International Friendly: USA 2-1 Turkey
I was in the woods in Ohio this week, a place so detached from the comforts of everyday life that I had no cable, no internet, no landline and no cell phone reception; I was even surrounded by 20 of my in-laws for the entire weekend! I arrived at our cabin around 1:00 PM on Saturday, just in time for me to jump back in my car and hightail it to the nearest one-horse town in order to try and catch the USA vs Turkey friendly. I lucked out; a small town bar with a “cabana deck” outside was willing to put on the game for me, much to the chagrin of two sixty-something bikers who, ignoring the news that Dennis Hopper had just passed away, decided to spend the afternoon at the bar, nursing lukewarm Budweiser and deriding the game of soccer. “Soccer… this ain’t even a sport… oh, look at him… he got injured playing soccer…boo hoo..” And so on. I didn’t take the bait; I even smiled when these guys decided to laugh at Arda Turan’s opening goal (see? told ya so!) while wearing red, white and blue bandanas. I figured it was a waste of time to point out that their patriotic approach to ridiculous apparel might be better served supporting their national team. After all, I’m just another soccer fan in the USA and they, with their outdated, morally questionable dedication to riding choppers and acting like hard-asses, they are the real Americans. You know how it is; it’s like how you love your Constitutional democracy so much you want to destroy it the minute things don’t go your way. Sorta like that.
The good news? I didn’t get in a bar fight or take a pool cue to the head and, after a shambolic first half against a polished Turkey team under the management of the maestro Gus Hiddink, the USA got their shit together and, with a couple of surprising players making a very positive contribution (Robbie Findley! José Francisco Torres!), came back from 1-0 down and, against my own expectations of a USA loss, showed a lot of guts to win the match 2-1 on goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, both of them set-up by Landon Donovan.
Donovan Delivers (Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
After a solid start by Turkey and a great goal by Arda Turan…
…the Turks faded hard in the second half, a luxury that will not be afforded the USA by most opposition. Still, the midfield pairing of Torres and Bradley had a lot of success controlling the Turkish midfield who were content to play counter attacking football. The Turks were unable to soak up the pressure, especially with the pace of Robbie Findley giving them fits and forcing their holding midfielders back into defense instead of pressing Bradley and Torres. Torres thrived in this match, earning a start in the Cup by playing positive balls with composure all match long. Findley’s deft lob to Donovan carved open the Turkish defense, allowing Donovan to lay it across the face of goal for Altidore to tap in.
The second goal came in the 75th minute, when, after a Steve Cherundolo throw in caught Turkey off-guard, Donovan lobbed a perfect pass to Dempsey, who controlled it with his knee to push past the Turkish defense and toe poke it past the keeper.
So, after auditioning players against the Czech Republic, Coach Bradley played his best players against Turkey and learned a few things along the way:
* The defensive picture seemed to come into better focus; Steve Cherundolo should start at Right Back with Bocanegra at Left Back, DeMerit and Goodson in the middle. Onyewu and Spector can come on late, if Onyewu’s knee holds up and the USA defense needs new legs. Otherwise, Goodsoon seems to have a good nose for the ball on set pieces and seems a capable player at the back. Now that Theo Walcott is out of the England squad, Aaron Lennon and Shawn Wright-Phillips seem a little more manageable, although both have the pace to torment Bocanegra. Bornstein came on late against Turkey and was immediately torched again by a gassed Turkish attack, which tells me he is wasting a roster spot because he should not see the field come hell or high water.
* Dempsey up top with Altidore seems likely, as there is no way you can start Robbie Findley against England, but it is clearly not Dempsey’s best position. He was not very effective in the final third, missing a tap in on a wicked cross by Altidore and being rather invisible for most of the match as the USA gave away width on the left. Once Findley came on, his presence pushed Dempsey back into the midfield, resulting in a great run to score the winner. Paired with Altidore, Dempsey seemed to be a little out of place; in his preferred position, he scored. Yes, Altidore and Dempsey were starved for service most of the match, but even still, there was none of the same electricity that Altidore shares with the injured Charlie Davies. Not sure how this will pan out, but it seems likely that Dempsey starts as a forward, Holden will move into the lineup, leaving Feilhaber, Edu and Clark fighting for time coming off the bench.
* Torres outplayed Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu didn’t see the field. Torres and Bradley seemed a good partnership as both of them have the ability to create out of the midfield while covering and tracking back. The issue in midfield all comes down to Dempsey’s chemistry against Altidore. Until we know where Dempsey ends up, it is going to be hard to guess which players will make it into the final starting eleven on June 11th.
One more friendly to go… Team USA landed in South Africa yesterday and have begun acclimating to the altitude and the time change. On Saturday, the USA lines up against Australia for a final tune up before the big game on Saturday June 11 against England. I’ll be looking for clues to the final starting roster but, if the team play as well in this match as they did in the second half against Turkey, we should be in decent shape to get a confidence building result on the way to the big show. Can’t wait!
Up Next: Group A Preview