Five days after a particularly boring, offensively uninspired 2-0 win over Azerbaijan, the United States men's national team defeated Turkey 2-1 in the second of the program's Send-Off Series matches Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
It was the right time to face a dangerous and borderline-World Cup squad for Jurgen Klinsmann's group. Against the Azerbaijanis Tuesday evening at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif., players looked flat for the most part. That could have been due to Klinsmann focusing on pushing his 23-man roster to its limits in terms of finding a different level of fitness.
Against the Turks, the Americans looked active in the diamond-midfield formation Sunday. From the first whistle, the U.S. was active in creating passing lanes and making timely runs, something it didn't have much of against Azerbaijan Tuesday.
The match will be highlighted by two ringing truths:
1. Fabian Johnson had one of the more-impressive strikes when his give-and-go with midfielder Michael Bradley turned into a slicing half-volley screaming toward the far post. On a team with close to zero fullback continuity, it's almost a shame Johnson is pigeonholed to one of the outside back spots. Can only imagine how effective he could be opposite Graham Zusi in the diamond.
2. The defense doesn't look bad, it just isn't synchronized. That's what will happen when you experience with the number of players Klinsmann has in his nearly three years as boss. Even in last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup and in World Cup Qualifying, a number of different players had looks in big matches all across North America. Which is great, but now 14 days away from its first World Cup match with Ghana, the U.S. back line isn't exactly moving as one.
Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron are figuring out how their partnership works, which is evident. Besler and Omar Gonzalez essentially led the U.S. through WCQ as the starting tandem in front of Tim Howard or Brad Guzan. But Gonzalez's knee injury and lack of recent impressive form provided an avenue for Cameron a player most believe deserves to be somewhere in the starting XI to jump in next to Besler.
When talking about the fullbacks, it's Johnson, Damarcus Beasley and the rest are question marks. Cameron is an option out there as he plays there with EPL side Stoke City. DeAndre Yedlin is fast and athletic and young, but may not have the defensive intangibles to handle the big stage. Timmy Chandler's return to the starting lineup left plenty to be desired as he was continually caught out of position and failed to mark tightly as Turkey pushed for a goal in the second half. An mediocre ball led to a Turkey penalty kick after a shot hit the hand of Cameron on the line.
With Johnson a shoo-in, does Klinsmann go back to Beasley on the left-hand side, knowing the heady veteran won't make too many mistakes? Whoever gets the nod there against Nigeria will be in for a serious test.
Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman made his Send-Off Series debut Sunday, replacing Jermaine Jones at the start of the second half. The 32-year-old was impressive. As held to his typical standards, Beckerman made timely decisions to step up and discontinue anything resembling a potential build-up and calmly made passes in the defensive third and pushing forward.
Sometime around the 70th minute, ESPN voice Ian Darke. made a quip when he saw RSL's captain in the attack with Bradley.
"Is that Beckerman across the halfway line?" Darke joked.
The consensus among those who cover the USMNT and even a large portion of the U.S. fan base feel Jones is more of a wild card in that base of the diamond. Beckerman's become a star in that role with RSL, but Jones had an impressive 45 minutes against Turkey. As much as RSL fans want to see Beckerman in the starting XI photo in Natal on June 16, it doesn't look likely at the moment.
That could change if Klinsmann, who is never afraid to chuck curveballs, decides to give Beckerman the start on June 7 against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla. Sunday's result showcased a more fluid approach to the match in the first 45 minutes. In the second half, as Klinsmann made his six substitutions, the match slowly turned over to the Turks pressing, despite captain Clint Dempsey notching a gift goal when a ball that should have been cleared rolled to him at the back post.
As has been the case with Klinsmann's U.S. team since he took over in the summer of 2011, no one truly knows what side will be on the pitch at any given time. Bradley, Dempsey and Howard are irreplaceable, but after that it's a series of question marks. Jozy Altidore was a handful against Turkey, but failed to use his size to muscle at least one goal.
Altidore hasn't scored a goal for club or country since Dec. 4, 2013.
It's time Klinsmann figured out ways to get his striker rolling.
The Good: Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore.
The Meh: Timmy Chandler, Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin.
The Next Question: Who is Klinsmann's super sub? It looks like a battle between Mix Diskerud in the midfield and Aron Johannsson up top.
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