By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010; D03
PHILADELPHIA -- The first World Cup tuneup had gone poorly four days earlier and, through a half of Saturday's friendly against Turkey, the U.S. national soccer team continued to exhibit a plodding attack and glaring defensive deficiency.
If England's scouts were watching, they surely were growing with confidence ahead of the Group C opener in Rustenburg, South Africa, on June 12.
But over the final 45 minutes, the Americans found their game. Boosted by reserves Jose Torres and Robbie Findley, they played with energy and enterprise, incorporated Landon Donovan and solved their defending woes to manufacture a 2-1 victory over Turkey in front of 55,407 at Lincoln Financial Field.
On Sunday evening, when the Americans board a jet at Dulles International Airport bound for Johannesburg, they will carry a heightened level of confidence and a greater variety of lineup options. They'll draw from a second-half performance in which they showed marked improvement over both the 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Tuesday and a troubling first half against the Turks.
"The type of game we were in today pushed the players really hard, and that's what you want," said U.S. Coach Bob Bradley, whose squad will play its last tuneup next Saturday against Australia in Roodepoort, South Africa.
"The response in the second half was a strong one. . . . When you consider everything that has gone on in the last few weeks [at training camp and in these friendlies], it pushes us into a good position, and now we are ready to move on to South Africa."
They're in a good position, not a great one. Questions remain about the back line personnel. Jonathan Spector, the projected starter at right back against England, was left behind against swift counterattacks and assertive runs. His troubles came four days after the Americans were exposed on the left side, albeit with reserves.
Bradley's lineup was at almost full strength against Turkey, which didn't qualify for the World Cup. And in the first half, the Americans were outpaced and outclassed. Arda Turan scored in the 27th minute and the United States didn't threaten until the closing minutes.
The introduction of Torres and Findley helped turned the match.
Torres, an enigma since joining the national team two years ago, distributed the ball with precision and purpose from central midfield, and, for a change, provided defensive assistance.
"We knew we had to change the rhythm of the game," said Torres, who started Tuesday and, admittedly, was "a little stiff" against the Czechs.
Findley, the most controversial choice to the final roster, pressured the Turkish defenders with his speed and helped initiate the second goal. His pace "opened them up," Clint Dempsey said. "They were a little bit more scared, they dropped back and we were able to get into those pockets."
Not so much in the first half. Turkey dictated play and went ahead when no one covered for Spector, who had made an ambitious run and was left behind on the counterattack. Turan gathered Colin Kazim-Richards's long through ball in stride on the left flank and beat Howard.
Said Bradley, "We actually put a little bit of initial pressure [after losing possession], but the next level of reactions was not that good."
After the personnel moves at halftime, the Americans seized control. Donovan, so quiet in the first half, was active and engaged, creating on the right side -- a position he rarely plays for the U.S. team but excelled in while on loan with English club Everton this past winter.
In the 58th minute, the Americans drew even on a perfectly crafted sequence. It began with Jay DeMerit launching a long ball to Findley, who served an outstanding chip over a defender to Donovan.
With goalkeeper Volkan Demirel charging, Donovan used a quick touch to continue his run and then cross to Jozy Altidore for a simple finish from six yards.
Maintaining their rhythm and shape, the Americans dictated play and, in the 75th minute, went ahead. Donovan gathered Steve Cherundolo's throw-in and sent the ball through to Dempsey, who won a battle with Sabri Sarioglu deep in the box and stabbed a shot past Demirel.
Said Donovan, "To know that we can be down against a good team and have the ability -- in a really intelligent way -- to push the game and make it faster and be more aggressive without giving up things in the back, is really good for us."