NEW YORK — If Azerbaijan barely troubled the US national team defensively in their first World Cup tune-up match, Turkey will prove a massive test for an American back line that is still coming together (Sunday, 2 pm ET on ESPN2 and UniMas).
The European side, which missed out on the World Cup after failing to emerge from the qualifying stage, was a focused and determined bunch in road victories against the Republic of Ireland (2-1) and against Honduras at RFK Stadium (2-0) earlier this week.
In each case the Turks were merciless in punishing mistakes by unleashing a clinical counterattack, led by St. Etienne (France) forward Mevlut Erdinc. The USA will need to show they can foil that counter and, most importantly, avoid the costly error.
"We need games that really keep us on our toes," US manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We need games, especially for our backline that challenges them not to lose focus and concentration not even for one moment in our game. Otherwise you get punished and that costs you badly, especially when you go into Brazil.
"Mistakes will happen also in Brazil. But we’ll just reduce them as much as possible. So I think [Turkey] will be a good game for us."
Ex-Houston Dynamo centerback Geoff Cameron and Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler formed the starting centerback pairing in the cakewalk against Azerbaijan with former MLSer DaMarcus Beasley and Bundesliga-based Fabian Johnson manning the left and right fullback positions, respectively.
It's unclear whether there will be any changes in the foursome for Turkey, but LA Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez says he's 100 percent and ready to take on the Turks.
"We have to be aware of [Turkey] on the counter and we just got to keep from our centerbacks to our forwards, keep a good amount of space there — not too far — and we should be fine."
"Turkey is an unpredictable team," Klinsmann said. "And it’s a team that has a lot of individual skills in there, good players that can make a difference in half a second."
But the US manager says fans shouldn't mistake Turkey for Portugal -- "You can't imitate Portugal because you don’t find a second Cristiano Ronaldo out there," he argues.
And although they might not be an identical match, US goalkeeper Tim Howard still feels that the match at Red Bull Arena will give the US team a taste of what they can expect in Brazil.
"Turkey is going to set us up really well for the [World Cup] group," Howard said. "They're going to hit us on the break. It's going to be a wide-open game. They've got some playmakers, which is exactly the way the three teams in our group are set up."