U.S. bombards Azerbaijan
But what did we learn?
Honestly, not a lot.
Before we get to that though, let’s start with the positive. After 15 years of trying, America finally earned its Scout’s merit badge for successfully pounding a stubborn Central Asian nation into submission this week, rolling over a lightly armed Azerbaijani squad by a score of 2-0.
We scored! They didn’t!
Yes, all that is true, but this was the first of three “friendly” games intended to prepare the USMNT for next month’s World Cup, meaning that winning actually took a backseat to two things: Objective 1 was to give our starting 11 players — or “best XI” in clever soccer parlance – some precious time to play together against a real opponent, and Objective 2 was to answer a few lingering questions about who will round out the starting squad and/or be the first players off the bench.
On Objective 1, the game was a bit of a disaster.
For starters, the U.S. team’s most dynamic player and by far its most accomplished white rapper
Clint Dempsey, tweaked a groin during pregame warm-ups and was held out as a precaution.
Speaking as someone who’s been playing this sport since before I stopped shitting in my Huggies, the importance of time together in a game situation cannot be overstated. Knowing where your teammates will be or when and where they will be make a run without needing to look is a fundamental ingredient to success, but is only achieved through time spent playing with one another.
Just look at Spain. One reason they have won the last three major tournaments running — two European championships sandwiched around the 2010 World Cup – and are ranked #1 in the world is because much of the team has been playing with one another at Real Madrid or Barcelona since even before they began playing with themselves.
Thus, Dempsey missed out on 90 minutes (or perhaps more, depending on the extent of the injury, which Coach Jurgen Klinnsman later called “not serious at all”) that could have been spent gelling with teammates, particularly fellow striker Jozy Altidore and midfielder Michael Bradley.
A second problem was the opponent. Azerbaijan is ranked 85th in the world — just ahead of Uganda and behind the dingleberry hanging off the north end of Ireland — and spent the entire game cowering in a defensive shell.
Mommy, make the bad man stop!
From a quality and stylistic perspective, Azerbaijan was about as useful to the USMNT’s preparation for the World Cup as slathering Preparation H all over is for curing cancer (hint: it’s not… not even ass cancer). The team was drawn into Group G with Germany (#2 in the world), Portugal (#3) and Ghana (#38). All three teams play fast, aggressive soccer that at times may even leave the U.S. (#14) wanting to curl into a turtle, and at the very least will force us stick to a more defensive, counter-attacking style.
Point being, yes, there are good reasons to play an Azerbaijan in the first tune-up – I mean, shit, the B1G Conference has used the same strategy in football for decades to avoid confidence-damaging [and bowl money-jeopardizing] losses early in the season – but it would have been nice to face a little pushback from, say, a Ball State-caliber opponent rather than a Southwestern Bemidji State School For Kids That Don’t Run So Good.
Heyyyyy, thathhh not very niiiiii-th