On Tuesday, the United States men's national team will take on Azerbaijan in the first of three warm-up matches before the team departs for Brazil. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. ET.
With the U.S. set to take on Ghana, Portugal and Germany in the group stage of the World Cup, there are several things the team will need to improve on to stand a chance.
Don't get caught ball-watching
One of the biggest question marks heading into Brazil for the U.S. is its back line. Other than DaMarcus Beasley, no one on the U.S. back line is an experienced international: Geoff Cameron has 24 caps, Fabian Johnson has 19 (many in the midfield), Omar Gonzalez has 18, Matt Besler has 14, Timmy Chandler has 10, John Anthony Brooks has three and DeAndre Yedlin has two.
While Omar Gonzalez's recent knee injury may keep him out of the match against Azerbaijan, he has provided some recent examples of how important it is for the U.S. defenders to maintain constant focus.
Against Mexico last month in a 2-2 draw, Gonzalez was caught ball-watching on the Mexican equalizer and allowed his man to get in behind for an open shot to tie the match. To U.S. fans who watched the World Cup qualifier against Honduras in February, this sequence will seem eerily familiar.
In the first screen shot, you can see Gonzalez marking Alan Pulido moments before the goal. In the second, Pulido has snuck in behind to score.
Don't leave Jozy on an island
One of the criticisms of the U.S. when it lines up in a 4-2-3-1 is the lack of support for the solo striker—usually Jozy Altidore.
In this screen shot of the match against Ukraine, you can see how Jozy has no one in support closer than 20 yards.
If the U.S. is to be successful against Azerbaijan and, more importantly, Ghana, Portugal and Germany, it will have to provide support to Altidore when he's playing the role as a single striker. If Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya (or whoever the U.S. starters are in the attacking-midfield roles) can't get up to support Altidore when he receives the ball, the U.S. will have little chance of putting together any sort of productive attack.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones must be equal partners
If Klinsmann deploys a system with two No. 6's—as he did for much of World Cup qualifying—the U.S. must get Michael Bradley into the attack if it is to be successful. Bradley and Jones are clearly Klinsmann's two favored midfielders. However, when partnered together, Jones' forays into the attack often force Bradley to stay home and protect the back line and limit his ability to get forward.
When Bradley has been paired with a true defensive midfielder (in a system with two central midfielders) under Klinsmann, Bradley has two goals and four assists. His partners in those games were Danny Williams, Maurice Edu, Geoff Cameron, Kyle Beckerman and Sacha Kljestan (admittedly, Kljestan is not a defensive midfielder).
When partnered with Jermaine Jones in a system with two central midfielders, Bradley has zero goals and zero assists.
Here is a picture of Michael Bradley's heat map when partnered with Jones against Honduras last June.
And here is a picture of Michael Bradley's heat map when partnered with Beckerman against Mexico in April.
For most of Jones' career, he has been used as a holding midfielder. If the U.S. is going to be successful with a Bradley-Jones partnership, Jones must be willing to do his defensive part, sit back at times and allow Bradley to get into the attack.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran
Follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/AmericanTouchline