The first of USA’s three World Cup 2014 warm-up matches sees minnows Azerbaijan take to Candlestick Park in what’s set to be a routine day in the office for the men's national team in San Francisco.
It will be the first game that they will be without the MLS’ highest all-time goalscorer and all-round American soccer legend Landon Donovan, after he was left off of Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster.
The German coach has a lot to prove following his controversial decision to leave Donovan at home, but there are few better teams to do that against than Azerbaijan.
Ranked 85th in the FIFA world rankings, a whole 71 places below USA, Azerbaijan will pose very little threat on Wednesday evening in what looks like a tune-up game for the States.
According to SoccerWay, Azerbaijan have won just four of their last 16 international matches, with those victories coming against sides at the bottom of the FIFA ladder.
USA are enduring a similarly poor spell of late, though, with just one win in their last five matches—a statistic that desperately needs changing with the daunting task of Group G facing them.
However, Klinsmann insists now that his final 23-man squad has been decided (did we mention that Donovan hasn’t made the cut?), his players’ focus will be restored, USSoccer reported:
It’s an exciting moment when you have narrowed the roster down as a coaching staff, and these 23 players that you’ve chosen can focus now purely on Brazil. We can go into more specific things about technical approaches, and about the opponents. For the players, it’s very important to know that they are now part of it and they can relax and know they are on the list going to Brazil and taking it from there.
With friendlies against Turkey and Nigeria to come, it’s likely that USA will head into the World Cup on a three-match winning streak. But anything other than that will see Klinsmann bombarded with Donovan-related criticism.
However, if Chris Wondolowski and Jozy Altidore can find form, then the German will be called a genius for his ruthless actions.
With his preferred formation leaving a solo striker up front, the brute force of Altidore and Wondolowski against teams with ferocious back lines, such as the Germans and the Ghanaians, could prove more effective than the silky approach of Donovan.
Again, life isn't fair and soccer isn't fair. A WC roster isn't about form, merit or history. It's simply a coach's preference.— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) May 22, 2014
Klinsmann will likely use Wednesday’s match as a means of getting his strikers among the goals to breed confidence through the front line with an emphatic scoreline projected.
Anything other than a thrashing will certainly be a shock—especially against an Azerbaijan side that haven’t won an international match away since November 2011, but you never know with soccer.
Just imagine, though, Azerbaijan achieve the unachievable and get a result in San Francisco. What’s next for Klinsmann?
The belief, confidence and faith of the players will take a major hit, while those fans that still worship the German’s name after Donovan-gate will have to rethink their strategies.
Klinsmann needs to get it tactically perfect to spare embarrassment; but, luckily, the USA stars that did make the World Cup roster should have enough quality in them to see off the Azerbaijani challenge.
Prediction: USA 3-0 Azerbaijan