The United States men's national team took another positive step toward Brazil on Sunday, defeating Turkey 2-1 in a friendly matchup at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
ESPN senior researcher Paul Carr breaks down what this result means:
#USMNT beats Turkey 2-1. A win over Nigeria would give U.S. its longest-ever win streak entering a World Cup.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 1, 2014
Although the win won't necessarily inspire tremendous confidence in American fans as the U.S. gear up for the Group of Death in Brazil two weeks from now, it's another learning opportunity for the 23 men headed to South America this summer.
Coming into Sunday's match, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann discussed the importance of tightening up the back line ahead of the World Cup, per MLSSoccer.com's Simon Borg:
We need games that really keep us on our toes. We need games, especially for our back line that challenges them not to lose focus and concentration not even for one moment in our game. Otherwise you get punished and that costs you badly, especially when you go into Brazil. Mistakes will happen also in Brazil. But we’ll just reduce them as much as possible. So I think [Turkey] will be a good game for us.
The back line lost focus and concentration on several occasions on Sunday, but nonetheless, the new-look group held up when it mattered to notch a victory.
The Americans dodged a bullet early, as Bleacher Report national lead writer Dan Levy pointed out:
Well, the #USMNT should be down a man after Besler's horrendously late challenge in the box. Not bad, but late. He's been shaky.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) June 1, 2014
But moments later, Turkey were let off the hook as the referee waved off what would have been the go-ahead goal for Jozy Altidore:
Two mistakes from the referee already. No PK one one end, fantom push on the other. No goal for #USMNT. NOBODY is happy.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) June 1, 2014
Had the goal been allowed, it would have brought an end to Altidore's lengthy drought.
The U.S. finally broke through in the 26th minute, when Fabian Johnson and Michael Bradley linked up for a gorgeous goal:
Absolutely beautiful ball over the top from Bradley. Fabian and Bradley have been our only class so far. #USMNT— Jordan Hall (@jordanhall23) June 1, 2014
Here's a look at the brilliantly timed finish from Johnson:
With a one-goal advantage in hand, the U.S. were content to sit back and defend over the remainder of the first half.
Unsurprisingly, Klinsmann made several lineup changes at the break, replacing Tim Howard with Brad Guzan, putting in John Brooks for Matt Besler and subbing Kyle Beckerman for Jermaine Jones.
Dempsey doubled the U.S.'s lead moments into the second half, taking advantage of a defensive breakdown for Turkey:
Ineptitude from Turkish defense puts #USMNT 2-0 in the lead. Still good to see attacking verve and balls put into places.— Josh Lowe (@JoshMLowe) June 1, 2014
Despite falling behind, Turkey continued to create chances, nearly cutting into the deficit in the 60th minute. Fortunately for the U.S., Guzan was up to the task, cutting off the angle and saving one of Turkey's better scoring chances to preserve the clean sheet for the time being.
Goal-scoring prodigy Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin came on for the final 30 minutes, and right away Green found himself with a great chance to add to the lead. However, a poor first touch derailed his opportunity to leave a mark.
Mix Diskerud entered the game late but had limited chances to make an impact as the U.S. settled in defensively, only looking to get forward on the counterattack.
A late giveaway by Timothy Chandler led to Turkey's lone score as Geoff Cameron was forced to keep the ball out of the net with his hand, leading to a penalty. Turkey's Selcuk Inan put the chance away in the 89th minute to narrow the gap.
Although it wasn't pretty and Turkey had their fair share of chances, the U.S. were able finish the job, meeting expectations in unconvincing fashion.
As The Virginian-Pilot's Tom White points out, the U.S. did little to strike fear into the hearts of their foes:
Very ragged effort from #USMNT. Miscues on offense dwarfed by lapses on defenses. Ghana, Portugal, Germany teams will again sleep well.— Tom White (@tomwhite82) June 1, 2014
Afterward, U.S. women's national team star Sydney Leroux noted Altidore's struggles:
But as soccer writer Matthew Levine highlights, the top storyline surrounding the U.S. squad ahead of Brazil continues to be the uncertainly in front of goal:
Lots of questions still linger over defense. This backline looks too inexperienced and naive for the tough group ahead. #USMNT— Matthew Levine (@MatthewLevine4) June 1, 2014
We won't have to wait much longer for those questions to be answered, but for now, it appears the U.S. have significant work left to do if they hope to escape group play in Brazil.
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Key Player Grades
Clint Dempsey, F, United States: A
Dempsey was active early on but wasn't able to break through Turkey's defense, which made sure not to lose track of him, per national soccer writer Steve Davis:
Well, Clint Dempsey's early, active #USMNT day is a real mixed bag, eh? Couple of "meh" touches and then that one brilliant little maneuver— Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90) June 1, 2014
Dempsey not only scored in the second half, but he also showed more than enough flashes to encourage American fans ahead of this month's 2014 World Cup. The bottom line is that we know what Dempsey is capable of, and he's surely saving his best for the big stage in Brazil.
Michael Bradley, M, United States: A
As usual, Bradley was active and engaged from the start on Sunday, looking to get forward and create scoring chances for the U.S. The veteran midfielder had a chance to put the Americans ahead early, but Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak pushed his shot wide.
Bradley wasn't discouraged, though, linking up with Johnson moments later for a brilliant goal.
What do you make of the Americans' 2-1 win over Turkey?
The U.S. will have one more opportunity to showcase themselves and reach ideal form before group play begins at the World Cup when they host Nigeria in their final tuneup match on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida.
Although Group G foes Ghana, Portugal and Germany are sure to give the U.S. all sorts of problems in South America this summer, it'll certainly be beneficial for Klinsmann and company to take on a World Cup team in Nigeria just over a week prior to kickoff in Brazil.
In addition to providing players with another chance to build confidence for the World Cup, Saturday's friendly will allow Klinsmann to evaluate his players in game action one last time before choosing his starting XI for the Ghana match on June 16.
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