By Ridge Mahoney
The Americans overcame some defensive glitches to beat Turkey, 2-1, Sunday at Red Bull Arena in the second of its three warmup games for the 2014 World Cup.
TESTING CONDITIONS. The central pairing of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron, who looks like a starter in place of Omar Gonzalez at the World Cup, received a stern test and only some wasteful shooting by the Turks kept them off the board until the final minute.
Cameron, who played nearly all of his 37 games last season for Stoke City at right back, is going need time to get familiar with the greater spaces and increased angles to be defended while playing in the middle. He and Besler must also refine their partnership and communication of who steps up and who drops, or when they move as a tandem.
Yet a pressing midfield often left gaps that holding mid Jermaine Jones couldn’t possibly plug, which opened up lanes for Turkey to get at the back four. The midfield diamond at times looked more like an inverted rhombus, with Michael Bradley pressing so high at times he was alongside forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
It’s unlikely the Americans will present such an aggressive midfield look at the World Cup unless it is used as a brief change of pace or they are in critical need of a goal. But it can be a useful tactic, as it presses Bradley further up field and closer to goal, which -- as he displayed once again with a neat collection and elegant chip that sent Fabian Johnson clear to score the first U.S. goal -- is where he can be very dangerous. Bradley probably won't get that much time and space in Brazil, but there's no question opponents will be wary of him.
To his credit, Jones did come up with several vital blocks and though he passed poorly at times, including a sloppy giveaway in the defensive third late in the first half, his robust challenges and considerable range are the obvious reasons he’s still a starter. However, the energy he must expend make it unlikely he’ll be asked for 90 minutes in each game.
THE RIGHT MAN AT RIGHT BACK? For nearly a decade, Steve Cherundolo was the automatic choice for the USA at right back. He manned that spot for German club Hannover so well he long ago was named co-captain. He retired last spring with 370 appearances for the club and is the assistant manager of the club’s amateur team.
The torch may be passed within the Bundesliga. Johnson hasn’t played there all that much for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, yet he has enough experience there for Hoffenheim to give the Americans a sense of stability in that position. He’s a good dribbler and while he won’t get many opportunities to cut inside and go for goal, he did just that to meet Bradley’s chip and hit it on the short hop inside the far post.
Cherundolo was renowned for getting up the flank to work combinations and deliver accurate crosses, but seldom took up a shooting angle. He scored two goals in his 87 appearances, and the first of them was a long-range chip against Germany in 2006 that was about the only highlight of a 4-1 loss. His second, against South Africa the following year, came on a nice feed from Maurice Edu but wasn’t anything like Johnson’s superb finish.
Johnson’s value will primarily lie in his ability to secure what’s likely to be a very hot corner in Brazil, but there’s no doubt the outside backs will be required occasionally to contribute offensively. That push forward, the one-two with Bradley and crisp finish will give the USA foes something to watch for. He netted his first USA goal in his 21st appearance.
STAY HEALTHY, CLINT. Once upon a time, former USA head coach Bruce Arena said of Dempsey, “He tries s---.” And when he does, s--- happens. In the absence of Landon Donovan, and with Altidore mired in a funk so deep even legitimate goals don’t count, the Americans are ever more dependent on their savvy, crafty captain.
So it came to be for his 37th goal. The Turks deserved better than to go down, 2-0, early in the second half, but that’s what happens when carelessness and cleverness converge.The Dempsey method is unconventional at times, but it’s predicated on constant probing and foraging, and not the gung-ho, full-field bull rushes some would prefer.
It was Dempsey, remember, who struck that speculative shot at the last World Cup that England keeper Robert Greenfumbled spectacularly into his own net. Dempsey feasts on mistakes, either those created by himself or, as in the case of Turkey, on balls knocked into the danger zone.