It was far from pretty, and didn’t exactly leave fans brimming with confidence about what lies ahead in Brazil, but the U.S. national team’s 2-0 win against Azerbaijan served its purpose in getting the U.S. team’s preparations off the ground after a tough two weeks of training camp.
The tougher tests await in the coming weeks, with Turkey and Nigeria offering significantly harder challenges for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, but the Azerbaijan match certainly provided a benefit. The visitors were defensively organized, and difficult to break down for a large part of the match, and while they didn’t exactly threaten offensively, they did give Klinsmann some useful information on his 23-man roster.
So what did we learn from Tuesday’s friendly? Here are some observations to take away from the 2-0 victory:
Jozy Altidore isn’t sharp yet, but there are reasons for optimism
He didn't score a goal, or set one up, but there was some positive to go with the negative regarding Atlidore.
Altidore was extremely active all night, drawing several fouls for free kicks and pestering the Azerbaijan for much of the night. His movement forced the defense to deal with him and created space for others.
And the bad? His touch let him down several times and he saw some promising scoring looks wasted. He still doesn't look anywhere as sharp as he did last summer, when he went on a record-setting scoring run, but he also isn't looking like a player who should be benched just yet.
Chris Wondolowski flubbed his lines, Johannsson did not.
It might seem unfair to give Altidore props for his work rate and criticize Wondolowski for not finishing his chances but the reality is without his normally-efficient finishing Wondoloeski will struggle to get on the field in Brazil.
Wondolowski had a golden opportunity to boost his stock with a goal or two in front of his home fans but the San Jose striker couldn't put away some very good looks.
Which brings us to Johannsson, who once again showed signs of being one of the more promising young players on the team. He is more technical than Wondolowski and can create his own shot. It is a safe bet Johannsson sees good minutes in Brazil, and he just might wind up a starter.
Brad Davis isn’t just making up the numbers.
One of the most surprising additions to the 23-man World Cup squad, Davis showed just why Klinsmann brought him in, delivering dangerous service both on free kicks and corner kicks.
If Davis can provide that sort or spark off the bench then he just might reward Klinsmann's faith, but it could be asking a lot to expect him to unseat Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya as starting wingers.
Chander vs. Beasley could come down to the wire.
What is the most unsettled position in the starting U.S. lineup? It looks to be left back, where DaMarcus Beasley and Timmy Chandler just might wind up locked in battle that won't be decided until the team is in Brazil.
Beasley looked steady and assured at right back, while Chandler looked a step faster, and more willing to jump into the attack. There wasn't enough in this match to suggest either has the edge yet, but for right now Beasley appears to be the starter.
The center back competition isn’t quite over yet
Geoff Cameron turned in a good 45 minute shift against Azerbaijan and looked comfortable at the position. Ironically enough, it was Matt Besler who looked a bit unsettled and below his usual high standard.
For his part, Omar Gonzalez was solid, and though he has fallen behind Cameron on the depth chart he shouldn't be ruled out as a potential starter. Klinsmann said the competition is still wide open so look for Gonzalez to get his chance to start in one of the upcoming Friendlies against Turkey and Nigeria.
Where was Julian Green?
The player whom most U.S. fans were most eager to see never took the field on Tuesday, delaying the scrutiny that is sure to come when the 19-year-old winger finally takes the field.
His absence does leave you wondering whether Klinsmann is simply trying to keep the pressure off him, or if maybe, just maybe, he hasn't been as impressive in camp as Klinsmann and some U.S. veterans have been saying.
If anything, the upcoming friendlies should offer Green an even better opportunity to impress. The competition will be tougher, the crowds will be bigger and pressure will be greater as the U.S. team moves closer to the World Cup.