USMNT starting XI vs. Turkey

Photo: USA Today Sports

In underwater diving, you have to make a slow ascent. Rising quickly can give you decompression sickness, often referred to as ‘the bends’. It’s the same way with the USMNT. A rapid ascent in the opposition’s talent can leave you a little disoriented. You have to get used to the atmosphere to truly be comfortable. That’s why this pre-World Cup friendly schedule is so ideal for the United States. After the incredibly unimpressive showing against a weak Azerbaijan side, the US took on 38th-ranked Turkey on Sunday – a legitimate step up in competition. Slow ascents are always preferable, and in this case, despite a shaky back line and struggling forwards, the Americans prevailed 2-1.

 1st Half

United States passing and touch issues plagued the first half, but a mixture of some tough defensive play and luck kept Turkey from going up a goal. Borussia Dortmund’s Nuri Sahin did nip the post on a dangerous shot inside the box, and more than a few times the US defense left enough space for Turkish players to create scoring chances. On the offensive end, Jozy Altidore looked like he might have finally ended that goal drought, but it was disallowed when he was called for a foul in the box.

Then, in the 26th minute, Fabian Johnson and Michael Bradley hooked up for a wonder goal. Johnson went on a run from just inside the half line, dished it to Bradley, who beautifully chipped a pass over the Turkish defense right to Johnson for a one-touch, highly clinical finish. It was a moment of true attacking genius from the Americans, one that would have made even Pep Guardiola raise an impressed eyebrow.

Fabian Johnson goal

Photo: Reuters

2nd Half

Thanks to a 52nd minute defensive miscue inside their own box, a garbage goal from Clint Dempsey made it 2-0. It looked to me like Dempsey’s touch was off all day, but he wasn’t going to miss this point blank tap-in. Still, Dempsey’s presence makes a difference, as his passing and offensive acumen gives the USMNT the dynamic attack they will need.

Another guy who helps this is Mix Diskerud, who came on in the 69th minute and again caused trouble for the opposition with a mixture (GET IT?) of forward movement and sharp passes, including a wonderful through ball that Jozy couldn’t cash in on. In fact, without the Dempsey goal, a major talking point from this game would have been the subpar forward play. Beside Clint, Altidore’s struggles continued. To his credit, he was much more physical and active in this match, but he just can’t seem to find a finishing touch at the moment, even if suspect refereeing seemed to deny him a chance or two.

Backup goalkeeper Brad Guzan came on at half and showed why he is easily one of the top backups at the World Cup. The Aston Villa netminder was called upon multiple times and he answered comfortably, showing great control of his area. The defense continued to struggle however, as the unfamiliar duo of Timmy Chandler and Matt Besler made for a shaky left side. It was an awful Chandler giveaway that led to the Cameron handball on the goal line, and the penalty kick conversion from Turkey’s Inan.

Three Big Winners

USA versus Turkey

Photo: USA Today Sports

1) Jermaine Jones – He only played the first half, but he has all but sewn up his starting spot. While showing his willingness and ability to play a true holding midfielder, Jones delivered several heavy – but not reckless – tackles to snuff out Turkey’s attacks without picking up silly fouls.

2) Michael Bradley – Jones’ midfield partner Bradley also came up a winner by reasserting his creative persona. After a less than stellar Azerbaijan performance, Bradley came back with the passing and touch we expect from him. He was involved in both goals, with his gorgeous chip pass leading to Johnson’s strike.

3) Brad Guzan – I already praised him, but he has to be considered one of the match’s winners considering the poor defense in front of him. Even though he probably won’t see the field in Brazil, USMNT fans can rest a little easier than most teams if our starting keeper drops out.

Burning Questions

Who is the answer at left fullback?

This is still probably the most precarious position for the USMNT. DeMarcus Beasley started there versus Azerbaijan and Chandler got the nod against Turkey. Neither seemed to play well enough to lock in a starting position, but I thought Chandler left much to be desired. He’s a naturally right-footed player and seemed to be caught out of position more than a few times. Because of this, the US had to do quite a bit of what Alexi Lalas called “emergency defending”, that is, great defensive plays that were borne out of poor initial play, which is never a good thing.

Why is Julian Green here?

It’s become clear that Julian Green is not ready for this stage and is most likely the 23rd man on this squad. Simply overmatched physically, Green’s touch on the ball has been questionable as well. You can see the embers of potential there, but it just is not ready to spark. Now, I’m saying this after two national team caps, so we have a small sample size. However, it has become abundantly clear that certain names cut from the final 23 would easily be able to contribute more…

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