HARRISON, N.J. — The temptation after each of these World Cup tuneups is to make definitive statements about the state of the U.S. national soccer team. If it were that straightforward, however, the Americans would have been condemned to failure in Brazil for sputtering through their first friendly last week or viewed with suspicion following a 2-1 victory over Turkey on Sunday at sold-out Red Bull Arena.
Not every misstep foretells doom. Nor do the finer moments portend a deep run in the tournament, which is 10 days away.
“It’s important not to overanalyze these games,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “I understand everybody wants to because it’s exciting and there’s a World Cup coming up and everybody wants to look at every play and every minute in every game, but it’s important to look at these games in the context of the bigger picture.
“Our main goal is not Nigeria. It’s not Turkey. It’s Ghana.”
Nigeria is the final domestic test Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. The U.S. squad will then settle in Sao Paulo ahead of the Group G opener against Ghana on June 16 in Natal.
After beginning the tour with a lackluster 2-0 triumph over Azerbaijan in San Francisco, the Americans showed considerable improvement Sunday.
Fabian Johnson scored in the 28th minute, working a splendid combination with Bradley, and Clint Dempsey took advantage of a defensive gaffe early in the second half before Turkey’s Selcuk Inan converted a 90th-minute penalty kick.
U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann is not relying solely on the friendlies to evaluate his squad; since gathering at Stanford University three weeks ago, training sessions and scrimmages have provided clarity. And along the way, “we get a little bit of confirmation in the games,” he said.
Sunday’s match provided additional confirmation of Johnson’s starting role at right back — his position with Hoffenheim in Germany’s Bundesliga this season. Since joining the U.S. squad 21 / 2 years ago, he has played left back or left wing.
“He is very difficult to read for every opponent,” Klinsmann said. “For us, it’s a big plus. He is versatile. He has a change of pace that can really surprise opponents. . . . It’s really fun to watch him over the last two, three years get better and better.”
On Johnson’s goal, his first in 21 U.S. appearances, he played the ball to Bradley, darted through a channel and, at full pace, one-timed the return pass with authority to the far corner.
“It’s always better when you have a role and you can focus on that, but I think I got my position now and I can focus and keep on going,” said Johnson, who is among five German Americans on the 23-man squad.
Said Bradley: “His mobility and movement off the ball is so good, he told me with the way he was running that he was going to keep running through.”
While Johnson has secured the right corner, the left and middle remain murky. In a struggle with DaMarcus Beasley for the starting job on the left, Timmy Chandler was given 90 minutes to make his case.
He labored defensively but set up Dempsey’s goal with a cross that was misplayed by Hakan Kadir Balta at the six-yard box.
Center back John Brooks, a surprise roster selection, performed well partnering with Geoff Cameron in the second half, but Cameron and Matt Besler remain the favorites.
Two other areas came under review: defensive midfield and striker. The diamond-shaped midfield formation did not work in the first half, exposing Jermaine Jones and prompting Klinsmann to use Bradley and Kyle Beckerman side by side when defending in the second half. (Klinsmann said he had pre-planned the Jones-Beckerman switch, regardless of the situation.)
On the front line, Jozy Altidore provided work rate, high pressure and presence but remained in the scoring rut that soured his first season with Sunderland in the English Premier League.
However, he is Klinsmann’s only forward with the strength to occupy opposing center backs and, barring a tactical change, seems certain to remain in the lineup.
In another sign that Altidore’s job is not in jeopardy, Klinsmann emphasized the importance of Altidore and Dempsey continuing to bond before Brazil: “They need to really fine-tune. They need to read each other blindly, and it only comes with time.”
Klinsmann’s most controversial selection, 18-year-old Julian Green, is going to need a lot of time. In his second U.S. appearance, the Bayern Munich prospect seemed naive to the international game during a 27-minute outing and failed to make an imprint on the match.
Klinsmann had nothing bad to say about the youngster, and in the long run, Green’s inclusion on the roster may pay dividends. But with the regulars expected to horde playing time in the Nigeria match, Green probably missed his prime opportunity to make a case before this year’s tournament.
As Klinsmann and the players reminded everyone, though, the overall vision trumps single moments in an inconsequential match.
Said Cameron: “It’s another step in the right direction for Brazil.”