Fabian Johnson and Clint Dempsey on target as USA defeat Turkey
The USA’s preparations continued with a 2-1 win against Turkey in front of a sellout crowd of 26,762 at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. The USA led 2-0 just after half-time but endured a nervy finish, after a late Turkish penalty capped an extended period of second-half pressure.
After another inconclusive experiment with the midfield diamond in the swirling winds of Candlestick Park, against a stubborn but limited Azerbaijan side last week, the technical skill and movement of the Turkish team was expected to provide a challenge more on a par with the USA’s opponents in a tough World Cup group.
So it proved – and so Jürgen Klinsmann was presented with another set of pluses and minuses. The diamond certainly seemed to have more facets with Clint Dempsey back in the side, after being withdrawn as a precaution moments before the Azerbaijan game. He and Michael Bradley, in an advanced midfield role, found neat touches and space to trouble the Turkish defence and bring Jozy Altidore into the game as something other than the forlorn lone striker he can be in a 4-2-3-1.
Fabian Johnson got a goal and showed great speed and vision at times, but the lack of width that is the diamond formation’s weakness caused problems for the US as Turkey found space down the channels to repeatedly set up chances a better team might have taken.
Thankfully for Klinsmann, the Turks were not best equipped to make the most of such chances. Mevlut Erding in particular would repeatedly get Matt Besler turned in the box in the first half, only to be blocked out by the recovering defender, the legs of the goalkeeper Tim Howard or Jermaine Jones supporting from the deep midfield position.
It was often ungainly, and Klinsmann would probably prefer decent defensive anticipation to decent recovery, but for the first 45 Turkey went no closer than a low Caner Erkin shot in the 11th minute that hit the side netting after the failed to clear their lines properly from a corner.
A few minutes later Altidore looked to have got the perfect confidence boost after a wretched season, when he was first to a loose ball from a corner to poke home at point-blank range. But the referee, Slim Jedidi, had seen an infringement.
The USA did take the lead in the 26th minute. Brad Davis battled well to earn a free-kick on the right and Turkey could not get out after Altidore kept the ball alive wide right and recycled it into the centre. There still looked to be a lot of bodies in the box, but as Turkey tried to move up they were caught out by a one-two between Johnson and Bradley that saw the latter knock a perfect first-time chip into the path of the full-back, who continued his run past the Turkish back line to sweep the ball home into the far corner.
Johnson was playing as part of another changed back line as Klinsmann continued his tinkering with the part of his line-up (Landon Donovan issues aside) that has been the subject of most speculation and concern in advance of the World Cup. Indeed, the Turkey game represented a “benchmark”, according to the coach, and in advance of the game he claimed the result was less important than a performance in which defensive mistakes were kept to a minimum.
Given that expectation, it was a slight surprise to see another back-four experiment, with Timothy Chandler coming in for DaMarcus Beasley.
Klinsmann made two other changes to the starting line-up from last week, with Davis’s assists and movement against Azerbaijan being rewarded with a start on the left of midfield, and of course Dempsey starting in place of Chris Wondolowski.
Johnson's goal separated the sides after 45 minutes, and after both teams had made a handful of substitutions at half-time, Turkey started the second half the stronger – forcing the USA into conceding the type of set pieces they will not want to give to, say, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. But as it was, when we next saw one of Klinsmann’s “defensive mistakes”, it was from a player in a red shirt.
In the 56th minute, Davis played a perfectly paced ball to Chandler overlapping on the left. The full-back’s low ball went into the danger zone between the goalkeeper and defence for Hakan Balta to miskick the ball into the path of Dempsey at the back post. He pushed the ball home and the USA led 2-0.
Turkey were still showing willing, though, and Brad Guzan had more than one save to make, including a block on Gokhan Gonul when he was clean through on the hour. Shortly after that Klinsmann introduced two more substitutes, with Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin coming in for Davis and Johnson. Almost immediately Green was given an inviting through ball to race on to by Graham Zusi, but could not fashion a shot.
In the 71st minute Mix Diskerud, on two minutes earlier for Zusi, found Altidore with a through ball. The striker outmuscled Balta and ran clear on goal. His first shot was parried and as he shaped for a second attempt the referee called back play, much to the fury of a booing crowd and an indignant Klinsmann, who leapt to his feet in protest.
The USA would dearly love their troubled striker to start scoring again before Brazil. As it was, Altidore had another chance 10 minutes later, this time down the right. He cut back for a shot, only to see it spin off Onur Kivrak for a corner. Altidore worked hard all afternoon, but could not cap his performance with a goal.
Despite the boost of the early second-half goal, the USA found themselves on the back foot for much of the latter stages of the game. It wasn’t pretty, as in general the US defending had a harried quality to it, though John Brooks did his reputation no harm with some well-timed last-ditch clearances.
Hopes of a shutout were ruined in the 90th minute. Once again a Turkish forward got down the channels for a free run at goal. This time it was Mustafa Pektemek, who arrowed toward the near post, and, with the ball spinning off Guzan, Cameron was adjudged to have handled on the line in keeping it out. Selcuk Inan swept home the penalty off the post, and just as it had been when these two sides met in a World Cup warm-up game in 2010, the score was 2-1 to the USA.
The prospects of the 2014 USA side still seem uncertain. The scale of their task in Brazil is a known quantity, but despite the win and the makings of a system, questions of personnel, temperament and execution remain.
The USA move on to one more warn-up game in Jacksonville, Florida, next Saturday, before opening their Group G campaign against Ghana on 16 June.
USA: Howard; Johnson, Besler, Cameron, Chandler; Jones, Davis, Zusi, Bradley; Dempsey (c) Altidore
Turkey: Kivrak; Balta, Dogan, Gonul, Tufan; Inan, Erkin, Sahin (c); Camdal, Erding