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May 31, 2014

U.S. ready for Turkey test

The ESPN FC crew discuss the United States' match against Turkey as they prepare for Brazil.

HARRISON, N.J. -- The U.S. national team's pre-World Cup schedule is about to get serious.

Five days after an American squad, heavy-legged and weary from two weeks of intense fitness training in Northern California, slogged its way through a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan, the Yanks will face a pair of much tougher tests before flying to Brazil on June 8 -- starting with Sunday afternoon's tilt here vs. Turkey (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN).

"We wanted to start off kind of on an easy foot," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said Friday of the slate of tune-ups -- which concludes with a June 7 match against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla. -- during the team's media day in New York City Friday.

"I think with Turkey we have a team now on a very high level. They have very good individual players, and they will challenge us."

At least that's what Turkey's most recent match would suggest. As they prepared to head east on Thursday, Klinsmann and his squad watched on television as the Turks soundly dispatched World Cup-bound and U.S. CONCACAF rival Honduras, 2-0, in a friendly played in Washington, D.C.

"I expect them maybe to attack a little more than Azerbaijan did," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "They have a point to prove -- we're a World Cup team and they're not -- so it should be a tough match."

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It should also be the first significant test for a U.S. back four that is under plenty of scrutiny because its dearth of World Cup experience.

Before last week's send-off series opener, Klinsmann indicated that he would experiment with the defense during the three stateside matches. But with Azerbaijan happy to sit back, the coach couldn't have learned much about that quartet's readiness for the main event.

Thus, it was little surprise to see same group that started last week -- right back Fabian Johnson, middlemen Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler and lefty DaMarcus Beasley -- lined up together during a scrimmage at Saturday's open training session at Red Bull Arena.

"They're going to put pressure on us," said Cameron, who could go the distance Sunday after playing only the first half in San Francisco. "And it's another test for us to get into our groove and get some confidence, set our lines up defensively, collectively. Organization is key going into a World Cup, so you want to get into those good habits."

You also want to get the first-choice back line reps. Elsewhere, though, there seems to be more room to tinker.

Klinsmann passes on advice to Altidore and Dempsey in a training session at Red Bull Arena.
Klinsmann passes on advice to Altidore and Dempsey in a training session at Red Bull Arena.

Clint Dempsey, now fully recovered from a groin problem, will reclaim his spot up top alongside Jozy Altidore. Beckerman could spell Jermaine Jones at the bottom of the midfield diamond. The two other field players who didn't feature last week -- youngsters Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin -- could get their first minutes, too.

And with the easy part of the schedule now over, Klinsmann could get a few answers.

"With Turkey," the coach said, "We really have a benchmark that gives us a little bit more insight into things."

Notes:

-- While Klinsmann insists the U.S. could use different formations in different situations in Brazil, it sure sounds like the 4-4-2 will continue to be his go-to scheme this summer.

"I think that that system right now suits a lot of our players," he said Friday. "It's based on our strengths if you look at Michael Bradley coming out of that position in the No. 10 role, Clint up front with Jozy. [And] the diamond version requires fullbacks who go down the line, [like] Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley."

-- Yedlin has been particularly impressed with fellow right back Johnson during camp. "He's a guy I'm definitely watching a lot right now and trying to learn from him," the 20-year-old said in New York. "He's very good with both feet, which is what makes him so impressive to me. He can cut in and take a 40-yard shot with his left foot just as good as with his right, which is very dangerous. That's definitely one thing I'm working on."

-- Plenty of people believe that the host nation won't be prepared to host the planet's biggest sporting event when the tournament kicks off on June 12. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati isn't one of them.

"Some of the stadiums obviously are bit behind, but we're certainly convinced that they'll be ready to go when we get there to play the games," Gulati, the lone American on FIFA's executive committee, told a small group of reporters Saturday. "Every World Cup has issues to the last minute. Brazil's got challenges. They'll be met." -- U.S. soccer announced that Sunday's game is officially sold out, with an overflow crowd of more than 25,000 fans expected.