FOX Soccer Exclusive
U.S. show glimpses of World Cup promise
If Bob Bradley had a checklist of things he was hoping to draw from Saturday’s friendly with Turkey, there wouldn’t be many unchecked boxes.
The U.S. men’s national team showed it could overcome a shaky start, could come from behind, could create chances and could put away a strong opponent. Bradley also came away with some much clearer choices in the remaining position battles he has to settle ahead of next month’s World Cup.
No, the U.S. team’s 2-1 win wasn’t perfect by any means. Turkey flashed its attacking prowess and deadly counterattack in outplaying the Americans during the first 45 minutes of the match, but a quartet of substitutions rejuvenated the United States and showed the more than 55,000 in attendance that the U.S. team heads to the World Cup with a team capable of playing good soccer.
“The type of game we were in today pushed the guys very hard and that’s what you want from a game like today,” Bradley said. “The response, especially in the second half, was a strong one. We did a good job of then pushing for the second goal, and then we did a good job of knowing how to take care of things when we were up 2-1.”
There were a handful of individual winners on Saturday, but few impressed more than midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, whose composure on the ball and ability to slow down Turkey’s dangerous midfield was pivotal in turning the momentum of the match.
His performance on Saturday, coupled with a solid 45 minutes against the Czech Republic last Tuesday, has catapulted Torres into the race to start alongside Michael Bradley in the U.S. central midfield, a race that was previously believed to be between Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu.
“Jose found a very good way, when we were trying to push the game, of finding spots, getting the ball moving, similar to the second half against Costa Rica,” Bradley said. “At that point, when you’re behind, we’re pushing Michael to be more active and more mobile, the understanding between the two was good.
“I thought Jose really played well and was sharp and found the right people and covered all the holes really well.”
“His ability to pass, to move the ball well, and he’s kind of a calming influence,” Landon Donovan said of Torres. “I think we were too hectic on the ball in the first half and he kind of settled us a little bit when he got the ball and it helped us a lot.”
The second-youngest player on the U.S. team (he's 22, Jozy Altidore is 20), Torres’ 10th national team appearance was arguably his most impressive and should help him compete for a starting role at the World Cup.
“I had to show Bob that I really want to be in the Starting XI and I want to be in this World Cup,” Torres said. “I tried to do my best and leave everything on the field.”
Carlos Bocanegra also put to rest any questions about what Bradley would do with the left back position. The U.S. captain has spent most of his national team career as a central defender, but the U.S. team’s lack of options and Bocanegra’s time as a left back with French club Rennes made the decision an easy one. On Saturday, Bocanegra showed an ability to deal with quick wingers as well as the ability to get forward.
Robbie Findley put forth one of the more surprising performances on Saturday, delivering a spark with his speed and setting up the first U.S. goal by springing Donovan with a clever pass. Widely-regarded as the most surprising of the 23 players selected for the World Cup roster, Findley played with confidence and looks ready to push fellow forwards Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez for the precious reserve minutes likely to be available at forward.
“Robbie also brought energy, he was a threat in terms of getting behind them and going at people,” Bradley said. “He found good spots in terms of getting the ball, holding the ball, so I thought he was sharp and confident.
“It was a really good half for him.”
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Steve Cherundolo also emerged as the new leader for the starting right back spot after he followed up a terrible first half by Jonathan Spector with his own steady performance. Spector struggled mightily to deal with Turkish winger Arda Turan and never contributed much going forward, with one of his forays forward leading to the counterattack that produced Turkey’s lone goal. Cherundolo fared much better against Turan and the rest of Turkey's dangerous attackers.
Spector wasn’t the only player to miss out on impressing Saturday. Benny Feilhaber earned a surprise start in midfield and provided little impact as Turkey’s midfield proved too fast and organized for him to deal with. On a day when Jose Torres was so impressive, Feilhaber might have fallen to the bottom of the midfield pecking order heading to South Africa.
Ricardo Clark looked a step slow as he struggled to deal with Turkey’s midfield. Where Torres consistently put himself in good position to thwart Turkish sequences, Clark was left chasing after Turkey’s playmakers as the visitors dominated first-half possession.
Oguchi Onyewu didn’t start on Saturday, but his 45 minutes as a substitute were promising and more impressive than his start against the Czechs. He is still working his way back from knee surgery, but the chances of him starting when the U.S. faces England look better after Saturday’s match.
“It’s a good half from him,” Bradley said of Onyewu. “He and Jay worked well together. It’s obviously again, a different kind of half. One where we’re pushing very hard, and now there’s a lot of plays where when we press, Jay (DeMerit) and (Onyewu) were in good position to collect balls after we had put them under pressure.
“I thought they both did a good job in that regard.”
Overall, the victory was the ideal match for a U.S. team that will depart on Sunday for South Africa. Turkey tested the United States, and made the Americans step up their game in a way that should help them when they open their World Cup on June 12th with England.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com who covers U.S. Soccer and MLS.