Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
HARRISON, N.J. — When it comes to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s fullback spots, there is still plenty of work to be done.
Jurgen Klinsmann has long professed a desire for his outside backs to jump into the attack, but Sunday’s friendly vs. Turkey showed that the Americans’ tactical wrinkle needs to be finetuned quite a bit before the World Cup games get underway in about two weeks.
Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler were deployed on the right and left, respectively, and both players helped set up the U.S.’s goals in the 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena. But they were also exposed defensively on occassion for being caught far too up the field, something that left U.S. fans feeling uneasy about the group stage matches that await in Brazil and the team knowing that further improvements need to be made.
“It’s important to find the right balance. You don’t want to just have people who just are going every time,” said U.S. captain Clint Dempsey when asked of the significance of having fullbacks who push forward. “When one outside back is going, the other one is staying. It’s important to have that good mix to throw the opposition off balance because that’s decisions they’re having to make in terms of their outside backs.
“Are they going with our outside backs or our midfielders, causing problems, and the quality of service that they’re able to get in when they get in wide positions or if they’re able to get into a position like Fabian got today where they’re able to get a shot on goal and finish the way he did. I think that adds more threats for us.”
Johnson – who contrary to popular belief is right-footed despite being so adept with his left – was the better of the two U.S. fullbacks against Turkey. The 26-year-old defender was caught out of position on a couple of instances, but he also timed his overlap runs well and provided an outlet for his American teammates to play through.
“I think it’s always better when you have a role you can focus on, but I think I got my position now,” said Johnson. “I just play there all the time so I think I’m going to play there in the future. I’m used to it, I played it at Hoffenheim.”
The familiarity there allowed for Johnson’s spectacular first goal in a U.S. jersey following a beautiful give-and-go sequence with Michael Bradley in the 26th minute. Johnson played a simple pass to Bradley, and continued his foray forward with a lung-busting run that caught Turkey’s defenders sleeping. Bradley then delicately chipped the ball back into Johnson’s path and the versatile veteran finished with a one-timed, left-footed effort that Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak had no shot of saving.
It was a dream goal and one that showed just how important Johnson can be to the U.S. attack this summer when it faces Ghana, Portugal and Germany in a tough Group G.
“Fabian, he’s very difficult to read for every opponent and, for us, it’s obviously a big plus to have him,” said Klinsmann. “He’s versatile, he can play the midfield the same role, on the other side the same. … He’s both-footed, he reads the game extremely well, technically, very gifted. It’s really fun to watch him, but over the last two, three years, becoming better and better.
“Not saying he’s there yet by no means, but I think it’s definitely a plus to have him and switch the gear here and there.”
Chandler did not enjoy as strong of a performance. Making his first start under Klinsmann since a 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss to Honduras in February 2013, the 24-year-old Chandler took some time to settle in at left back against the Turks and unsurprisingly did not appear to be on the same page as his other defenders at times.
He found his footing as the game wore on and wound up delivering the low cross in the 52nd minute that Dempsey tapped home from close range for the game-winner after Turkey centerback Hakan Balta botched a clearance attempt.
“For him, it’s important to get a little bit of rhythm and be back in that group and get a better understanding with the centerbacks,” said Klinsmann. “In this case, he had two next to him with (Matt) Besler in the first half and John Brooks in the second half, but also being connected then to the midfielders as well.
“It’s now automatic with every training session and with every game that we have at our disposal. The fine-tuning element is coming along. It’s getting better. It’s not there where we want it yet, there’s no question about it, but we’re working on it and the best way for a player to work on that is obviously to get out on the field and play a real match because we know that (fellow left back DaMarcus Beasley) and his way is fine tuned with everybody from many, many years.”
Chandler, however, began to struggle a bit more after left midfielder Brad Davis was replaced by Julian Green in the 63rd minute. Green did not track back as well as Davis had, leaving Chandler isolated against Turkey’s talented attackers.
Still, the biggest talking point of Chandler’s performance was the late blunder that only he has himself to blame for. Chandler was dispossessed of the ball on the left flank and that ultimately led to a penalty kick for Turkey that Selcuk Inan converted.
In the grand scheme of things, Sunday’s friendly vs. Turkey was always meant to test the fullbacks and the rest of the U.S. squad. The Americans now have a better understanding of what they can expect once they land in Brazil, and also know what areas they could be better in before getting there.
photo by Don Feria/ISIphotos.com