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Chris Kamrani
Chris Kamrani covers Real Salt Lake for the Tribune.

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USMNT underwhelming in 2-0 win over Azerbaijan

Do you celebrate a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan?

The U.S. men’s national team did Tuesday night in the final sporting farewell to Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif. It was the first piece of the three-game Send-Off Series to be ready for Brazil. In truth: It was a fairly unconvincing 90 minutes by the Americans. Twitter trolled the USMNT performance for hours online as what looked to be a potential starting XI against Ghana on June 16 in Natal failed to impress.

Captain Clint Dempsey — red-hot in MLS with eight goals in nine matches for the Seattle Sounders — was a very late scratch due to a sore groin. In came hometown forward Chris Wondolowski, starting aside Jozy Altidore atop Jurgen Klinsmann’s diamond midfield.

(Spoiler: Kyle Beckerman was not at the base, to the fury of Real Salt Lake’s fan base).

This is the maddening part: It took 75 minutes to puncture FIFA’s No. 84-ranked Azerbaijan when second-half substitute Mix Diskerud cleaned up a loose ball in front of the net, following a shot by midfielder Michael Bradley to give the Americans a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, a fellow second-half sub, Aron Johannsson, flicked home an unmarked header to the upper 90 off a free kick by yet another second-half sub, Brad Davis, to up the tally to 2-0.

Outside of that, it was kind of a sleepy night at The Stick.

Going to the diamond was and still is the most intriguing talking point of the first of three international friendlies before the USMNT departs for Brazil. Obviously made so effective in MLS throughout the years by RSL, the diamond allows flow offensively — put on the shoulders of Bradley again — while a holder sits behind the attacker to ensure counters aren’t especially easy.

Klinsmann went with incumbent Jermaine Jones in that holding spot, a place where RSL captain Kyle Beckerman has shined for the last six years. Beckerman sat behind Bradley in the USMNT’s 2-2 draw withe Mexico on April 2 and media members and fans alike were very pleased with a first-half performance that saw the Americans take a 2-0 lead thanks to a dynamic and fluid attack.

Against Azerbaijan, the continuity of play wasn’t there.

Balls were forced up top to Altidore, but were cut out. Through balls were played when runs weren’t being made and the back line looked shaky at times. Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya, flanking the diamond outside Bradley and Jones, often times didn’t provide the necessary space for Bradley or even Altidore and Wondolowski to stretch the Azerbaijan back line. Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron paired together in the central defense and while Cameron looked the better of the two, Besler had a couple giveaways in the defensive third that won’t fly against Ghana, Portugal or Germany.

The competition stiffens as the USMNT is now two weeks out from boarding that plane to Brazil. The Americans will face Turkey Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. It wasn’t hard to see that the soccer wasn’t attractive Tuesday night in San Francisco, but at this point and in facing Group G in 19 days, it had better be close to pretty — and pretty soon. The Americans looked like a team focused on universal-dominating fitness than chemistry.

This group knows each other, but the odds-on-starting XI against Ghana isn’t absolutely familiar with one another through the run of play. Positives can be taken from the 2-0 win over the Azerbaijanis, just don’t know how many.

The Good:Davis, Altidore, Bedoya, Diskerud, Cameron.

The Meh:Bradley, Besler, Jones, Chandler, Wondolowski.

The Look Ahead:Does Beckerman crack the starting XI against Turkey? Is Dempsey’s groin really just a 1-to-2 day thing? Does the diamond stick?

Tweet of the Night:

-Chris Kamrani

Twitter: @chriskamrani

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