Team USA are going through the final part of their schedule in preparation for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with a friendly against Turkey on Sunday—the second of four matches the team will play before their World Cup opener, against Ghana.
Turkey will present a step up in competition from Azerbaijan, Wednesday's opponents who proved to be a stiff test for the USAMNT, conceding late in a 2-0 win for the hosts.
Sunday's opponents suffered through a horrid qualification campaign that saw the team finish behind the Netherlands, Romania and Hungary, and the Turkish team will be looking for a good result against World Cup competition as they look to jump-start their campaign to qualify for Euro 2016.
The USA came into their final slate of friendlies in preparation for the World Cup looking like a sleeper pick, and their win over a young South Korean team back in February was impressive, to say the least.
But a loss against Ukraine and a draw against Mexico—a struggling Mexican side brought the squad back down to earth—and Wednesday's match against Azerbaijan will have done little to ease Jurgen Klinsmann's mind.
Two set pieces eventually gave the team a late win against an opponent who didn't look as overmatched as they should have, as the US team lacked fluidity in the build-up, and finishing turned out to be a big problem.
Friendly matches can serve a variety of goals, and for Klinsmann, finding out which starting XI gives his team the most balance is one of them. The Americans aren't always going to look pretty during the preparation for the World Cup, but that's not why teams play friendlies to begin with.
That said, the team will have to improve drastically on Wednesday's performance to have any chance at progressing in the World Cup, and as shared by The Yanks Are Coming, a handful of players will really need to step things up:
@KidWeil US fans hoping Altidore had forgotten about Sunderland may need to wait until the Turkey match. At best. Miserable half hour.— The Yanks Are Coming (@YanksAreComing) May 28, 2014
Turkey looked like they were sleepwalking at times during qualification for the World Cup but losing out in what should have been a manageable group seems to have woken the team up.
They have beaten Sweden and Ireland in recent months and destroyed Kosovo in their second official match and facing a difficult group ahead of qualification for Euro 2016, the momentum of a big win over the US will be very appealing to Fatih Terim.
USA's strength on set pieces is a dangerous weapon for the team to employ, but it's important to note that, while Azerbaijan have a solid team, they're severely lacking in both creative outlets in midfield and size on the back line.
Relying on set pieces against better competition would be a mistake, and that is a lesson the team could learn the hard way against Turkey.
The Turkish defence is tall, tough and athletic, and the squad has enough talent distributed through the starting XI to make life hard on any opponent. Burak Yilmaz is one of the world's deadliest pure scorers, and he has Arda Turan and Nuri Sahin providing him with plenty of chances.
Sunday's match will be a stern test for USA's concentration most of all, as the Turks have the ability to take advantage of even the smallest mistakes.
Michael Bradley didn't control the centre of the pitch against Azerbaijan the way Klinsmann would have wanted him to, and the former Roma man will be eager to prove he hasn't lost a step since his move away from the competitive Serie A.
Final prediction: USA 1-1 Turkey