Stars and Gripes

Occasionally interesting insight (and gripes) about the USMNT

USA v. Turkey

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USA – Turkey Post-Game

The old adage of a “tale of two halves” doesn’t go far enough in describing the disparate performances put in by the United States in Philadelphia, with a stark difference in quality shown on either side of the break.  The first 45 minutes were an uninhibited mess across the pitch, and it originated in the back.  While Carlos Bocanegra started well on the left side of the back four, the middle partnership of Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson was marked by a lack of communication and confusion.  Nine minutes on saw a furious Tim Howard screaming at his defenders after their failure to close down on the Turkish forwards, and things didn’t improve much from there.  Jonathan Spector was repeatedly beat down the left side by Arda Turan, and badly mistimed one ball that led to another golden opportunity for the Crescent Stars.  Only a lack of touch in front of the goal prevented Turkey from putting the game out of reach early.

With Clint Dempsey starting as an out-and-out striker alongside Jozy Altidore, the midfield was left to the familiar pairing of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark in the middle, with Donovan pushed out wide right.  Benny Feilhaber got the surprise call on the left wing, and made an immediate impact, albeit a negative one.  Just minutes in, Feilhaber bizarrely decided to switch fields just 20 yards in front of goal–but there wasn’t a teammate in sight, and his pass instead found a waiting Turkey forward.  He showed signs of improvement soon thereafter, using his considerable touch to move off of the left touchline into the center of the park, twice coming close to setting Altidore and Dempsey in space.

The play of Bradley and Clark in the middle left much to be desired.  Turkey was given far too much space in which to operate, and the defensive positioning was suspect.  Clark in particular struggled, wasting a number of balls forward even as the United States struggled to keep possession.  Oddly, considering their partnership through much of the qualifying run, the central duo seemed unsure of roles, with Clark often moving further into the attack and Bradley staying behind, when their skill sets suggest a reversal.

The defensive frailties were finally exposed on 26 minutes.  Spector lost the ball just outside the Turkish box after a speculative run forward, but a lack of communication left only Jay DeMerit and a hustling Michael Bradley bad.  A quick counter from Turkey sprang Arda Turan into space, and though Spector furiously gave chase, Turan made no mistake and slotted his shot by Tim Howard in the American goal.

The American attack was barely more composed than its defense.  Starting at forward for the first time in his national team career, Clint Dempsey seemed decidedly uncomfortable in the role.  His first touch proving elusive, he struggled to keep possession as balls were sent in from Feilhaber, Bradley and Donovan.  Altidore did better, using his physical strength to hold up well, and showed the kind of hustle he’ll need in South Africa, tracking back to win a number of balls towards midfield.  All in all, the first half was a forgettable performance for the United States, and changes surely were in order at the break.

Changes were made on every part of the field coming out of the tunnel.  Robby Findley was brought in for Feilhaber, with Dempsey moving back to his preferred role on the left wing, and Donovan remaining wide right.  Clark was mercifully relieved by Jose Francisco Torres, who used his time to make a strong case for inclusion into the starting XI going forward.  At the back, Oguchi Onyewu replaced Clarence Goodson and brought immediately stability, while Steve Cherundolo took over for Jonathan Spector at right back.

The changes paid immediate dividends, with the American attack looking far more fluid from the outset.  Torres played just in front of the back four, with Michael Bradley moving further forward.  On 59 minutes, it was Findley, the surprise inclusion in Bradley’s squad, who showed poise and skill in sending a ball over the top for Donovan, cutting into the box on the right side.  Donovan then played a perfect ball across the goal, leaving Jozy Altidore to tie the game with what surely was one of the easier goals he’ll score in an American uniform.

The Americans continued to out-class their opponents in the second half, led throughout by the skill and creativity of Torres and Donovan.  While Findley was able to utilize his considerable speed to get behind Turkey’s defense on a number of ocassions, his lack of awareness proved detrimental.  Twice he simply dribbled right past the touchline, when he would’ve been well-advised to simply drop the ball back for a waiting Donovan.  It was Donovan again setting up the second strike, as he played a ball through to Dempsey, who was perhaps lucky to take a bounce off his thigh before poking the ball by Volcan Demirel for his 17th international goal.  Dempsey nearly added a third after a brilliant run by Michael Bradley, who may have better off to simply take the chance himself.

The other highlight for the Americans in the second frame was a much improved defensive line, with the notable exception of Jonathan Bornstein, who came on for Carlos Bocanegra with 16 minutes remaining and once again proved he’s not up to the international level.  On the right side, Cherundolo calmed the Turkish attack, and showed well enough to likely reestablish himself in the starting line-up.  Another bright spot was Onyewu, who showed few signs of the skittishness that could be seen on Tuesday, using his powerful frame to impose himself on the Turkey forwards.

In the end, it was an extremely impressive second-half display from the Americans, who out-classed a talented Turkey squad.  Final thoughts:

– Rico Clark and Jonathan Spector likely played themselves out of the starting line-up.

– Findley proved his worth off the bench, though his wonderful ball to Donovan was tempered by his lack of awareness on the ball.

– Torres set himself apart, and could prove to be an interesting option in the deep-lying role for Bob Bradley.

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Written by Pete Kavanaugh

May 29, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Too bad Joe Posnanski already took the name “Curiously Long Posts” for his blog. It could have worked here.

    Spot-on with the analysis, though. The back line was abhorrent until Gooch arrived. Probably isn’t much of a stretch to say the USMNT only goes as far as he carries them.

    Only twelve more days….

    Black

    June 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm


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