Fresh off a most forgettable 2-0 victory on Tuesday against Azerbaijan, the US xeroxes its second game of the 2010 Send-off Series in 2010 and steps into the ring against a young, unproven Turkey side in New Jersey Sunday afternoon. The absence of John Harkes on the broadcast means the over-under on “Kearny, NJ” references drops to single digits. Here, here.
That was the moniker bestowed upon the 2010 US-Turkey World Cup warm-up match in Philadelphia. The US prevailed 2-1 in classic Bob Bradley rope-a-dope style.
It was an affair that saw some fundamental breakdowns in defense–primarily from Benny Feilhaber–including perhaps the most bewildering clearance attempt ever in a US shirt–and secondarily from Ricardo Clark which led to the lone US concession.
It also saw the love affair renew with the diminutive Torres whose efficient “three-touch” distribution display in the second half had fans drooling with possession potential for South Africa. (It was not to be though as Torres corkscrew pass attempts against an underrated Slovenia only led to turnovers and to his World Cup campaign being over after just 45 minutes. And those who say that Torres is the Mexican Xavi are probably okay when Spotify recommends Jesus Jones as a “you may be interested in” selection for U2.)
The 2010 match also saw Jonathan Spector exposed for speed on the right–and forever relegated to the bench by Bradley thereafter and the US deploy in a 4-2-3-1; a single forward set that fans were pining for at the time.
Ironically, the formation and deployment the States used on that day was a mirror image of what Jurgen Klinsmann would use through qualifying.
The US pushed high on the right side through Spector (in Stevie Cherundolo’s stead), Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore in the first half in a blueprint that mimicked the US pushing high and left through Beasley, Dempsey and Altidore throughout 2014. Graham Zusi plays the tucked-in shuttler role to protect the US rightback in 2014 and this was Landon Donovan’s role that day on the left to protect the less-than-nimble Carlos Bocanegra.
Of course, that formation gave way to Bradley’s battle-tested 4-2-2-2 when the US fell behind in the second half with Robbie Findley entering for the sacrificed Feilhaber. The US used Landon Donovan as the attacking conduit with Jose Torres the conductor as the US motored back to victory.
It’s a different tale nearly four years later. Bradley’s team had the Onyewu injury situation and a rather pedantic debate of wether to tab Maurice Edu or Ricardo Clark in midfield as its lone lightning rods.
(GRAPHIC DESIGN CREDIT: EDWARD GAUG)
The Yanks enter their 2014 match against the Crescent Moons with Landongate tailgating in their rearview mirror, a new diamond 4-4-2 formation and some second guessing over coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s tactics. That’s Chris Christie-approved drama right there.
And after much touting upon Klinsmann’s naming and being tried at five different positions including leftback (because anyone can play leftback), Jose Francisco Torres will not have a sequel Sunday–and will join the lift of misfit toys discarded by US fans that includes Charlie Davies, Edgar Castillo and more.
Much to prove and showcase as the Send-Off series really kicks off and Brazil is nigh.
Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview. As usual it goes:
⇒ About The Opponent: Turkey
⇒ TSG: What We’re Looking For
⇒ 11 At The Whistle
About The Opponent: Turkey
It was a tumultuous 2014 qualifying attempt for the once formidable side of Turkey–third place finishers at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan.
In a 2014 group that included the Netherlands, Romania, Hungary, Estonia and Andorra, the Crescent Stars fell well short, like Garrincha short, of slipping themselves into a playoff for a potential UEFA World Cup spot.
If you’ve been following along with the previews here at TSG, then you’ve been exposed to the assessment that Turkey will ape Group G opponent Portugal in their style. However, the Turks appetite for the 4-3-3 isn’t as set as it once was.
The 4-3-3 was the formation the side used to run through the qualifying gauntlet under former manager Adbullah Avc1 who many identify as being the culprit behind Turkey’s failure to represent in Brazil.
New head man Fatih Terim–who has pinged back and forth between the national team job and skippering Galatasaray–is a long-time employer of the standard 4-4-2, however.
That said, with Turkey’s solid wide forward play and the developing skillset of rising moon Hakan Çalhanoğlu–whose name is buzzing around the transfer tabloids in association with Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and more–a 4-3-3 likely makes best use of the full complement of the Turkish roster. Indeed this is the formation that Terim’s side rolled out in Thursday night’s 2-0 win over World Cup-bound Honduras at RFK in DC.
As such, they’ll be–at minimum–the stand-in for Portugal in this preview.
The first such comparative here is Turkey’s UEFA record–the side did much better playing away in final qualifying than they did at home. No doubt this is due to the comfort level of playing on the counter where Turkey play their best soccer.
And like Paulo Bento’s static Portugal sides, the inverse is true as well; the squad has trouble when tasked with being the aggressor and facing other defend-deep-and-counter sides.
For Turkey, the attack will all–hopefully–start with Atletico Madrid’s Arda Turan, the slick-handles left winger who blazed up the US left flank in 2010 for the only goal conceded by the States that day.
Turan is coming off a rigorous club season that saw him miss out on the Champions League Final and has now been ruled out for Sunday. His replacement could be Ahmet Özek.
Partnering Özek in the first line of three will likely be St. Etienne’s Mevlüt Erdinç–who missed a sitter, but also ripped the game-winner Thursday–at the point and Beşiktaş’s Olcay Şahan wide right. Normally the forward corps would include Galatasary’s Burak Yilmaz, but the veteran forward Donovan’d his way back to Turkey after being at odds with Terim around carrying an injury or not being nice or something.
Reinforcing the front line will be the inverted triangle midfield of Dortmund’s Nuri Şahin and Galatasary’s Selçuk İnan (who is called “Xelçuk” or the cliched “Turkish Xavi) who will function between the lines as Portugal’s shuttlers Joao Mountinho and Raul Meireles do. The aforementioned Çalhanoğlu sits at the base. (Çalhanoğlu and Inan may swap roles here.)
Turkey’s backline can be sharp; their centerbacks Hakan Balta and Ömer Toprak– – again like Portugal–older, but savvy. On their outside shoulders will be Gökhan Gönül–who entered in the second half and caused a ruckus upfield against Hondurasy–on the right and Caner Erkin.
After resting on Thursday, Onur Kıvrak who had a fine performance against Ireland likely protects the pipes.
Turkey will look to get play the ball in the typical zig-zag manner of a 4-3-3: Out to the fullbacks, in to a midfielder, out to the forwards and back in to the pivot man.
Turkey again is at the best on the counter when they can get their wing fowards out in possession with the opponent’s fullbacks in pursuit and the centerback has to make a decision whether to commit to the ball or not.
Turkey is particularly adept at managing the tempo and launching quick-kick crosses from the top of the attacking third–exactly the type of balls on which US centerbacks have recently fallen asleep on. The Turks will run a shuttler (Sahin or Inan) towards the near post drawing the near centerback and then launch the ball to a 1-v-1 opportunity with Erdinc or the weak side forward making a far post run.
Classic 4-3-3 from Turkey.
Key’s to the Game for the US (if the US cares)
⇒ Don’t let Çalhanoğlu and Sahin be playmakers–close them down rapidly in the attacking half, force the ball off their feet.
⇒ Take runs and try combinations through the top of Zone 14 where Turkey tends to be reactive, defend zonally and has difficulty tracking runners.
⇒ Take your chances on the counter; Turkey is typically late to recover. (brringgg, brringggg, “Hello this is Michael, may I ask who is calling”)
TSG: What We’re Looking For
♦ Lines of Confrontation
Where does the US elect to defend against their first two Group G opponents and how aggressive are they managing possession or quick transition out of the back. Portugal is a more athletic and better defensive team than Turkey … and they’re much more lethal on the counter, but the Turks play the same way. How does the US defend? Do they defend well? And what’s their rate of play in transition or organizing defensively on a turnover?
♦ Technical ability: A factor of speed and space.
A player’s on-ball technical ability is a factor of their rate of play–their speed if you will–and the space their allotted in possession.
The US had an exceedingly difficult time breaking down a set of players who arguably play at a lower rate of play and at a lower level club-wise.
In the wake of frustrating first half attacking against Azerbaijan, I asked Graham Zusi about the difficulties finding the net in the first half.
“The ideas were there. The final pass was difficult. Everyone has to want the ball for this attack to work & improve ball circulation.”
I also asked Beckerman what were the one or two adjustments the US needed to make with the ball.
“I think the final pass didn’t come off because of the conditions. It will continue to get better … as soon … you keep playing it, keep at it, it just going to be come second nature … become more fluid. There’s a lot of promise in it.”
Far be it to extrapolate a few post-game quotes from a gusty, chilling night at the Stick, but Zusi quotes clasped together with Beckerman’s suggest one thing–an unfamiliarity with a system that shouldn’t be prevalent with less than two weeks to go until the US is going to the World Cup. The US should be honing an system that forces the other team to account for it, not trying to improve and learn a new system that seems difficult to learn, master, and most importantly, dictates the game to the opponent. This is troubling.
Yes, it certainly did not help that the States’ use of the 4-4-2 diamond was not ideal given the bunkering mentality and compactness of Azerbaijan, but the point it still bigger.
The good thing here is that the likelihood that the US faces a bunkered and listless side in Brazil either is a) zero or b) means that the team already rung the US’s bell and it doesn’t matter if the US can break them down anyway.
11 At The Whistle
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: A nice job by Howard in marshaling his defense against an uninterested Azerbaijan side.
Turkey may test Howard. The Everton vet has had difficulty in recent years on balls played into the box that ask the question of whether the keeper should come off his line or not. This would not be the first time TSG has published this scalding, indelible indictment…. oops….meant this one.
Additionally, the US–be it Stu Holden coming off his post against the Czech Republic in 2010 or DaMarcus Beasley failing to make a play on the first concession for the US on the road at Costa Rica in 2013–has some trouble with headers to the near post. Turkey has proven to be proficient at nailing the posts on aerial plays.
Just something to watch for.
DEF: Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley
The skinny: There should be no changes from the line-up put out by Klinsmann at the ‘Stick; however the fullback selection here is something to key on. While the mercury probably tops out no higher than 80° on Sunday, Turkey’s wingers be tasked similarly to Portugal’s. A look at Klinsmann’s fullback selection here may give you a glue in to whose getting tested by Ronaldo in Manaus a few weeks from now.
In American coaching circles, all readily concede Matt Besler’s talent and potential. But there is a counter dialogue that references Besler’s “nervousness.”
It’s probably what helps his efficiency in positioning and backlieg organization, but there were a few distribution blips against the Land of Fire Tuesday. In typical coachspeak, the directive is “clean it up.”
Geoff Cameron mans the other centerback spot. He was–for the most part–in sendoff game one, able to play within himself. His own positioning and aggressiveness will be challenged more here against the Crescent Moons.
CDM: Jermaine Jones
The skinny: I can only imagine that when Jones traces down the team sheet for his name come Sunday there will an audible “groan” after he finds his number.
Commented before the Azerbaijan game that deploying Jones at defensive mid was like asking a Rottweiler to heal while waving beef jerky in their face. Jones proved me–and most–wrong however.
That said, I feel Jones is still just one misplaced foot stomp away from going Hank on the pitch. Aren’t we really just tempting fate here Klinsy?
CM: Michael Bradley
The skinny: Petabytes.
That’s how the amount of message board fodder would’ve been measured had Michael Bradley had as poor a game if his pops was still the manager.
Bradley is often considered the metronome of the US midfield–one of the most overused, unoriginal soccer cliches–but for me, he’s more the control in an experiment. Regardless of formation, if Bradley is persistently misfiring on passes and seems generally off, I tend to think he’s fatigued from training or over-training. This is the same guy that logged 345 miles in four games at the World Cup.
The again, he’s now a father and moved to Canada so maybe it’s one of those factors.
RM: Graham Zusi
The skinny: The more I watch Zusi, the more I am impressed with him.
And the more I think his unwillingness to take on players 1v1 isn’t for any lack of ability but just a general play within himself, an in-control mentality.
I watched Zusi calmly pause on the ball late in the first half Tuesday as chaos was ensuing around him and defenders were buzzing* (*if you can use the word buzzing in that match) by him on the left flank. He calmly took a few dribbles inside and slotted a ball in to Jozy perfectly on Altidore’s right foot.
He’s like the Joe Dumars of the USA.
LM: Mix Diskerud
The skinny: Diskerud’s frenetic off-ball movement earns him the start… perhaps. If there is any side that the US is going to attack against Portugal it’s the Nani-Meireles-Pereira flank. Not God’s flank.
FWD/STR: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore
The skinny: I got nothing for you. Go enjoy these two’s efforts and goals against Spain at the Confederation’s Cup nearly a half decade ago now. (The video below is always a good closer.)