With all due respect to my colleague, Tyler Leli, who believes the U.S. Men’s National Team‘s send off series fails its main purpose, I will respectfully disagree with him. The three games the team will play before leaving for Brazil to participate in the 2014 World Cup will serve their purpose and do exactly what they need to do.
By the time May rolls around, the time for preparing for the World Cup by competing against the best in the world is over. The U.S. has done well to schedule as many quality teams as possible over the past two years, but immediately before the World Cup, especially with the teams the Americans will play during the group stage, is not the time to be doing that.
The send off series is about building team cohesion, chemistry, and confidence. It’s the equivalent to the pre-conference schedule in college basketball, when a majority of a team’s opponents are weaker, allowing the stronger side to pick out areas where they need to improve while still gelling as a team and building up confidence with wins. There’s a reason why teams like Spain are still looking for pre-World Cup opponents. It’s because nobody wants to play a team right before the World Cup that’s going to dominate possession against them and control the flow of the game.
Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. need to slowly build toward its Group of Death schedule in Brazil, and that’s what the send off series will do for them. Admittedly, Azerbaijan isn’t a difficult opponent, but playing them first should allow the Americans to dominate possession and gain confidence being pro-active and taking the game to their opponents, which is what they’ll need to do during the World Cup. Turkey, while not a World Cup-caliber opponent, is a good step up in competition from Azerbaijan.
Finally, Nigeria is the perfect team for the U.S. to play right before their critical opening match against Ghana. The Americans have traditionally struggled against African teams, and playing a talented side like Nigeria, who boasts similarities to Ghana, will be the perfect preparation for facing the Black Stars. Potential problems the U.S. will have against Ghana will be exposed against Nigeria with enough time for Klinsmann and the team to make the necessary adjustments.
The U.S. doesn’t need to use the send off series to gauge how they’ll do at the World Cup; we’ll find out soon enough how they’ll do when the World Cup begins for real. The point of the send off series is to prepare the team for the World Cup by giving the roster time to gel while slowly building up to the level of competition they’ll face in the World Cup. In that sense, the send off series of matches against Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria is exactly what the U.S. needs heading into the 2014 World Cup.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.