SANDY, Utah - The United States Men’s National Team will face Azerbaijan tonight in a friendly match at the iconic Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif. The match kicks at 8:00 p.m. MT and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
Tonight’s game is the first of three matches in the United States’ “Send-Off Series” and the first contest since U.S. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann named his final 23-man World Cup roster last Thursday. After Azerbaijan, the U.S. is set to take on Turkey on June 1 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. and face Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, FL. The U.S. squad will then head to Brazil to face Ghana on June 16 in its first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Real Salt Lake Captain Kyle Beckerman and GK Nick Rimando were named to Klinsmann’s final roster last week. This will be the first World Cup experience for both RSL veterans. Beckerman has 35 career caps with the United States. Beckerman has started two of the USMNT’s three matches this year, playing a total of 161 minutes in friendlies against Korea Republic and Mexico. He appeared in ten matches – including nine starts – for the U.S. in 2013, notching two assists for the Stars-and-Stripes last calendar year.
Rimando has 14 career caps with the U.S senior team. Like Beckerman, Rimando also has two starts for the USMNT this year, playing the full 90 in the team’s win over Korea Republic and draw with Mexico. The 34-year-old ‘keeper had six appearances with the USMNT in 2013, posting a perfect 6-0-0 record, registering two shutouts, allowing just four goals and helping lead the team to its CONCACAF Gold Cup crown.
A lot of questions surround how Klinsmann will deploy his chosen players after U.S. all-time leading scorer and three World Cup participant Landon Donovan was excluded from the final roster. Other notable omissions were Seattle Sounders DF Brad Evans, who played a large role in U.S. qualification, San Jose DF Clarence Goodson, Philadelphia Union MF Maurice Edu and Columbus Crew DF Michael Parkhurst. The German coach was not afraid to inject a bit of youth into the final squad, including 18-year-old Bayern Munich (Germany) MF Julian Green and 20-year-old Seattle Sounders FC DF DeAndre Yedlin in the trip to Brazil.
Klinsmann has remarked that tonight’s lineup against Azerbaijan will closely resemble what he has in store when the U.S. faces Ghana in what is arguably the Americans’ most important group stage match. With that said, tonight’s lineup and formation might offer a glimpse at what role Klinsmann has for MF Kyle Beckerman, whose status as a starting player is likely to be dependent on the tactical formation that is deployed. Rimando will not likely see any playing time while in Brazil. The RSL veteran ‘keeper sits behind likely starter GK Tim Howard who plays for English club Everton and GK Brad Guzan who plays for Aston Villa in England.
One of the biggest questions surrounding tonight’s match is how the U.S. backline will look – easily the Americans’ biggest weakness heading into Brazil. It was reported from U.S. training camp at Stanford that the U.S. Manager had been experimenting with the back four and that multiple players were training at different spots. Hoffenheim (Germany) DF/MF Fabian Johnson reported that he had spent most of training at right back while center back Matt Besler remarked that he had been paired with three different center backs including LA Galaxy DF Omar Gonzalez, Stoke City (England) DF/MF Geoff Cameron and Hertha BSC (Germany) DF John Anthony Brooks.
The “Send-Off Series” will provide the U.S. with three competitive situations to experiment and tinker with lineups and formations in the hopes of figuring out what will be the most effective strategy when the U.S. faces the “Group of Death” starting with Ghana on June 16. It will also provide the players a chance to make their case to earn a starting role in the most popular and prestigious soccer event in the World. And it all starts tonight.