Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. Men’s National Team coaching staff watched the first half of Turkey’s last game, a friendly against Honduras in Washington, D.C., on the plane from San Francisco to New York City. The score was tied at 0-0 heading into halftime. Then the plane landed, and the staff and players had to leave.
If the flight had landed a bit later, Klinsmann might have had a glimpse right then and there on the challenge Turkey would present to the United States. Saint-Etienne striker Mevlüt Erdniç and Fenerbehçe defender Caner Erkin scored in Turkey’s 2-0 win against Los Catrachos, with both goals coming off defensive lapses that were immediately pounced upon by Turkey.
The meaning of this performance, especially as it relates to the U.S. back line, is not lost on Klinsmann.
“I think Turkey is an unpredictable team,” Klinsmann said on Friday. “They have a lot of individual skills and good players that can make a difference in half a second, as Honduras experienced, and before that Ireland, and many other teams before that. We need games that really keep us on our toes, especially for our back line, that really challenges them not to lose concentration and focus even for one moment.”
The USA’s defense has been a near-constant topic of conversation throughout the team’s World Cup preparations, with most of the talk centering around the team’s World Cup inexperience. Of the group, only one player (DaMarcus Beasley) has played in a World Cup, but even his time in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups came as a midfielder, not among the back four. The concern is that this inexperience could lead to miscues like the ones Honduras endured against Turkey. However, U.S. center back Matt Besler believes significant experience can be gained simply by becoming tighter on the training field.
“Anytime you are doing a back four drill, anytime you open it up into a scrimmage at the end of training, you take those opportunities very seriously,” Besler said. “You just try and work things out by feeling it, by experiencing it.”
Turkey’s attack will have plenty to keep Besler and his fellow defenders busy. Besides Erdinç, who is coming off a solid season in Ligue 1 with 12 goals in 31 appearances, Turkey also brings Burak Yilmaz, the Galatasaray forward who will be the team’s primary scoring threat if he starts. Yilmaz stands at 6-foot-2 and combines his size and physical power with a finishing touch that can either be delicate or powerful. Simply put, Yilmaz can be a handful for any defender in the world if he is on his game.
However, Turkey’s true strength lies in a trio of midfielders that can make plays in a variety of ways for Yilmaz, Erdinç or whoever else starts at forward on Sunday. In Arda Turan, Turkey has a left winger coming off a stellar title-winning season with Atlético Madrid. The team also boasts playmaking central midfielders Selçuk Inan and Nuri Sahin, a pair of midfield generals that will test the U.S. chemistry in the center of the park, whether it is the Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones combo that started against Azerbaijan, or some other partnership.
“For me, one of the most important triangles you can have on the field is your two center backs and your holding midfielder,” Besler said. “The key is forming a good partnership. It’s playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses and it’s being comfortable with each other.”
That strength in midfield will be supported with surging runs forward from right back Gökhan Gönül – a factor that could test the shape of whichever formation Klinsmann decides to use on Sunday.
“It doesn’t matter really whether you play a 4-4-2 diamond or a flat four in midfield or a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. It’s the whole team, how it shapes up, how it works as an entire unit, how it attacks collectively and how it defends collectively,” Klinsmann said. “We wanted to start off a little bit easy with the Azerbaijan game. Now with Turkey, we really have a benchmark that will give us a little more insight into certain things.”
The stability of the U.S. defense is sure to be one of them.
CHICAGO (May 31, 2014) – A sellout crowd of more than 25,000 will be on hand when the U.S. Men’s National Team hosts Turkey on Sunday, June 1, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
The home stadium of Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls will be the site of the USA’s second match of its three-game Send-Off Series in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Kickoff for Sunday’s game is at 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2, WatchESPN, Univision, Univision Deportes Network and ESPN Deportes Radio. Fans can also follow on Twitter @ussoccer.
The USA is coming off a 2-0 victory against Azerbaijan on May 27 in its first Send-Off Series match, powered by Yingli Solar. Second-half substitutes Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson provided the goals and Tim Howard tied a U.S. MNT record with his 53rd career victory, matching Kasey Keller’s career mark.
Following Sunday’s game, the USA wraps up its Send-Off Series against Nigeria on Saturday, June 7, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN, WatchESPN, Univision and ESPN Deportes Radio.
The U.S. is less than three weeks away from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where the team will face Ghana (6 p.m. ET June 16), Portugal (6 p.m. ET on June 22) and Germany (12 p.m. ET on June 26) in Group G. All three games will be broadcast on ESPN and WatchESPN.
In France it has been called le lieu où naissent les étoiles, the place where stars are born. Always a gathering of the world’s top soccer powers, this year’s 43rd edition of the Toulon Tournament features regular competitors Netherlands, England and host France, as well as Costa Rica, China, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Mexico, Qatar and the USA.
“It’s a huge tournament,” U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Andi Herzog said. “I think at this age group, there’s the World Cup and for sure there’s the Olympic Tournament, but apart from those competitions, this is the biggest tournament in this age group. With all the teams like England, Netherlands, France, Mexico, and the USA competing against each other, at this age group that’s a really, really good competition and it’s a good challenge for us to show that we have a good team together.”
In 1975, Cesar Luis Menotti coached an Argentina youth squad featuring Daniel Passarella, Americo Gallego, Alberto Tarentini, and Jose Daniel Valencia to a championship in the third Toulon Tournament. Three years later, those four players were a part of the Argentina side that won the 1978 FIFA World Cup. Following the win, Menotti recalled Toulon as being a fundamental piece of the players’ development that led to their victory, and hence, le lieu où naissent les étoiles.
In the 40 years since, many of the biggest and most renowned footballers have made their mark in Toulon, and the tournament has proven to be a foreshadower of what’s to come in international play. In 2011, Colombian striker James Rodriguez earned honors as the Toulon Player of the Tournament. Three summers later, Rodriguez burst onto the scene and won the Golden Boot at the 2014 FIFA World cup after scoring six goals in five games.
Other international footballers who have also gained experience in the Toulon Tournament include: Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer, Javier Mascherano, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Nuno Gomes, Rui Costa and many more.
The U.S. was in Toulon for the tournament in 2013, competing with its U-20 MNT and taking seventh place. Their best finish in Toulon history dates back to 1989, when the team took third place behind Bulgaria and champion France.
This year the U-23’s will try to best that finish. To do that, they will have to navigate through group play matchups with France on May 27, Netherlands on May 29, Costa Rica on May 31 and Qatar on June 2.
U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team head coach Andi Herzog spoke with ussoccer.com about the Toulon Tournament and the U-23’s continued preparation for October’s CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship
ussoccer.com: What can you say about this group that’s been brought together for the Toulon Tournament?
Andi Herzog: “I’m happy; I think we have a good group together. It’s mostly the same players we had against Mexico and the first Bosnia and Denmark trips. I want to have a little continuity and hopefully it will work in France. Obviously it’s a situation where a lot of MLS teams have a lot of games during the same time period, so mostly the players starting for the MLS teams were not released.”
ussoccer.com: How does this renowned tournament help prepare the team for the Olympic Qualifying Championship?
AH: “This tournament in France is huge because there are a lot of great opponents. The other thing is we play a game every second day, so we will need everyone on the field and we’ll have to make a lot of changes from game to game. I think it’s a great chance for every single player to be able to be a big part of the team who will qualify for the Olympics.”
ussoccer.com: How did the fact that the tournament schedule features games every other day go into the makeup of this roster?
AH: “It’s clear: You need to double up every position. Overall we have a good group together with some young kids playing, like Marc Pelosi coming back after a long injury, so it will be interesting to see all of them.”
ussoccer.com: Over the years a number of the world’s great international footballers have played in this tournament. What does that say about the challenge ahead for the team?
AH: “It’s a great challenge and it’s a great opportunity for us to play against some of the best. The France team is the defending World Champion at the Under-20 level from two years ago in Turkey. They were the best team in the world two years ago and they are our first opponent, so that will be a real good possibility to see how good we already are.”
“It’s a huge tournament. I think at this age group, there’s the World Cup and for the Olympics, but apart from those competition, this is the biggest tournament in this age group. You have all the regular teams like England, Netherlands, France, Mexico, USA competing against each other, so at this age group that’s a really, really good competition.
ussoccer.com: How would you describe the form of the players on the roster coming in?
AH: “We have two or three players that had injuries before, but I talked to them and they’re fine, so it’s normal. For every National Team coach it’s always the same. You don’t train on a regular basis, so it’s just from month to month you see your players. That’s why I want to keep going always with most of the same players if they do well. Hopefully we made the right decisions.
AH: “Developing players for the senior National Tam has to be our goal. I think for a youth team it’s important to compete on the highest level at World Cups and Olympics, but overall the most important thing is you get at least two or three players for the National Team as regular starters afterwards. Otherwise we did a bad job as coaches.”