Well, what can you take from that? At halftime I was sure the USA was going three-and-out at the World Cup after a dismal showing that saw the one good US chance something Jozy Altidore created entirely on his own versus a series of knee-buckling counter-attacks from Turkey that repeatedly caught US midfielders out of position. Doom.
Four subs and 45 minutes later… hey… a result against a basically A-level Turkey team that's got a considerably better Silver ranking (24) than either Slovenia (35) or Algeria (a stunning 64th, well behind South Africa and ahead of only minnow-tastic New Zealand and North Korea). And a deserved one. Bring on England.
Jose Torres. I can put many words down or I can point you to the five minutes that cover every touch Torres had in the Turkey game:
That is five solid minutes of possession and passing porn. Torres's composure on the ball reminded me of the Holland friendly earlier this year. In that dismal loss, whenever the USA would put the Dutch in a tough spot in the midfield they would keep it with deft touches and accurate passes; the US would either lose it or dump it back to Demerit, who would hoof it upfield. That was kind of what the first half was like with Ricardo Clark swinging back towards wildly useless—it's always one or the other with him. Enter Torres and the world changes. That highlight reel is composure under pressure and a wide array of great passes that break pressure and set the US up in space that simply did not exist in the first half.
After the Czech friendly I praised Torres's work but suggested his general "uselessness" defensively would keep him from seeing the field in the World Cup because he'd be a substitute and Bradley would favor the relatively more established Benny Feilhaber. I would like to backtrack on that as rapidly as possible. I'm not an extremely bald man with a furrowed brow and more soccer experience than scalp shine, so I can't rule out the possibility that against some of the USA's first-round opponents the tactical situation will call for an Edu or Clark or (I guess) Feilhaber. But I want Torres to start. I think it makes sense, too, with England's central midfielders not exactly the guys who will make Torres's diminutive stature and lack of raw speed an issue.
Robbie Findley. Findley, like Torres, has seen a groundswell of internet support for a potential starting role—enough that Greg Lalas (yes that Lalas) has offered a "settle down, folks." I'd like to cosign that: you're choosing between Findley and Stuart Holden here. Holden was perhaps the USA's best player against the Czechs and has been so impressive with Bolton that they've offered him two contract extensions in the last six months. He's real good.
Findley, meanwhile, blew everyone's minds with the chip pass that set up the USA's first goal and put himself into the conversation as a potential substitute, but let's not get ahead of ourselves: it was Torres, not Findley, that produced the sea change in the amount of space and time the Nats had in the second half.
Steve Cherundolo. After an iffy to bad game against the Czechs—gave away possession a lot—may have forced himself into a starting role by controlling Arda Turan much more effectively than Jonathan Spector did. Also got forward effectively in the second half once the US, spurred by Torres, found itself in a position to use overlapping fullbacks effectively. The choice at RB may come down to how threatening the opponent's wingers are, with Cherundolo taking the tough ones and Spector offering a more attacking option against potentially less sturdy opposition.
Altidore, Donovan, Dempsey. All three are in the same category as players who either scored or set up scores—Donovan assisted on both—but still left something to be desired. For Donovan it was a little backtracking and an ability to get involved in the game in the first half. Dempsey impact was limited until his goal.
As for Altidore, this first highlight was brilliant…
…and he had a few other decent touches, but didn't have any other chances. The goal, well… it's nice that he's in the right spot but most people reading this blog could have finished it.
Still, these are caveats: X did not do this except for this one brilliant thing against a good opponent. Dempsey's ability to run onto the Donovan pass after deflecting it with his hip and then fire it through the keeper seemed fluky, but eventually when you keep doing ridiculous fluky things they cease being fluky.
I'd leave him up top. He'll need service to get involved in the game but no one on the roster makes goals out of seemingly nothing like he does. (Yes, he had moved back to midfield for that goal.)
Carlos Bocanegra. Is the holiest of holy locks to start at left back.
Stuart Holden. Holden didn't get much time but his cameo was productive; he was the guy who picked out Michael Bradley and put him in alone. Speaking of…
Michael Bradley. Had a major part in both the ineffective first half and very effective second half. See the above Torres reel for an indication of where he falls flat—better control on that pass leaves him in a ton of space moving at the D. There was also the fantastic run to get him one-on-one with the keeper late… and the pass that resulted. Bradley scored 17 goals in the Dutch league one season, so he can and should be shooting there. It wasn't a horrible decision since Dempsey did get off a shot that clipped the post, but, man, one on one with the keeper any international level midfielder should be shooting.
More important as far as Bradley's role on the team: the spacing and lack of tackles in the first half was at least partially on him. I don't know how much. Again, this doesn't matter much as far as the starting lineups for the WC: he's played every game, he starts in the Bundesliga, he's the coach's kid, he's an automatic start.
Tim Howard. Could maybe have saved the Turkey goal but tough to blame him; didn't really have much to do other than that except a couple of shots that were directly at him. Minor plus: got in some serious "I have Tourette's guys, in case you forgot" screaming at the defense in the first half.
Center back roulette. Onyewu had an encouraging second half, charging down a potentially lethal shot in the box and doing some unnecessarily high jumping on uncontested balls in an effort to prove that his error against the Czechs was not indicative of his fitness.
Demerit and Goodson, on the other hand, were kind of shaky, Goodson most prominently. To be fair, they were put in a lot of bad positions by midfielders getting out of position in the first half and shaky play from at least one fullback at all times (the window between Spector coming out and Bornstein coming on. But the errors from others exposed a certain lack of mobility that I don't recall a healthy Onyewu displaying. I think they have to grit their teeth and hope for the best with Gooch.
Jonathan Spector. May have lost his job in the first half after putting in a pretty ugly performance defensively. I'm not talking about the run that eventually led to the Turkey goal, as there were a couple of passes and some midfield pressure from the US that delayed the Turkey counter and should have let either Donovan or Clark rotate back; neither did. I think that's mainly on Donovan because of his positioning on the field but Clark's supposed to be a defensive mid, so I can see the school of thought that puts the blame on him.
Anyway, when Spector was in position his defending was poor to say the least; I don't know if that's an anomaly but since people who pay more attention to the EPL than I do claim he was amongst the weakest left backs in the league it might not be. Cherundolo shook off a poor game against the Czechs and was an immediate upgrade defensively. Against England and their blazing wingers this will be important.
Ricardo Clark. It was obvious that he was having a bad game even before Torres came on and almost singlehandedly swung the flow of play. Clark's played in just three club matches since the end of the MLS season and the rust was apparent. Even at the best of times he's marginal with the ball at his feet (unless he's uncorking a shot from distance); against Turkey he never even got to display this limitation because he never won the ball. If it wasn't Donovan's job to rotate back it was definitely Clark's. Torres, meanwhile, had 41 appearances for Pachuca across competitions last year.
Jonathan Bornstein. It's come to this: when he came on for the final 15 minutes yesterday I was rooting for him to get smoked just so Bradley would not be tempted to put him on the field in virtually any circumstance in the World Cup. Even with that background, Bornstein still managed to disappoint, getting skinned three(!) times in his brief cameo and getting lucky on a late offside trap that did not work except in the eyes of the linesman.
I'd send him home with an injury and call up Frankie Hedjuk. Seriously. I'd think about bringing in Tony Sanneh.
Next up: the last friendly, this against fellow World Cup participant Australia in South Africa. It's at 8:30 AM on Saturday. With a full week until the England match, the US can put whoever it wants on the field without worrying about fitness, so I'm guessing we'll see Onyewu and Holden go the full 90 in an effort to get them as match fit as possible. Bocanegra may also fit into that category after his surprise hernia surgery.
One man's starting lineup for the Socceroos:
Cherundolo Onyewu Demerit Bocanegra
Holden Bradley Torres Donovan
I assume both Dempsey and Altidore will make way for some combo of Gomez/Buddle/Findley, Spector will be given a shot to decide the RB position, and the central midfield will also see a healthy amount of rotation. Donovan will probably get lifted for Beasley just so nothing horrible happens.