After seven months without an international goal, Jozy Altidore has some momentum to take into Brazil. With goals in the 32nd and 68th minutes, the previously slumping United States international scored his first goals since World Cup qualifying in October, helping the U.S. complete a perfect send-off series with a 2-1 win over Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla.
Altidore opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark with a tap-in after a pass from Fabian Johnson left him with an empty goal. In the second half, a right-footed blast from 14 yards out saw Altidore beat Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama inside his right post, giving the Sunderland striker his 23rd international goal.
A 86th minute penalty conceded by Matt Besler allowed Victor Moses to score from the spot, preventing Tim Howard from keeping a clean sheet in his 100th international appearance. Over the full 90, however, the U.S. put in the most impressive performance of its send-off series, giving the team reason to belief it’s still improving ahead of its June 16th World Cup opener against Ghana.
Tweaking his lineup from last weekend’s win over Turkey, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya into midfield at the expense of Brad Davis and Graham Zusi. Combined with a switch in Clint Dempsey’s positioning, the U.S. was prepared to commit and extra man to the battle in the midfield. Altidore’s early work also portrayed a team committed to complicating Nigeria’s life in the middle third.
The moves left the visitors controlling possession but only generating corner kicks, with the U.S. playing on the counter. In the 32nd minute, the U.S.’s approach paid off when a quick movement down the right flank allowed Bedoya to find an on-rushing Johnson at the edge of the six-yard box. With a square ball between the goalkeeper and defense, the right back found Altidore running between Nigeria’s central defenders. The pass allowed Altidore to finish into an empty net – his first goal of 2014.
Through halftime, the Nigerians continued to control the ball, but most of the Super Eagles’ possession was mostly passive. The team didn’t register a shot on Howard until a speculative chance from Ogenyi Onazi in the 41st minute. By the 44th minute, however, Nigeria had finally come into the match, nearly scoring an equalizer when Efe Ambrose was left unmarked on a corner. While the U.S. made it to intermission with its one-goal lead, Nigeria reached the locker room with some positives.
Soon after returning to the field, Nigeria resumed its control of the ball, but the pressure the team generated at the end of the first half evaporated. Unchanged in its approach, the United States continued funneling play wide before frustrating its opponents, leaving the Super Eagles’ hopes resting on occasional corner kicks and dead ball chances. Through the hour-mark, Nigeria had generated only one good chance on goal.
In the 65th minute, after the U.S. began seeing more of the ball, a strong read from Enyeama was needed to keep the Nigerians in the match. Fed toward the edge of the penalty area by Bradley, Dempsey’s cut back on a Nigerian defender gave him an open look on goal. At the moment Dempsey shed his opponent, however, Enyeama came off his line, cutting down all of the U.S. captain’s angles.
Three minutes later, the pressure the U.S. had exerted since the 60th minute paid off, giving Altidore a two-goal performance to carry into Brazil. In transition, a diagonal from Bradley left Altidore one-on-one against Ambrose. Allowed to cut back onto his right foot, Altidore beat Enyeama with a shot inside the near post, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Frustrated, perhaps fatigued, the passive control Nigeria had experienced to wane. The U.S. was winning possession more often, proving more dangerous on the counter when they did. In the 79th minute, a pass rolled behind the defense by Altidore saw Dempsey again denied by Enyeama, who smothered a through ball just inside the penalty box.
Moments later, Howard had to sprint off his own line to scoop up a Nigeria ball. Then, in the 84th minute, a lapse in defense allowed Emmanuel Emenike to get behind Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, forcing Howard to absorb a shot to keep his clean sheet. Though the U.S. proved more dangerous in the match’s final half-hour, the same late uncertainties that emerged against Turkey were present in Jacksonville.
Ultimately, just as they did against the Turks in Harrison, N.J., the U.S. gave up a late penalty kick that halved the score. Sending his fellow Premier League player the wrong way, Victor Moses beat Howard inside his left post, making it 2-1 after Matt Besler conceded the chance from the spot.
Controlling most of the game’s final minutes, the U.S. eventually completed its first perfect send-off series, scoring six times while conceding twice in its three games before Brazil. Now, however, the games start to count. In nine days, the U.S. kicks off its 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where a Ghanaian team that’s eliminated the U.S. from the last two finals will prove a greater challenge.
United States: Tim Howard; Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley (Timothy Chandler 75′); Kyle Beckerman (Mix Diskerud 72′), Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya (Graham Zusi 60′); Clint Dempsey (Chris Wondolowski 88′), Jozy Altidore (Omar Gonzalez 80′)
Goals: Altidore 32′, 68′
Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama; Juwon Oshaniwa, Joseph Yobo, Godfrey Oboabona, Efe Ambrose; Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi-Mikel (Gabriel Reuben 46′), Ramon Azeez (Michael Uchebo 74′), Peter Odemwingie (Michel Babatunde 46′); Shola Ameobi (Emmanuel Emenike 65′)
Goals: Moses 86′