Posted by: mdegeorge | May 29, 2010

The Starting XI points from the USA-Turkey match

We’re now two hours closer to the start of the World Cup for Team USA, who approaches the tournament with a little more confidence after a solid but unspectacular defeat of Turkey, 2-1, in Philadelphia.

Here are 11 points of emphasis from the game.

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1. The starting back four was too ineffective. The culprits—Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector, from left to right—were exposed by the pace of the Turkish wingers on several occasions. Spector was the only one of the four to contribute anything offensively with an impressive run through the midfield, but his mates were caught ball-watching and slow to respond to a counterattack which resulted in the goal by Arda Turan. They were breached on several other occasions, with Tuncay Sanli narrowly missing a golden opportunity, and were lucky to head into the break down only one. If they allow the same kind of gaps to England (especially if they go with a quicker lineup featuring Darren Bent or Jermain Defoe pairing Wayne Rooney instead of Peter Crouch as I expect), Team USA will be lucky to concede four.

2. One of the chemistry problems stems from DeMerit’s style. He used to being a stay-at-home defender, allowing Oguchi Oneywu to step up into the midfield and stop offense before it develops. He got caught out on too many occasions, and the fullbacks’ failure to cover contributed to the gaps the Turks enjoyed. The introduction of Oguchi Oneywu for Goodson and Steve Cherundolo for Spector at halftime stabilized the back line.

3. Chicks dig goals, so this’ll be the last comment on the D. At this point, I think Bob Bradley’s realistic pool of starting defenders has been pared to five—Bocanegra, Oneywu, Cherundolo, DeMerit, and Spector. Jonathan Bornstein, for all his attacking guile, is almost a liability defensively and should be merely a late-game substitution if extra offense is needed. The exact permutation is still uncertain and will have to be dialed in through the last friendly against Australia. It’s a complicated choice considering three of the candidates can play in the center of defense and four can play a wing position. The best approach on paper could be to rotate the back four by matchup, but Bradley would prefer four who can develop chemistry and play against anyone.

4. The ability of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, and Robbie Findley to cause havoc on the Turkish defense with their well-timed runs is cause for confidence. But that effect is exaggerated by the lack of speed in Turkey’s defense, which is nowhere near as efficient as the English backline they’ll see in just under a fortnight.

5. By the same token, this is one of the tallest defenses the US will face, with mountainous central defenders Servet Cetin and Gokhan Zan measuring 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4, respectively. That explains why the US didn’t get much done from set pieces today. But the service from the wings, especially on rare sorties forward by Spector, Bocanegra, and Cherundolo, must be more precise. There are openings—made more finite by the lack of height in attack (see point 8)—that can be converted if the quality of crosses improves.

6. The 4-4-1-1 formation employed by Bradley from the start could be effective, but not with Benny Feilhaber as a winger. Maybe Stuart Holden or Findley, but not Feilhaber.

7. I was wrong about Jose Torres. I wasn’t going to write this point even though he had a tremendous second half. But his gutsy, clever, devious free-kick attempt at goal was the straw that broke the doubting camel’s back. His ability to track back in the switch from offense to defense is crucial, especially with some of the overcommitting done by the back four today. His introduction to the game turned the momentum in the Americans’ favor, providing crunching tackles to regain control of midfield. And he gives the US another (and a left-footed) option on free kicks, allowing Donovan to make late runs through the channels and give them options other than the initial cross on set pieces.

8. Donovan’s ability to contribute in set-piece situations without out having to put them into play is vital for a team that suddenly lacks some of the aerial threat it used to posses. The absence of Brian Ching leaves them without a forward capable of being a primary threat in the air or a guy who can consistently hold up balls played forward. Bocanegra, a frequent contestant for corners and free kicks played high into the box, would be put out of position from his fullback role. Asking Oneywu to come up and quickly retreat into defense on every set piece puts undo stress on him as he recovers from his injury (which of course occurred as he was going up for a header in the box).

9. I know it didn’t yield any goals, but the patience shown in attack by the midfield in the first half was impressive. The Americans were able to play a possession game, patiently waiting for an opening and settling for short passes rather than trying to force a long ball over the top. That persistence helped compress the Turkish defense and create opportunities to get in behind defenders with the faster lineup used in the second 45 minutes.

10. Most impressive play of the day: Findley’s deft touch to put in Donovan to set up the first goal. The broadcasters heaped praise on Donovan’s run, which was incisive and perfectly timed, but it was the delicate pass floated between the defender and goalkeeper that made the goal.

11. Least impressive play: Bradley’s reluctance to take his chance late in the game when it was just him and keeper Volkan Demirel one-on-one. Donovan was rewarded for his unselfish set up of Jozy Altidore on the first goal, but Bradley has to take that shot first-time, on his stronger foot, in good position. That kind of hesitation is not what you expect from a veteran like Bradley and will become increasingly costly as the stakes are raised.

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