HARRISON, N.J.—The U.S. got a highlight-reel goal from Fabian Johnson and took advantage of some horrible Turkish defending on a Clint Dempsey tap-in, but Turkey pulled back a goal on a late penalty as the U.S. won 2-1 in the Americans’ second of three pre-World Cup friendlies before they leave for Brazil next Sunday.
Overall, this was a more entertaining game than Tuesday’s plodding 2-0 win over Azerbaijan, and the U.S. avoided any of the injuries that plagued other World Cup-bound teams this weekend. But the game also showed that the U.S. needs to tighten up in some areas ahead of their World Cup opener on June 16 against Ghana.
My quick three thoughts on the game:
• Fabian Johnson showed why he’s starting at right back
It was one of the prettiest goals you’ll ever see the U.S. score. Midway through the first half, Johnson made a kamikaze run from his right back spot and connected with Michael Bradley on a glorious give-and-go that Johnson finished with authority with his left (off) foot. Johnson’s first international goal for the U.S. was a perfect example of why he’ll start at right back in this World Cup—and why he has taken the place in the lineup of Brad Evans, who started there in most of the World Cup qualifiers.
Evans did a fine job in CONCACAF, but Johnson’s speed and ability to get up and down the right side will be key against the higher level of opponents the U.S. is facing these days and in Brazil. (Also, give some bonus points to Bradley for seeing and executing the pass on that goal, which showed why he’s playing higher on the field lately.)
WATCH: Bradley, Johnson work wondrous combination for opening goal
• The U.S. defense still had some shaky moments
This wasn’t Turkey’s A-team—no Arda Turan, no Burak Yilmaz, etc.—but the Turks still provided a much stiffer challenge to the U.S. defense than Azerbaijan did on Tuesday night. Borussia Dortmund’s Nuri Sahin unbalanced the U.S. defense on occasion, and Turkey was able to find space and create shots.
At times, left back Timmy Chandler’s forays downfield were useful (he sent the cross that led to Clint Dempsey’s second goal for the U.S.), but Chandler also left too much space behind him and was only sometimes able to make up for it with his speed tracking back. His miscue led to Turkey’s late penalty-kick goal that sliced the deficit in half late in the match.
The U.S. is still adjusting to what looks most often like a 4-1-3-2 formation, and that left some spaces on Sunday. Still, the starting central defensive-minded triangle of Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Jermaine Jones looks unlikely to change between now and the World Cup opener against Ghana.
• Other quick-hitter thoughts
Jozy Altidore didn’t score and was clearly frustrated by some of the decisions from Tunisian referee Slim Jedidi, but Altidore was a physical presence and appeared more active than in recent games … Jermaine Jones is a polarizing player with U.S. fans, but I thought he was effective during his time on the field in the first 45 minutes. He covered well defensively despite having to be responsible for a lot of real estate, and his pass completion rate (29 for 34) was higher than many would expect. Yes, Jones doesn’t have the passing ability of Bradley in that position, but if he plays like this that’s not a bad thing … Gotta hit that first time in the box, Mix Diskerud … Julian Green was active as a second-half sub, but at 18 he still appears physically overmatched at times and hits the deck often … Chandler vs. DaMarcus Beasley for the starting left back spot is something of a close call right now, but I’d still lean toward Beasley, who doesn’t get caught out as much.