After months of speculation, the USMNT has announced that they will play a three game send off series against Azerbaijan, Turkey and then Nigeria before jettisoning off to the 2014 World Cup. This series is nothing short of a disappointment for the USMNT, and certainly could come back to bite it big time.
With all due respect to the three teams that the USMNT will be facing off against, none should stand a serious threat in a competitive match. Out of the three, only Nigeria is even participating at the 2014 World Cup, and none are ranked higher than 42nd in the most recent FIFA World rankings. While in a meaningless friendly this would be acceptable, it goes against everything that USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsamnn stands for, and for all that the team should be doing on preparation for the biggest event in world football.
In recent years, Klinsmann has made it known that he wants all of his players to be featuring over in Europe as part of the best leagues in the world, and has taken this philosophy into playing top national teams in international friendlies along the way. Since the manager took over in 2011, the nation has taken on France, Italy, Brazil, Russia, Belgium, Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who are all amongst the top national teams in the world and will all be featured at the 2014 World Cup. The reasoning behind staging these matches was that you can only get better by playing the best, which has proven an effective strategy.
There is obviously the issue of wanting to give core players like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones a chance to jell together and gain form before playing in the 2014 World Cup, but you still have to challenge the players. The likes of England and Spain are amongst the many teams looking to set up a pre-World Cup training camp in the U.S., and would have given the USMNT a much more realistic showing than they will now receive. Setting up one cupcake match before playing teams like this would be a good strategy to gain fitness, and then realistically gauge how they will stack up in Brazil.
While a poor slate of 2014 World Cup preparation matches doesn’t mean that the USMNT will automatically falter come group stage play, it will certainly make it much more difficult to deal with the big step up that will come when they play Ghana, Portugal and Germany. And if they come out losers in each of these three matches, there will be some serious head-scratching to do by Klinsmann and the rest of the powers that be in scheduling USMNT matches.