World Cup Send-Off Series Gives U.S. Team Confidence And Concern
Graham Zusi (L) and Michael Bradley (R) congratulate teammate Fabian Johnson (C) after Johnson scored in the first half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.
HARRISON, N.J. -- There’s confidence and areas for concern for the U.S. soccer team with one game remaining before it heads to 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
With a 2-1 victory against Turkey Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, the United States has won its first two of three preparation matches.
The U.S. men’s team, which features four Olympians on its World Cup roster, still has a friendly against Nigeria Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, before departing for South America, and while happy with two wins in as many games, manager Jurgen Klinsmann still speaks of “work,” “tweaks” and “fine tuning.”
“We need to close the gaps a bit better, so we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Klinsmann said after Sunday’s victory in front of a sellout crowd of 26,762. “We need to be more compact, more connected between the players. Make it more difficult for the opponents to come through there.”
A highlight-video goal for right back Fabian Johnson, his first in a U.S. uniform, Clint Dempsey’s first goal in nine months in a U.S. uniform and encouraging play from center backs Matt Besler and John Brooks gave Klinsmann reasons to smile.
“Fabian is very difficult to read for any opponent,” Klinsmann said. “And for us, it’s obviously a big plus to have him. He’s versatile, he can play the midfield as well, but he has speed and a change of pace that can really surprise opponents. He reads the game very well. He’s a very gifted player.”
Giving up several chances to Turkey, a continuation of 2008 Olympian Jozy Altidore’s goalless streak and allowing a 90th-minute penalty kick goal after a defensive gaffe by Timothy Chandler probably caused Klinsmann to ponder.
Altidore did not seem overly concerned about his goalless streak, noting that his physical play is also important to the team’s success.
“Everyone’s so worried about my confidence,” said Altidore, who has not scored as a member of the U.S. national team since back in October against Jamaica. “My confidence is fine. It’s not going to change whether I score a hat trick or I don’t score at all.”
Klinsmann downplayed the importance of the results in these friendlies, saying he needed to get players minutes on the field. While the win is helpful for confidence, the German boss is still clearly evaluating players and tactics.
He used his six allowable substitutions by the 69th minute, giving the players at least 21 minutes.
Turkey threatened several times in both halves, resulting in several U.S. team observers calling the defense “shaky.”
“There are little things that can be tweaked, depending on the opponent and depending on the game,” said midfielder Michael Bradley, who represented Team USA in the Olympic Games in Beijing. “In the first half, defensively we were not as organized as much as we would like. They were able to use some of their skill and technical ability to play through us at times. In the second half, with Kyle [Beckerman] and me next to each other, it gave us a little more of a solid foundation.”
After nearly three weeks of training, the U.S. team is still looking to increase its stamina, a hallmark of the team since Klinsmann became manager nearly three years ago.
With two European teams, Portugal and Germany, and Africa’s Ghana in the United States’ first-round group at the World Cup, Klinsmann looked to duplicate — at least in style and character — in the opponents he chose for the United States to face in the final stretch before the World Cup.
The characteristic he said he felt Turkey would mimic best is Portugal’s individual playmaking abilities, without mentioning Portugal’s reigning Ballon D’Or (world player of the year) winner Cristiano Ronaldo by name.
“With Nigeria, obviously that was the purpose of a similar style of Ghana to be well prepared for that World Cup game,” Klinsmann said.
The United States will open against Ghana June 16 in Natal, Brazil, then face Portugal six days later in Manaus and finish against Germany June 26 in Recife.
While all the players, and Klinsmann, continue to prepare, tweak, adjust and adapt, players such as Brad Davis can’t wait for the moment when he arrives in Brazil.
“I think you have to enjoy the ‘wow’ factor,” the 32-year-old Houston Dynamo midfielder said. “It’s a special moment in your life and in your career. You have to enjoy the moment. I’m sure there are going to be moments I don’t really expect. I’m going to go and enjoy it.”
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.