SCOTT PETERSON - Saturday, May 31, 2014
What can we learn from Sunday's pre-World Cup friendly?
From kids and amateurs playing pick-up games in the street to the pros under floodlights, Turkish soccer is built on individual skill with the ball.
And despite playing without the unquestioned star of the squad, Atletico Madrid's Arda Turan, the Turks have Borussia Dortmund's Nuri Sahin pulling the strings from midfield and Bundesliga starlet/ Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen target Hakan Calhanoglu making darting runs down the flank.
Suffice to say the Turks, ranked 39th by FIFA, will pose a much sterner test than the Azerbaijanis.
But besides staying injury-free, what constitutes a good match for the Yanks? Three musings:
1)Finding defensive chemistry
Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron are locks at full and center back respectively, although the former could play at either full back spot. The other full back spot comes down to either Damarcus Beasley or Timmy Chandler.
Beasley is faster and has been there before. His first touch and size, however are major concerns. Chandler is the more natural fit for the position and gives us more going forward. Although he's a more than adequate defender, he can get caught up the pitch, which cannot happen in Brazil.
In the middle, it's a crap shoot.
Matt Besler had a nervy start versus Azerbaijan and, while shining in the MLS, has struggled at the international level. Besler needs a steady performance if he's to allay concerns of being a liability in the back.
Should Besler not perform well, it's down to Omar Gonzalez or John Anthony Brooks. One has been an underachiever, the other still untested at the international level.
While Gonzalez is more seasoned, his propensity for mental lapses keeps him from instilling confidence. I personally think Brooks is more adept to coping with the speed of the international game, and is the most skillful of our defenders on the ball. He's also in good form after having a solid final two months in the Bundesliga-illicit tattoos notwithstanding.
But I'm clearly in the minority.
No matter which D gets the nod, time is dwindling and chemistry is needed.
2)Bradley and Jones gelling
Versus Azerbaijan, the duo was not always on the same page with their spacing or situational reads.
One zigged, the other zagged. In a word, chemistry (again).
This was especially true when going forward as Jones' runs forward seemed to catch Bradley off-guard, which ultimately unsettling him and limited his participation in attack. For the US to succeed the interface between defense and attack has to be seamless.
For the US to thrive, the two need to simultaneously recognize what the situation calls for and what the other will do. They are both seasoned pros, so it would figure that they can address and fix the disconnect they had versus Azerbaijan.
If not, then the prospect of having Kyle Beckerman in the starting 11 looms.
We Americans like underdogs, and Beckerman certainly fits the bill: home-grown and hardworking, never letting a thing like talent keep him from winning. Beckerman's work ethic and dedication are admirable, but he simply does not have the same talent as Jones.
The simple fact is that Jones is a) faster, b) better on the ball, c) better with his off-the-ball movement and d) more experienced. With Jones out of the lineup, the US loses quality in midfield.
3)Getting Jozy a goal
Jozy's recent struggles are well documented. However, the US will have to deal with wave after wave of attack in Brazil and need a hard-working Altidore to alleviate the pressure on the defense.
We need him to bruise and fight against physically bigger opposition and to hold up the ball to enable us to get some attackers forward, so that the opponents are forced to expend energy defending.
When he's working hard (which is something he did in fact do all season for Sunderland), he's a beast that no one enjoys defending. If he does that, the goals will come.
When he's ho-hum like he was versus Azerbaijan, his movement becomes stagnant and his value drops considerably. If he's not scoring, he better be working hard to tie up opposing defenders. If he doesn't put in the requisite effort up front, Aron Johannsson figures to get a shot in the starting 11.
Johannsson is a more polished striker and finisher, but it remains to be seen if he can make an impact over 90 minutes at the international level or if he is more effective as a change of pace substitute.