PHILADELPHIA — Five things to watch for in the U.S.’s final domestic tune-up before the World Cup, a friendly at Lincoln Financial Field against Turkey on Saturday (ESPN2, Galavisión, 2 p.m. ET):
• Will Oguchi Onyewu be as rusty as he looked against the Czechs? Granted, it was Onyewu’s first competitive game in seven months, but it was a scary sight for U.S. fans when Tomas Sivok (who’s four inches shorter than Onyewu) leaped above the rooted 6’4” American to head home the first Czech goal. One of Onyewu’s strengths during last year’s Confederations Cup was his ability to clear aerial threats from the U.S. box, and he has to show U.S. coach Bob Bradley that he can still get in the right positions and trust his repaired left knee enough to leap into the air for headers. Onyewu did look fine on the ball on Tuesday, but time is running out to prove he’s 100% with England and Wayne Rooney looming on June 12 in South Africa.
• Who will start up top for the U.S. next to Jozy Altidore? I expect to see all the U.S. first-teamers in this game, and the options for the second forward position are wide open in the absence of Charlie Davies. If it was my choice, I’d move Clint Dempsey from right midfield up top and insert Stuart Holden on the right flank. But considering that Bradley picked three forwards besides Altidore for his World Cup roster, he might try auditioning Edson Buddle and/or Herculez Gómez in that spot to see how the newbies interact with Altidore in a game situation. I could even see Buddle getting one half and Gómez getting the other. Another possibility is using Altidore as a lone striker, although Bradley has said repeatedly that his team plays better with a two-man front line.
• Will Turkey be firing on all cylinders for new coach Guus Hiddink? Unlike the Czechs, who were missing eight first-teamers, Turkey has brought most of its best players. They will no doubt be looking to impress superstar coach Hiddink, who takes over permanently on August 1 but will be in Philadelphia to watch the game. Several of these Turkish players starred on the highly entertaining team that reached the Euro 2008 semifinals, including Nihat Kahveci, Arda Turan, Emre Belozoglu, Semih Senturk and Kazim Kazim. They may not have qualified for the World Cup, but they’ll still be a major challenge for the Americans.
• Can Michael Bradley and his central midfield partner be effective two-way players? I’m expecting that Maurice Edu will get the start alongside Bradley, but it’s possible that we could see Ricardo Clark in that spot. Whoever the pairing ends up being, keep an eye on its ability not just to disrupt Turkey’s attacks but to switch into offensive mode quickly after winning the ball and string together some passes. The U.S.’s creative spark comes from Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the midfield flanks, but to be effective they’ll have to rely on Bradley and Edu/Clark to give them the ball in good positions on the half-turn (Dempsey) and on the run (Donovan).
• Can the U.S. avoid costly injuries so close to the World Cup? When I spoke to England coach Fabio Capello in March, he told me that it was important for England’s pre-World Cup friendlies to take place against teams (Mexico and Japan) that were also competing in the World Cup, since everyone would be looking to avoid injuries right before the big event. “If we play against a team that doesn’t play in the World Cup, that is dangerous,” Capello told me. Perhaps. I still think Turkey is a much better pre-World Cup opponent than the tomato cans the U.S. faced before World Cup ’06 (Latvia, Morocco and Venezuela), and I don’t think Turkey is a dirty team. But the fact remains that the U.S. could ill afford injuries to any of its first-teamers so close to leaving for South Africa.
Who do you think will start up top for the U.S.? How do you see this game playing out? And do you wonder if Bradley might ever consider a 3-5-2 given the back-line concerns and surplus of midfielders? Post your comments below, and check back for more later from Philly …