Film Focus: USMNT's Attacking Issues Evident in Victory over Azerbaijan

Phil Keidel@@PhilKeidelContributor IIMay 29, 2014


The United States men's national team hosted Azerbaijan in a friendly at San Francisco's venerable Candlestick Park on Tuesday. The visitors perhaps took the meaning of "friendly" too literally.

Ranked 85th in the world entering the match, Berti Vogts' Azerbaijan side played as much not to lose badly as they ever did to win.

The final match statistics were a harsh indictment of Vogts' team. The Americans had the ball 70 percent of the time and took 21 shots at Kamran Agayev's goal (seven on target, two of them goals).

Still, with the Americans unable to open up Azerbaijan in a scoreless first half, questions about the home side's ability to score without the deposed Landon Donovan and the injured Clint Dempsey were unavoidable.

And fair or not, those questions centered on Dempsey's last-minute replacement, Chris Wondolowski, who, per Leander Schaerlaekens of Fox Soccer, "possesses no great identifiable skill other than putting the ball into the net."

Schaerlaekens hit Wondolowski with more damning faint praise, further noting that because the 31-year-old's game lacks one awe-inspiring talent, it can be "hard to tell what it is exactly that makes Wondolowski any good."

"Wondo" did little to silence the doubters with his performance against Azerbaijan.

In fairness, it takes significant talent to get that wide open twice against any national team. Unfortunately for Wondolowski, his two gilt-edged chances went for naught because each one lacked either power or accuracy.

Wondolowski's diving header in the fourth minute was hit with more than sufficient pace to find the twine, but no amount of pace will allow a ball to pass through a goalkeeper's kneecap.

His neck-snapping header in the 15th minute had the top shelf picked out, but this time the pace was not there and Agayev pushed it over the bar.

It took the Americans half an hour into the second half to find the net, and when they finally did so it came from about as scruffy and ugly a play as you could imagine:

Mikkel Diskerud, temporary steward of the USMNT No. 10 shirt, poked home a rebound of Michael Bradley's wild penalty area slash to open the scoring and release a lot of pent-up tension in the San Francisco night.

The good news from an American standpoint is that they created havoc in the box again from a set piece. By the time Diskerud gets to the rebound and hammers it home, four Azerbaijan defenders and Agayev were prone and basically out of the play.

But you are terribly unlikely to see Ghana or Portugal defend like that, and it is not wild conjecture to say that you would never see Germany look so hapless.

Adding a pinch of salt to Wondolowski's wounded ego was the goal scored by the man who replaced him in this match.

Aron Johannsson surely enjoyed banging home what looked like a training ground header in the 81st minute. Note again the stanchion-like poses of the Azerbaijan defenders, who could be accused of ball-watching on this play if any of them had been paying attention.

It bears noting, though, that Brad Davis' corner kick was well-placed, and for an American side that projects to have difficulty scoring goals in open play against World Cup opposition, set piece proficiency will be required.

American coach Jurgen Klinsmann would never admit it, but striker Jozy Altidore's quiet 90-plus minutes cannot be encouraging. Yes, Altidore drew seven fouls, but he managed only two shots and neither one hit the target.

The Americans are not strong enough offensively to rely on the Diskeruds and Johannssons on the roster to produce the goals needed to survive the group stage. A healthy Dempsey will surely make a difference, and so would an effective Altidore.

According to's match report, the Americans were "heavy legged" in this 2-0 win. "The Americans began their intense two-week training camp May 14 at nearby Stanford University, and there appeared to be tired legs," noted the report.

On this performance, maybe Klinsmann should consider backing off a bit.