Featured, May 2014, USMNT

TYAC’s US vs. Turkey Preview: Turks a Tactical Challenge

Will Michael be better in his backyard?

Will Michael be better in his backyard?

Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon

USA – Turkey: Your TYAC Preview

Welcome to round two of the Send-Off Series, a round that should be a lot more telling than round one. Tuesday’s win over Azerbaijan was a good start, but it wasn’t exactly revelatory. The Yanks can score on set pieces, and Jurgen Klinsmann has a knack for making impactful substitutions. I knew that, even if the set piece goals were reassuring. You knew that, even if the set piece gols were reassuring. My mom knew that, even if…you get it. Next!

The usuals:

Series: 4th Meeting. Series Tied 1-1-1.The two teams drew the first meeting, in Turkey. Some really fascinating stuff about the next two matches.

The second was the only one that “counted”, a 2-1 victory for the Turks in the 2003 Confederations Cup in France. This was before the Confederation Cup was held the year prior to the World Cup in the host country. In that match- the tournament opener for both teams- and the US took the lead early on after a laser Landon Donovan cross found a streaking DaMarcus Beasley’s head (yes, head) to give the Yanks a 1-0 lead. Wearing the captain’s armband that day (for the first time!) was Frankie Hejduk, spiritual leader of our friends at Free Beer MovementUnfortunately for Hejduk, he was called for a penalty after an assistant referee missed an apparent handball in the area by Turkish forward Tuncay- and Okan Yilmaz put the penalty past an outstretched Tim Howard- making his first senior team start!!!– to level the match. Howard was spectacular that day– stopping six shots and earning Man of the Match honors in defeat- a defeat that was sealed through Tuncay in the 70th minute. Also featuring in that match– none other than ESPN and US Soccer “Scoop” guy Taylor Twellman, who came on as the US chased an equalizer to no avail late.

Send-Off Series performances parlayed into PT. Ask Jose Torres.

Send-Off Series performances parlayed into PT. Ask Jose Torres.

Finally, the third meeting. Proof that “Send Off Series” games almost always ensure someone of PT at the World Cup they might not have seen otherwise. Also proof of the reverse- players you had pegged for PT can lose it with a bad “Send Off” show. The US won 2-1 in Philadelphia, and for this little website, it was one of the earlier Yanks Are Coming goes press credentialed experiences. But enough about us– it was also the game that so many in the media and fan base alike fell (back?) in love with one Jose Francisco Torres. Torres’ brilliant performance (highlighted in this “Man he’s raw as hell but has skills like the Nasty Boys” review by Neil W. Blackmon) earned him a start against Slovenia– a start that lasted a half– like his ill-fated Costa Rica start at Saprissa in the same cycle– and reminded us why we shouldn’t ever take too much from one game. 

Meanwhile, Arda Turan scored for Turkey and Jon Spector’s lack of pace made him look foolish far too often, a show that cost Spector PT in Brazil and really reversed the fortune, in hindsight, of what was a promising national team career to that point. Whether it is nerves or matchups or the more likely both– Send-Off Series games are friendlies that matter.

Let’s talk specifics…

Captain green-lighted.

Captain green-lighted.

Jon Levy on what to watch for from the Yanks:

Our boys fought through the return of familiar hurdle on Tuesday night, and credit to them for doing so and finding a way to get the win without clearing the hurdle, solving the problem, or fixing the glitch. I can throw out more clichés, or I can just link to the Destiny’s Child song “Bug A Boo.”  Don’t act like you’re too cool for it; just click the link and jam for three minutes and fourteen seconds.

 So what is the bugaboo that assailed this team yet again against Azerbaijan? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the inability to convert possession into scoring chances through the run of play. Once again, it wasn’t just the final ball that was missing, but the pass or two leading up to it as well. The Yanks dominated the ball in San Fran, which we all expected against a bunker defense fro the Land of Fire, but barely breached the Azeri eighteen yard box aside from set pieces. It makes me wanna throw my pager out the window! (seriously, click the Destiny’s Child link above, be in on the joke, drink liquor, do drugs, invest in tech startups…)

 So why is this nasty inefficiency coming back to plague the USMNT at the least opportune time, when it seemed the magical summer of 2013 had banished it forever? We can blame the formation if we want. After all, what was billed as a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield actually played more like a traditional Bob Bradley formation with a dual destroyer central midfield on four-four-Tuesday night. Whether this was a product of Jermaine Jones being tethered and MB 90 struggling while not serving as the conduit of the attack or whether it was about the lack of our best attacker, Captain Clint Dempsey, it was a struggle.

You can’t play just anybody behind the striker(s), and in the case of this match Jurgen decided not to play anyone there, when in hindsight this would have been a good time to test drive a Dempsey backup. Wondolowski is better between the hashes and Altidore isn’t getting the space he needs to be available when that’s the case– and even though Wondo acquitted himself fairly well, it’s not a coincidence the better US moments came after he left and Aron Johannsson entered and began moving frenetically off the ball from wider positions. This allows Altidore space to receive the ball and (cement block slow, but still…) turn- and it was one such sequence that led to an American goal.

Another prime chance for Diskerud? Probably not against this team.

Another prime chance for Diskerud? Probably not against this team.


 In truth however the lack of offensive incision is probably down more to the personnel than any loose suggestion of a formation, and with Dempsey back in the lineup I look for the team to go back to creating chances as they did in the last six or seven games of World Cup Qualifying. That said, Klinsmann is absolutely relying on more production from the likes of Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson. Everyone who’s ever written a word about US Soccer has rightfully lamented the exclusion of Landon Donovan, but no one’s rattling the saber for Eddie Johnson, the only American center forward since Charlie Davies to establish any sort of chemistry with nailed-on starter Jozy Altidore. Most of that radio silence is down to mediocre club form at DC United (where EJ’s now established a rapport with Fabian Espindola), but it seems Eddie’s not getting the credit he deserves for coming off the USMNT bench, changing the formation, immediately establishing the new proper spacing with Altidore, and linking up with him and the midfield effectively to help change the game. I’ll never assert that he’s got Charlie & Jozy “Stanky Leg Tour” ’09 chemistry with Altidore, but since we’re going with Destiny’s Child today- I’m going to need to see one of the forwards on this roster match Johnson’s feats before I stop saying his name.

Beyond this, a couple of things to watch for:

1) Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman, obviously. If you buy into the notion that Turkey can be framed as Portugal prep– then perhaps you’d like Beckerman to start Sunday and that’s a good shout. But Jermaine Jones did a couple of things we touched on in the Azerbaijan recap that impressed. First, he stayed home. He might not have liked it and he might be frustrated by it, but he stayed home, which is particularly impressive given that against the bunkered “Land of Fire” he didn’t have much to do and the temptation would be to get forward and do it plenty.

More prone to silly yellows in the Hex than JJ. Stop the myth.

More prone to silly yellows in the Hex than JJ. Stop the myth.


Second, he avoided a yellow card against a trigger-happy referee. The book on Jones remains that he’s a hothead or he’s certain to receive a yellow card or three in Brazil, because, you know- Jermaine Jones always gets yellow cards. Pithily, the book- at least playing for Jurgen Klinsmann- is nonsense and the writing suggesting this is lazy. He’s received one yellow in the last two years and you could make the argument he deserved more- but that’s wistful and ignores the reality that players like Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore received far worse yellows to end up suspended on cards in the Hex while Jones forged on. An antagonizer like Pepe is more likely to infuriate Clint Dempsey, if you are into “club says hothead” arguments, than Jones, and it’s time we respect the fact Jones has remained disciplined in a US shirt. Unless we want to consider Michael Bradley a risk still because he got a ridiculously silly red card in the Spain match and contributed significantly to the US losing a 2-0 lead in its only international final. If we’re okay with that argument, then I’m okay with Jones hothead jokes.

2) Nerves and clearances and back four PT. That’s three things but weaving them together– it’s crucial Klinsmann give Cameron and Besler extended time together if that’s his pairing. Besler looked every bit the player in awe of the “Send Off Series/World Cup imminent” moment the other night. Was that a one-off? As for the others- Beasley’s earned this spot and that bears repeating- but a start Sunday would confirm Klinsmann shares that belief, we think. And what’s with Jurgen’s love affair with inverting everything and everyone?

3) A 4-4-2 where the US presses the CB’s up the field and runs at the Turkish FB’s. Note how good Andy Najar was at this in the friendly last night at times and how when Honduras’ weak front line put pressure on the CB’s and Turkey’s deeper lying midfielder- usually Galatasary’s Selçuk İnan in more critical matches. This has been kryptonite to the Turks in the past, which leads us to Neil’s stuff on Turkey…

Not the swashbucklers led by Nihat. But still good.

Not the swashbucklers led by Nihat. But still good.

Neil W. Blackmon on w hat will we see out of Turkey?

So Turkey are a fun side to watch play football but not really the fun-loving Nihat is cool side that TYAC and so many fell in love with at the 2008 EURO. They were, however, alive for a playoff spot in a brutal World Cup UEFA qualifying group until the last day, when they fell 2-0 to the Netherlands at home. The thinking with this publication is that the Turkish FA waited too long to bring Fatih Terim- who led the charge of that fantastic 2008 EURO side- back into the fold.

When Terim was hired in August, the Turks had seven points in their UEFA group and looked like they would never catch either Romania or Hungary for the playoff spot. They then decimated three sides, including Romania, to set up the crucial Netherlands match at home but failed to upset the already qualified Dutch at home.

The good news? They’ve continued the good run since- winning three matches in a row heading into Sunday and finally showing some tactical flexibility. I bring that up because…

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results- then the Turks and their classic 4-3-3 have the market cornered. 

The Turks kept Terim on for the 2010 qualifying campaign, and failed, and it was perhaps this failure that ultimately cost them qualification in this cycle or at least contributed to their waiting too long to bring him back into the fold. Following his departure, a team that shifted from a 4-4-2 that could deploy Hamit Altintop, Arda Turan, and Nihat effectively in combination or a more classic 4-3-3, where they counter with pace and slick incuts from width, largely through Turan but not by necessity, if you viewed the 2-0 win over Honduras last evening— resigned itself to solely playing 4-3-3 and this was a trend that continued for nearly three full years.

Will Fatih Terim finally make Turkey less predictable?

Will Fatih Terim finally make Turkey less predictable?

In that time, the Turks found themselves on the brink of EURO 2012 qualification, deploying the 4-3-3 under Guus Hiddink, with Giray Kacar brought in at the back, Burak Yilmaz upfront, and support from Arda Turan and the aging Hamit Altintop. (Nihat never really recovered from the injury that kept him out of the 2008 EURO semifinal against Germany, one of the better matches played in the aughts…but that’s another day). The argument traditionally was that this formation made best use of Turkish personnel– but in the crucial EURO qualifying match against Croatia- Hiddink was bested by a standard 4-4-2 Croatia side, who pounded Turkey 3-0. 

That match– and many Turkish matches since– especially under the man Terim replaced- Adbullah Avci- represented this sort of contrast in styles. As Sir Alex Ferguson puts it:

“The idea behind the 4-5-1 is that you can control the midfield and keep possession of the ball – that’s always your aim when you use that formation. I believe the team that has possession of the ball has more opportunities to win the match. As for the 4-4-2, there is more emphasis in that formation placed on playing the ball forward and usually you use the two traditional wingers.”

So, Croatia, whilst getting dominated in possession (70-30!!), withstood the Turkish attack because they pressed heavily at the top of the pitch,closing down the center backs and the deep-lying Selcuk Inan, and then when they received the ball, they utilized Mandzukic to spring forward to join Olic whilst Inan would be attracted to the ball. It wouldn’t be shocking then, if the US pressed heavily up top and utilized Dempsey in this manner, allowing Altidore help and sucking either Inan or deputy and rising star Hakan Çalhanoğlu, toward the ball. This would also allow the US to fly Bedoya and Zusi down the flanks at the fullbacks (and later, I’d think Julian Green), to test Turkey’s fullbacks, who are at best a pedestrian lot.

Nuri Sahin is formiddable in the Turkish center.

Nuri Sahin is formiddable in the Turkish center.

Beyond this, the Americans will see a Turkish team that does, in many ways, deputize for Portugal, without the wildly talented right flank- (it would help if Turan played, just for practice against an elite wide player). Dortmund’s Nuri Şahin is not Mountinho for the Turks but he’s a reasonable enough stand-in, and the aforementioned Inan is not Meireles but he’s highly regarded in almost all soccer circles. If the US play 4-4-2 and press, then they can put Turkey in a position to have to break them down through the center– or at the very least defend the Turks deep with two banks of four, and make a team whose central midfield is steady, but not creative, try to drag Zusi and Bedoya inside to deal with the 3 v 2, and then dare the Turks to use pedestrian fullbacks on the overlap.

This isn’t a carbon-copy of how to beat Portugal, but it’s not dissimilar, and it may serve as an argument for Beckerman and perhaps more interestingly, an argument against Diskerud, who is sometimes Mix Dis-interested in defending and likely ill-suited to deal with an intelligent counterattacking side.

Is it possible that Terim could mix it up and revert to his (albeit slightly) preferred 4-4-2? Sure- but this failed against Holland when the chips were on the table and it might not be best suited to Turkey’s personnel, especially if Turan is unavailable. The main thing? Don’t give Inan and company too much time on the ball, so as to allow them to feel comfortable and dictate tempo- and don’t be afraid to shuttle inside to track wingers when the fullbacks overlap. Finally, the US shouldn’t fear the Turkish strikers with Yilmaz absent that much. Turkey’s wing play has remained steady since the magical EURO run– it’s the absence of Nihat and the age of Altintop as a creative central force, coupled with tactical rigidity, that have sent the Turks into decline.

Jones is tenacious and emotional. But not card prone. Not for a while.

Jones is tenacious and emotional. But not card prone. Not for a while.

US Player to Watch: Jermaine Jones

Got into this a bit above. Here’s more.

Hey did you hear about Jermaine Jones? He’s the new US Soccer lightning rod discussion topic! Landon Donovan is so last week. So what’s all the fuss about JJ? Enjoy this selection of paraphrased thoughts framed as quotes you might have heard or read at some point this week:

 “Klinsmann wants Michael Bradley to attack more, so he’s gonna have Jones sit back and operate as a ‘traditional six’ defensive midfielder.”

 “Yeah, so that’s not gonna work; Jones has all the physical tools and defensive ability to shield the back four responsibly, but he likes to freelance too much.”

 “This is a great idea if Klinsmann can get him to stay disciplined and do the defensive job before even thinking about getting forward.”

 And when the diamond 4-4-2 with Jones as the “six” popped up on our screens Tuesday night we all thought we’d get some answers, but alas, Michael Bradley stayed back and interchanged with Jermaine as we’ve seen them do within Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1 in the past. Effective, but not the “told you so!” fodder that either side of the Jermaine Jones argument could wield with impunity. Now I’m not sure if Jermaine will start on Sunday, but we should get some sort of status report on the JJ vs. The Dred Pirate Beckerman camp competition in this match.

 To borrow a few basketball terms, Turkey likes to “run the fast break” and “get out in transition.” That aspect of their game puts defensive midfielders to the fire (sometimes full backs too, remember Turkey signaled the death of Jonathan Spector’s USMNT career). That’s a lot more than we can say about what I’ll call a benign Azeri attack that tested no one in any substantial way. We know the strengths and weaknesses of the American defensive midfielders. Jermaine Jones is bigger, faster, stronger, and has more quality in his feet. But this ain’t futbol Americano. Kyle Beckerman is a more disciplined, better positioned defensive force, and he makes quicker, safer decisions with the ball at his feet. The question still up for debate: who diagnoses the opposing attack faster and with more accuracy? I think I know the answer, but Jermaine could always surprise me. He’s sitting in pole position for starts in Brazil, but he’s got some proving grounds to conquer before we take a chance on another Ricardo Clark early red card or horror show performance.

No Yilmaz. So who tests the US back four?

No Yilmaz. So who tests the US back four?

 Turkish Player to Watch: Whoever stands in for Yilmaz, if he’s actually hurt

 Sticking with the theme of “possible US weaknesses that Azerbaijan was unable to test,” I give you a striker that would scare the living crap out of you if he was on any of the three teams in our World Cup group. Yilmaz would start for Portugal, he’d be a dream in Jogi Loew’s Germany system (though there’s no getting past Klose’s World Cup resume), and Burak might even have the wheels to run with Ghana’s strike force. With Yilmaz out- the question of who does any of the hold-up play and serves as a test for the US back four from a pure forward perspective is a good one.

 I first became a fan of Yilmaz when West Ham targeted the then-Trabzonspor striker to bolster the attack upon their return to the Premier League in 2012. Sadly, despite heavy interest, that deal was never really close to happening for the Hammers. Instead, all Yilmaz did was transfer to Turkish giants Galatasary and score 40 goals in his first 62 matches. This after scoring 55 in 75 for Trabzonspor. The guy’s a “fox in the box,” but he can take you on the dribble from outside the area as well. All told, Yilmaz is the perfect player to expose any defensive weaknesses the new center back tandem may be hiding, and in some respects, it is a shame whatever he may have uncovered can no longer serve as a fix-it list for the US coaching staff and not a road map for the strikers in group G.

 Prediction: USA 2 – 2 Turkey

We’ve got the makings of an evenly-matched, entertaining game. Clint Dempsey’s back, and he’ll be back in the goals. Now let’s hope I’m wrong on Turkey scoring a couple, and that they’re not too damning if I’m right. Either way, this match should be a decent measuring stick with regard to our chances of surviving the group of death.

Enjoy the match, and Go USA! 

Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon co-founded this website. Follow them on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt and @TYAC_Jon.