USA vs. Nigeria
Saturday, June 7, 2014, 6 pm ET
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Watch on ESPN, Watch ESPN, Univision
Third time’s a charm, right?
At least that’s what Jurgen Klinsmann and the US national team are hoping when it comes to Saturday’s friendly against Nigeria – the Yanks’ final World Cup tune-up in the States before they head to Brazil.
And while the USMNT have pulled out two victories in their first “Send-Off Series” competitions – against Azerbaijan and Turkey – they haven’t quite put in a complete performance. At the very least, plenty of worry still surrounds the squad as they prepare to face the best the world has to offer in dreaded Group G.
The common refrain from pundits and analysts of “Once they get to Brazil…” persists, meaning the mistakes being made won’t go unpunished as they have against the likes of Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Nigeria, ranked 45th in the latest FIFA rankings and the only tournament-bound team the US will face before departing (they’ll play a closed-door scrimmage against Belgium in São Paulo), may not even provide as tough a test as 38th-ranked Turkey did. But hopeful to escape a Group F that also consists of Iran, Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina, Nigeria will also be putting the final touches on things as this friendly is also their final warm-up before Brazil, so that should add to the match’s urgency.
This is only the second meeting between the two countries, the first being a 3-2 US victory June 11, 1995, in Foxborough, Mass. The USMNT overcame a one-goal deficit twice in the game and got goals from John Harkes, Marcelo Balboa and Cobi Jones, who netted the game-winner in the 87th minute.
Berti Vogts, the USMNT’s special advisor through the 2014 FIFA World Cup, coached Nigeria from 2007-08.
The Stars and Stripes left a lot to be desired in their first two “Send-Off Series” friendlies.
Against Azerbaijan, it was an overwhelmingly uninspired effort in a 2-0 victory against an overmatched side – perhaps to be chalked up to tired legs fresh off a physically demanding camp. And against Turkey, despite a 2-1 victory, the US were just plain outplayed for much of the match – with Turkey dominating in shots (23-8) and possession (57 percent).
This time out, expect Klinsmann to attempt to shore up many of the questions raised during their first two matches.
Is the 4-4-2 diamond formation right for the squad’s personnel? With it seemingly too late to turn back on it now, look for adjustments to be made surrounding the amount of space and time it lent to Turkey’s attack.
Are there still some starting positions in question?
Can striker Jozy Altidore be considered Klinsmann’s top choice alongside Clint Dempsey up top, considering his current goal drought? Or will players like Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson get a final prolonged look?
There are high hopes for the Africa Cup of Nations champion Super Eagles.
Head coach Stephen Keshi, who MLS fans will note left Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins out of his Brazil-bound group, has plenty of attacking firepower at his disposal.
Nigeria are coming off two draws in their first two World Cup tune-ups – a 2-2 decision on May 28 with Ireland and a scoreless draw on Tuesday against World Cup-bound Greece.
Forward Shola Ameobi said he expects the match against the Americans to be “volatile” as both sides search for their best form with the World Cup just more than a week away.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Jozy Altidore
If the big striker is, indeed, not right heading into the tournament, then a big box Klinsmann likely hopes to check before the big trip south is restoring Altidore’s confidence. He missed, or passed up on, a number of chances against Turkey, only serving to turn up the volume on the questions surrounding his mindset. He said after the game he’s not suffering in confidence, but getting his first goal in a USMNT shirt since October of last year sure would be a big weight lifted ahead of the plane to Brazil.
NIGERIA – John Mikel Obi
He’s just the type of world-class playmaker the US will see plenty of in Brazil. His strength, balance and vision will be a big test for not only Michael Bradley and Jones in the middle of the park but his ability to unlock attackers will keep the backline players on their toes.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg/Germany), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/Germany), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas/Turkey), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
GOALKEEPERS (4): Vincent Enyeama (Lille/France), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva/Israel), Daniel Akpeyi (Warri Wolves/Nigeria), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United/Nigeria)
DEFENDERS (8): Elderson Echiejile (AS Monaco/France), Efe Ambrose (Celtic/Scotland), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor/Turkey), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves/Nigeria), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough/England), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod/Israel), Joseph Yobo (Norwich City/England), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars/Nigeria)
MIDFIELDERS (10): John Mikel Obi (Chelsea/England), Ramon Azeez (Almeria/Spain), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio/Italy), Joel Obi (Parma/Italy), Nnamdi Oduamadi (Varese/Italy), Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers/Nigeria), Nosa Igiebor (Real Betis/Spain), Sunday Mba (Bastia/France), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren/Belgium), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk/Ukraine)
FORWARDS (8): Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow/Russia), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United/England), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahçe/Turkey), Obinna Nsofor (Chievo Verona/Italy), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City/England), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge/Belgium), Victor Moses (Liverpool/England), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen/Netherlands)