minute was all Nigeria could muster, with Moses drawing the penalty before beating Howard on the spot kick attempt.
The penalty kick spoiled Howard's chance for a shutout, but did not prevent him from making his 100th national team appearance. Howard became just the 15th U.S. player to reach the century mark.
Klinsmann's new-look midfield worked very well, with Jones turning in an outstanding match, as did Bradley, who had more freedom to support the attack. Beckerman stationed himself in front of the defense, while Jones had the freedom to alternate between the attack and supporting the defense.
That freedom worked well against a Nigeria side that showed some tired legs after having played fellow World Cup participant Greece to a 0-0 tie on Tuesday at PPL Park. The African champions still boasted a lineup featuring John Obi Mike, Ogenyi Onazi, Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie, but never could mount a consistent threat, or find many chances against an organized U.S. defense.
The victory improved the U.S. to 3-0 during the World Cup send-off series, marking the first time the U.S. team has completed a send-off series with a perfect record.