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.
2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship Quote Sheet
USA 1, SLV 0
Jan. 24, 2015
U-20 MNT head coach TAB RAMOS
On accomplishing the goal of qualifying for the World Cup:
“Obviously the Guatemala game changed our plan a little bit for the Panama game, which put us behind the 8-ball for the rest of the tournament. I’m really happy for the boys because it was really difficult in the last four games to have to eliminate an opponent, and they did it. We pushed them hard and they did a good job. Today’s game, we knew it was going to be very difficult. I thought we were well prepared because we’ve played in particular the last two games were very difficult for us as well. The boys did a good job. Defensively we’re playing really well, very organized. And when you limit other teams to very few opportunities to score, when you do that and you have the sort of firepower that we have up front, we always feel that at some point we’re going to get the game going in our direction. And today that’s just the way it went.”
On Zack Steffen’s penalty kick save and the defense posting four straight shutouts:
“Zack made a great save at the right time for us, although I felt El Salvador really was not dangerous throughout the game. They did have some possession on our side of the field, which is not really what we wanted. But these are difficult games.”
“In general, the defense played very well. We have Cameron [Carter-Vickers] and Matt [Miazga] in the middle and I think they’re a great pair of center backs. They play well together. And with Zack in goal – we’re very fortunate in that way. The U.S., we have very good goalkeepers and Zack is definitely one of the next ones to come up. And so between the two center backs and the goalkeeper I think they did a amazing job throughout the whole tournament.”
On how you compare this team to the 2013 team that also advanced to the World Cup:
“Well, this team is better. This team is just as technical as the last group, but they’re more dynamic and we have speed on this team. And also anxious going in to the World Cup, in getting guys like possibly Rubio Rubin back, and other guys that may come in to the fold at that point that may get released and that will help us up front as well.”
On how the second-half substitutes made a difference again:
“We feel fortunate with this particular group because I’ve been speaking about the depth of this group in general. I felt as if I really had 14 starters, and the other guys also play well. I felt like there were 14 guys that really could have started tonight’s game, and last game and the game before. And when I brought them off the bench, to have that type of attitude to come in and be willing to change the game, they did an amazing job. At the end of the day, they may be the guys that made the difference for us.”
On the character of the team to bounce back after a rocky start:
“It’s definitely not easy. I think you need good leadership in the group. I thought we had that. I thought we had humble players who were willing to work hard. It’s not easy because the expectations are so high for us. We came here with no other desire than to be champions of CONCACAF, and after two games that dream was already over. It was hard to regroup, but we regrouped and we got to this game. And as everybody knows, it’s always difficult to qualify to the World Cup. So for them to have won four straight games and to go to another World Cup, I think it’s just really an amazing job, considering where we were after two games.”
U.S. U-20 MNT forward BEN SPENCER
On his first-half goal:
“Emerson [Hyndman] put in a ball and I knew I had to get something on the end of it. I got on the end of the cross and it hit off the crossbar and sort of followed up and was able to put it in.”
On scoring in such an important game:
“It was a huge game for all of us, and we knew that coming into the game. So to be able to score in a game like this is definitely big. But the most important thing is that we won and we’re going to New Zealand.”
U.S. U-20 MNT midfielder RUSSELL CANOUSE
On not starting the first two games and then taking the captain’s responsibility to lead the team:
“In a couple of camps when Kellyn [Acosta] wasn’t in, I tried to take lead of the team the best I could. So when he went out injured, I just tried to step and lead the team, and try to get everyone to fight for what our goal was and it worked out well. We were able to win our last four games and made our dreams come true.”
On how all 20 players played in the tournament and were able to contribute:
“Tab said from the beginning that depth was important and we used all our guys. And offensively everyone was able to contribute. That was definitely one positive that we can take from this tournament.”
On how it feels to know the U-20 MNT is going to the World Cup:
“It’s a dream come true. That was one of my goals from the beginning of this cycle. You don’t want to think of it too far in advance, but it was definitely one of my goals and I’m glad we achieved it.”
U.S. U-20 MNT goalkeeper ZACK STEFFEN
On saving the penalty kick:
“I knew it was a PK, so I didn’t even try to argue it. I went back, got a sip of water and relax myself. We did a little bit of scouting on No. 11 on his previous PKs, that he went to my right side. So it was kind of a little mind game to see if he would switch it up and go to the left side. But I saw him look to the left side, and players usually try to trick the goalkeeper by looking one way and going the other. So I saw him look one way and I had a strong feeling he’d go right. And I was able to save it.”
On how he prepared for penalty kicks at training the day before:
“After he took it, I was thinking about yesterday and how we practiced them and how I was feeling good. The practice helped get me in the zone. If we didn’t practice I think I would have been a lot more nervous.”
On helping the team return to the World Cup:
“It’s awesome. To be the No. 1 and be able to carry the team with Russ [Canouse] and Kellyn [Acosta] to the World Cup, it’s very exciting.”
U.S. U-20 MNT defender MATT MIAZGA
On qualifying for the U-20 World Cup:
“Obviously it’s a good moment for us and U.S. Soccer. To be able to represent our country to the World Cup is a huge achievement. We’re going to work hard in the next few months and make that dream come true.”
On if there were any doubts after the first two games that the team would qualify:
“No. We’re a very confident group. We know we made our mistakes but we knew that we could correct them. And we knew that we had the chance to fix them in the upcoming games, and that’s what we did. We took each game one game at a time and we got the results. And it all came down to today against El Salvador and I thought we played a very good game and we got the result. All that matters now is that we booked our ticket to New Zealand.”
On the defense posting four straight shutouts:
“We’re a tight knit group of guys. We all get along really well, we all have each other’s backs, we all cover each other. If one guy makes a mistake, the other guy has his back. And I think we’re all very good players. So together we’ve played well and it showed in the results.”
U.S. U-20 MNT defender CAMERON CARTER-VICKERS
On qualifying for the U-20 World Cup:
“I think in the first games, we didn’t perform that well. But we improved. I think by the end, even though our performance may not have been the best, I always knew that we were going to win. I always knew that we had it in us to do what needed to be done.”
On Steffen’s PK save:
“It was excellent. I gave away the PK, so I was a bit nervous. And when he saved it I was relieved. I thought he was going to save it; I had a feeling he would and believed in his ability. We were practicing penalties yesterday in training and he saved quite a few, so I thought he had it in him.”