The U.S. National Team finished its Send-Off Series on Saturday with just the result it needed to build confidence as it departs for Brazil and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, posting a 2-1 win over Nigeria at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Jozy Altidore broke his scoring slump with both goals for the U.S. and Nigeria scored on a late penalty as the U.S. won all three of its final preparation matches.
Clint Dempsey had his longest runout of the series, playing 86 minutes before being replaced by Chris Wondolowski. His best scoring chance came in the 67th minute when Michael Bradley set him up for a clean look on goal, but the Nigerian goalkeeper made a great save to keep him off the board. DeAndre Yedlin didn't appear in the match for the first time in the series.
After a quiet 30 minutes to open the match as the two teams worked to find advantages, Altidore broke the game open in the 31st minute. Fabian Johnson and Alejandro Bedoya connected up the left side to set up a run by Johnson into the box. He crossed to Altidore in front of the goal mouth for an uncontested shot to get things going in the right way for the U.S. before halftime.
"The game was as difficult as expected, especially the first 25 minutes. Both teams were grinding each other out like we will see a lot a few days from now in Brazil," U.S. Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "Obviously it's a wonderful message to see that Jozy put the thing in the net. It gives him a big smile at the right time now. It will give him a lot of confidence. It's always a tough period when you don't score for striker."
Now brimming with confidence, Altidore took on his defender 1v1 in the 68th minute, smashing a right-footed shot from the left side to make it 2-0.
Nigeria would add a late penalty to narrow the final margin to 2-1, but the damage had been done and the U.S. now has momentum and confidence heading to Brazil.
Klinsmann utilized an all-new lineup for the U.S., starting Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones along with Kyle Beckerman in an effort to gain advantages through the midfield.
"I saw a lot of work that they did, tremendous cleaning up all over the place," Klinsmann said. "We know that's Kyle's specialty, to protect his teammates and to run endless miles for his team. Jermaine, in that half position, then has more freedom to go forward so he can switch back and forth with Michael Bradley and knows that there's someone behind me. I think that worked out really well. We wanted to try out that way and it worked fine."
The win isn't just a victory in a friendly for the U.S., but also a mechanism to prepare for the first match of the World Cup against Ghana on June 16.
"Nigeria is very similar to Ghana," Altidore said. "If we can emulate this performance against a team pretty similar to Nigeria against Ghana, we can start the group off the right way. We all want to get out of the group. That's a goal of ours. I think the opportunity is there."
The U.S. will now base out of Brazil through the end of its World Cup run, playing a closed-door friendly with Belgium before taking on Ghana on June 16.