HARRISON, N.J. – After getting an up-close and personal look at the United States, Turkey coach Fatih Terim is confident that Jurgen Klinsmann's Americans have what it takes to make headway in this summer's World Cup.
"I believe that they can do a very good job," said Terim, one of international soccer's most experienced managers having guided Turkey to the semifinals of the 2008 European Championships and coached at AC Milan and Galatasaray. "They are a solid team with talented players. I have confidence in Klinsmann."
However, after an unspectacular and in some ways troubling 2-1 victory at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, fans of the Group of Death-bound U.S. men's national team may not share quite the same level of optimism.
Goals for Fabian Johnson and captain Clint Dempsey were enough to get the win as Turkey pulled a goal back late with a penalty kick from Selcuk Inan, but Klinsmann's troops were far from convincing. With just over two weeks left before its opening World Cup contest against Ghana, the U.S. still has question marks.
"We still have a lot of work ahead of us," Klinsmann said.
A second straight friendly win to follow last Tuesday's 2-0 triumph over Azerbaijan was nice, but some big scary monsters – otherwise known as Ghana, Portugal and Germany – lie in wait. The Group G opponents will provide a sterner test for an American side that experienced defensive jitters against Turkey and still has a handful of positions still up for grabs.
One spot that is locked down belongs to Fabian Johnson at right back. He struck the first goal after 26 minutes, exchanging passes with Michael Bradley – the midfielder's return ball was exquisite – to smack home a low, left-footed drive.
Captain Clint Dempsey, returning from a groin issue that kept him out against Azerbaijan, added the second U.S. goal in the 52nd minute, tapping the ball into the net after the Turkish defense had struggled to cope with Timmy Chandler's hopeful cross.
Although it took until the final moments for Turkey to score, the U.S. defense looked perilously suspect for a significant stretch. And though what you see in friendly games must be taken with a grain of salt, the kind of flaws that would be acceptable are those of ring rust, not miscommunication.
The U.S. backline does not yet look like a cohesive unit and Chandler got smoked by Mustafa Pektemek down the left flank in the last minute, with the Turkish winger winning a penalty kick when his cross was handled by Geoff Cameron. Inan made no mistake from the spot, sneaking the ball inside the post even though halftime sub Brad Guzan guessed the right way.
With its only official remaining friendly coming against Nigeria in Jacksonville on Saturday, several positions could yet be switched out. That includes the competition between Chandler and DaMarcus Beasley at left back. Brad Davis, on the other hand, might have booked his spot in left midfield.
John Brooks perhaps played his way into contention for a starting central defensive role after coming on in the second half and looking impressive. Less than two weeks ago, Brooks looked like a long shot to make the final squad of 23. Now he has a real chance to be in the first XI against Ghana.
"We have to give everybody an opportunity to step in," Klinsmann said. "We see players that struggled a bit more with the workload a couple of weeks ago. They are getting fresher and fresher. It is all part of the process."
Klinsmann's tenure has been all about gradual progress. Ultimately, the judgment on him will have nothing to do with afternoons like this and everything to do with the outcome in the World Cup cauldrons of Natal, Manaus, Recife and, dare he believe it, maybe beyond.
Those judgment days are closing in. And the U.S. is not as close to being the finished product as it would like.