STRONG SECOND HALF SPURS US
It was a tale of two halves for the US national team as they were able to overcome a horrible first half with a terrific second to defeat Turkey in their send-off friendly on Saturday in Philadelphia.
In the first game since the final World Cup team was named, head coach Bob Bradley started a far different lineup than the one that took the field Tuesday night in Hartford against the Czech Republic.
In this game, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and captain Carlos Bocanegra would rejoin the starting lineup.
Despite the additions of these regular first team players, the Americans would struggle mightily in the first half. Most notably, right back Jonathan Spector and left midfielder Benny Feilhaber were frequently caught out of position and unable to maintain possession.
The US would avoid falling behind for the first quarter hour despite Turkey missing several high quality chances. A Tuncay Sanil near miss in the fifth minute would cause a visibly frustrated Howard to lash out at his defense.
The Americans would settle down after roughly twenty minutes but in the 27th minute, Turkey would score the game's opening goal. It came after Spector would collected the ball and left the backline to make a run towards goal.
Spector would beat several Turkish defenders but eventually lose possession. Arda Turan found himself wide open on the left side in the area vacated by Spector on the play.
The Turkish midfield was able to get Turan the ball who then streaked down the left side of the field and beat a helpless Howard.
The best American chance in the first half would come in the 43rd minute when Altidore was able to show off some fancy dribbling skills and beat three Turkish defenders in the box. His cross would narrowly miss an outstretched Dempsey.
The first half whistle would sound soon after with the US fortunate to be trailing by only one goal. Many Americans were left wondering if the US had the ability to compete in the coming World Cup.
"I think that it's important to understand that it's two very different halves," Bradley said of the different between the halves. "Whenever you start a game, things need to be sorted out on the field. The one thing I would say about the first half is that we still had moments when there were advantages there and we weren't sharp enough."
"There were sometimes when we did get stretched out," he continued. "But that will continue to be something we work to improve."
At halftime, Bradley would make many changes and it would have a dramatically positive effect for the team. He substituted out Clarence Goodson and Ricardo Clark as well as the noticeably struggling Spector and Feilhaber.
In to replace them were Jose Torres, Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu and Robbie Findley. He also shifted Dempsey from forward to his normal midfield wing position.
It did not take long for the Americans' play to improve. In the 47th minute, Donovan collected the ball on the right side outside the box and connected with Michael Bradley who was making a run into the center of the box.
Bradley's shot was deflected out but the US' attack in the game was alive.
The US was finally rewarded for their improved play in the 58th minute when they would equalize on goal that saw high quality individual efforts from three separate players.
Findley would begin the play with a chip over the defense to connect with Donovan who was in full sprint on the right side.
Donovan beat a defender and sent in a perfect cross to Altidore who was making a well timed run up the middle. Altidore would have no problems finishing the cross into a wide open net.
"It was good movement," Altidore said of the goal. "Good play from Landon. Wonderful pass from Robbie. The weight of the pass and everything was perfect. And Landon does what he does with a great first touch."
For Findley, who was arguably the most surprising inclusion to the World Cup roster, the game gave him a chance to prove to the fans what he could offer the team in South Africa.
While his speed is his most obvious asset, his pass to Donovan offered a glimpse into what Bradley saw in the closed door practices last week at Princeton University.
"Anytime I come off the bench, even with my club team, I just try to focus on bringing a spark to the team," Findley said of his effort. "Doing what I do best and going at players, being dangerous, and causing havoc for the defense."
The Americans would continue to play solid soccer and create more chances while maintaining a clear majority of possession. A lot of this was due to the play of Torres who played very well in the central part of the midfield with Bradley.
"I think all the players that came on at halftime helped," Bradley assessed. "In particular, [Torres] found a very good way when we are trying to push the game; finding spots, getting the ball moving. At that point, when you are behind, we are pushing Michael [Bradley] to be more active and more mobile. The understanding between the two is good. But I thought Jose really played well, was sharp, found the right people, and covered all the holes really well."
In the 75th minute, they would take the lead as Donovan collected the ball on the right side off a throw in and then sent a cross field pass to Dempsey on the left who was able to maneuver and put himself in position with only the keeper to beat.
Dempsey would not squander the opportunity. Turkish keeper Vilkan Demirel would get a piece of Dempsey's low driving shot but the ball slipped past him and into the lower left hand corner.
The US team did not let up and continued their quest for a third. Dempsey hit the post in the 86th after receiving a pass from Bradley. Torres would hit the post again in the 88th off a free kick from a near impossible angle on the left side.
The Turks came close to equalizing while taking advantage of another weak performance by left back Jonathan Bornstein who entered the game in the 75th minute for Bocanegra who played a strong game at the position that has been the Americans' historically weakest spot.
Two separate dangerous attacks down the left side of the field in the waning minutes of the game would come up empty for Turkey.
After four minutes of injury time, the final whistle would blow and the Americans would walk away with their first win over a European team since last summer's historic victory over top ranked Spain in the semifinals of the Confederation's Cup.
Part of the reason for the improvement during the second half of game was the sharper defensive effort led by second half substitute Onyewu who was making just his second appearance in seven months following knee surgery.
"It had to be more cohesive [in the second half] because we weren't great in the first half," Howard said of the defense. "I just think it was a slap in the face what happened in the first half. They hit us really hard."
For the US, it was the only appearance of the final World Cup team on American soil. On Sunday they will depart for South Africa where they will begin their final preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
"I think we accomplished everything we would have wanted here," Bradley said on the state of the team. "Then you have a chance to continue to look at some little details, sharpen up in little ways."
On June 5th, the US will play one last friendly in Roodepoort, South Africa against Australia before beginning group play on June 12th against England in Rustenburg.