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U.S. vs. Turkey: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

Jun 1, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT

united_states AP

The United States isn’t ready of the World Cup, but on Sunday, the team showed it’s making progress. Improving on Tuesday’s performance against Azerbaijan, the U.S.’s execution going forward was better against a more talented foe, producing a 26th minute goal that flashed the best of Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson. With Clint Dempsey‘s second half insurance, the U.S. went on to a 2-1 win over Turkey, it’s second in as many games of their pre-Brazil send-off series.

The returns, however, weren’t entirely positive. Though the attack improved, problems were revealed at in defense, while the team’s midfield arrangement proved ill-suited to protect an unsettled back four. While the U.S. didn’t get bogged down in front of its opponents’ defense (as it did against Azerbaijan), the team proved too willing to let its opposition move through theirs. The defense’s left side was a big problem.

Six days from now, the U.S. will get a chance to address those issues. For now, here are three things we learned about the team which could matter come Brazil.

1. Bradley looking more like a number 10 …

On Tuesday against Azerbaijan, the U.S.’s diamond midfield was a misnomer. Michael Bradley, ostensibly the team’s attacking midfielder, spent most of the batch behind his two carrileros. On Sunday, that changed, with the normally ranging Bradley almost restraining himself to stay higher in the defensive phase, offering an outlet out of the back.

The flip side of that: Bradley’s positioning allowed him to exert pressure higher up the field, something that paid off in the 21st minute when a turnover in Turkey’s half created a 3-on-2. On the U.S.’s opening goal, Bradley was coming from behind two of the opponent’s central midfielders. He wasn’t in front of them, as a would normally be with his club team.  When the defense turned, Fabian Johnson had his space, and the U.S. had its opening goal.

2. … it’s still unclear that’s the best way to use him.

Speaking to ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp at halftime, Klinsmann noted the diamond midfield left holder Jermaine Jones outnumbered when Turkey threw its highest midfielders into attack. Of course, that’s the sacrifice you make when you go with this midfield alignment. The U.S. either needs to get its wide midfielders (Graham Zusi and Brad Davis) back quicker a la a normal 4-3-1-2 or it needs to pull Bradley deeper. Regardless, it was too easy for Turkey to get numbers at Jones and, consequently, that weak left side of the defense.

On Sunday, the U.S. was able to generate as many chances as its opponents. Against Germany and Portugal, however, that’s unlikely to hold. These psuedo-diamonds are in fashion right now in U.S. soccer, but without players who can play deeper roles in the sides, the formation may leave a suspect defense overexposed.

3. The defense, particularly its left side, may be a weakness.

The wording of that header is a bit “no duh,” but on Sunday, the problems were particularly evident. Against a Turkey team that seemed to constantly go at Matt Besler and Timothy Chandler’s side, the U.S. appeared destined to give up a goal. Though Klinsmann almost got away with it, with his team only conceding near the final whistle, the U.S. coach learned a Besler-Chandler combination either needs help, needs to be avoided, or needs to improve.

This goes back to the criticisms of the midfield, above, but if we concentrate on the defense, it also raises questions about Chandler. Regarding Besler, we know he’s a solid but limited player who, while reliable, needs solid players around him at this level. After Sunday’s game, the question is whether Chandler (a.) can that player, and (b.) how often.

The performance brought back memories of his struggles last February in World Cup qualifying against Honduras. It also made DaMarcus Beasley, a natural midfielder, look more viable. To the eyes, an even per his résumé, Chandler seems like the more viable option. In practice, that may not be the case.

Sunday may have just been a bad day, and the level of competition Chandler faced was much higher than Beasley saw on Tuesday, but that 90th minute mistake should never happen. Being so far out of position on Turkey’s 61st minute chance may have been a problem, too. And those weren’t the only issues on the left side of the U.S.’s defense.

  1. lunasceiling - Jun 1, 2014 at 6:42 PM

    I think the defensive issues went beyond “may be a weakness” status. By all rights, that should have been a 3-2 loss, easy. Turkey were both unlucky and poor in the finish, and against the Germanys of the world, we’d likely have been dead and buried at halftime.

    • creek0512 - Jun 1, 2014 at 9:49 PM

      You could say the same about the US. There were several chances the US failed to finish.

    • bayoor75 - Jun 1, 2014 at 10:18 PM

      @lunasceiling, it should have been more like 5-2, which is what it will be against teams like Germany and Portugal. Those two have clinical strikers. Even Ghana has clinical strikers, so Klinnsy should better start losing sleep. Yes, the US missed some chances too – but that is what the US is…and they will miss a lot of chances at the world cup. That’s why you hardly see US score 4 – 5 goals, even against useless teams.

      • gra42 - Jun 2, 2014 at 12:12 AM

        Actually when Johson was on the left in the back, we did have a couple of scores like that. And 1-0 against Italy at home, one of the not so “useless teams”. That wasn’t Italy’s B-side any more than it was ours.

    • mph122175 - Jun 2, 2014 at 2:41 AM

      Did you watch the game?

  2. el timo - Jun 1, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    Chandler didn’t have the speed today to do the job on the left. We looked like we were playing without a left back most of the time. If he’s not fit, put Johnson over there and Yedlin on the right. Or start Beasley, then make the change later if need be. Without speed over there, we’re dead.

    • mknow406a - Jun 1, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      Chandler showed great recovery speed most of the match. The problem was that he needed to do it so often. He’s a natural RB and he tended towards his natural side, as can be expected. That’s not an excuse, rather an issue that needs to be addressed. If he can’t adjust, then probably Fab needs to move to the left, if Beasley can’t go… but, I’m not convinced that Yedlin is a better RB than Chandler, an ‘in demand’ Bundesliga RB. Right now, JK seems to only be considering players at specific spots.

      • gra42 - Jun 1, 2014 at 11:54 PM

        I agree about Chandler looking better on the right, and that Johnson looked better in past on the left.

  3. nightwind15 - Jun 1, 2014 at 9:33 PM

    Altidore cannot score…hey that rimes!

  4. gra42 - Jun 2, 2014 at 12:06 AM

    Johnson looked better in the past on the left, and Chandler on the right. There’s a reason for this: When a defender’s naturally dominant side is to the middle and not the sideline, he can run a more controlled AND faster curve from the inside of the field out. Think track and field. It’s easier for a righty to play on the left and track back and outwards without giving ground to an attacker, easier for that defender to run the ball and attacker to the outside. For the attacker, it’s more difficult for outrun and then turn the defender towards goal.

    Try the next time you step into a game. The reason Poalo Maldini, for example, was so successful on the left for Milan and Italy is that he was a natural right-legged player who converted to playing the ball with his left/outside foot while still retaining that tracking ability I mentioned. When he was 15 or 16 at Milan development, he learned that the left back spot would eventually be opening up, so he started developing his left footed ball play.

  5. mrstev - Jun 2, 2014 at 3:43 AM

    I’m still baffled as to why Chandler is even in the squad. I know that’s a done deal and old news, but holy cow that guy is horrible! He doesn’t appear to be that interested in the game (similar to his last couple of apearances for US). Completely in over his head on either side of the pitch. It got to be Beasley on the left and FJ on the right.

  6. granadafan - Jun 3, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Chandler is out of his depth for this level of competition. Awful choice to include him.

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