In a game that showcased a team that we’re much more likely to see in South Africa, the United States beat Turkey 2-1 in Philadelphia. Two days ago I outlined the team that I wanted to see take the field today. As it turns out, that was very close to the team we saw this afternoon. Bob Bradley’s decision not to start Oguchi Onyewu in favor of Clarence Goodson was probably due to the lingering affects of knee surgery, but Onyewu saw significant minutes in the second half. The one move that surprised me was Benny Feilhaber getting the start at one of the outside mid spots opposite of Landon Donovan. It looked as if that decision would backfire immediately as Feilhaber made a terrible cross field pass right to the feet of a Turkish player who thankfully pushed the ball wide. From there, he failed to make a serious impact before being taken off after halftime. I think Jose Torres may have swiped his spot with his inspired second half play. But more on that in a bit.
First, let’s focus on the basics. The US put forth their strongest team (or close to it) and came away victorious. If we check the latest Fifa rankings, the Turks check in at 29 while two of their Group C opponents, Slovenia and Algeria, are ranked 25th and 30th, respectively. England ranks 3rd, while the Americans sit at 14. Now, if college football has taught us anything it’s that rankings just don’t matter but for our intents are purposes it’s a good metric for us. Today was very comparable to what we will see in a few weeks.
Not everything was perfect today, so I’ll take a moment to focus on the bad. Johnathan Spector was not good. Before I place all the blame on him, though, I think it may have been a scheming issue. Both he and the other outside back, Carlos Bocangra, kept creeping up into the attack on the far side while the outside mids would shift over to the middle. On the loan Turkish goal, Spector made a run into the offensive zone and had the ball stolen. The Turks executed a wonderful counter-attack to the space vacated by Spector and no one covered for him. So while it was kind of an ill-fated foray into the offensive zone, someone should have helped him out a bit. Jay DeMerit seemed a likely culprit since he ended up sliding onto the scene just a bit too late, but he was playing it similar to a 2 on 1 in hockey. There wasn’t much he could have done. I don’t know where Clarence Goodson was, but his absence might have been crucial. I’ll have to find video and see where he was.
Now, having said all that, every offensive thrust in the first have came down the left side where Spector looked lost. He was subbed off at the half in favor of Steve Cherundolo who was solid as usual.
The other Jonathan on the team, Jonathan Bornstein, took the place of Heath Pearce as the flailing, clattering defender who almost cost the team some goals. If he plays a minute in the World Cup it will mean there were significant injuries or a severe tactical error.
At times the first half tactics for the US had me confused. Plenty of times Benny Feilhaber wandered over to the far side of the field which bunched the everyone over to one side and didn’t allow space to move. Then they’d switch the ball back to Bocanegra who would push up into the attacking third. This happened on both sides of the field and eventually spread the team too thin and led to the Turkish goal. I’d much rather see the defense and wide midfield players stay home and take care of their defensive responsibilities first. They did a much better job of this in the second half.
I was very happy to see Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore paired up front. They strung together a few passes that worked nicely even though Dempsey’s first half was not very good. My issue here is that Dempsey was used a an attacker between the two center mids and Altidore. He wasn’t really a forward and generally too far up front to help Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley in the defensive third. The three Turkish center mids abused Clark and Bradley in the first half simply by out numbering them. I say if you’re going to put Dempsey up front, go all out. Make him a full fledged striker and have someone else worry about the center of the field. Let him focus on scoring goals.
But enough with the bad. The second half was a pretty dominant performance. Substitutes Jose Torres and Robbie Findley showed energy and enthusiasm that I’m sure Bob Bradley was wanting. I criticized the inclusion of Findley in the final squad but if he plays like he did today, I’ll willingly admit my error. He started the first goal with an excellent chip to Donovan who laid a beautiful ball across the face of the goal to a waiting Altidore. Findley’s constant motion caused havoc to the Turkish backline. Torres really worked the same way and even added a few crunching tackles in the back. It should be interesting to see who starts against Australia next Saturday.
One thing that excites me is that the USA’s best players weren’t the best players in this game and they still won. Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley and Altidore all had good games, but certainly not outstanding games. If those four can have outstanding games and the role players like Findley and Torres can play like they did today then this team will be infinitely more dangerous.
Both goals today included some fantastic pieces of skill. The first included the passing from Findley and Donovan while the second included the close control and cool finishing from Dempsey.
All in all, today was very encouraging. The first half was shaky for bout 30 minutes but the second half was fairly one sided. For the second of three warm up matches, I’ll take it. There’s still plenty to work on but this result is what we wanted.