The United States will step up their preparations for the World Cup with a friendly against Turkey in New Jersey on Sunday. With their crucial opening fixture in Brazil against Ghana just over two weeks away, Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad will know that they will need to up their performance from the one that saw them grab two late goals to secure a victory over a limited Azerbaijan side in their first warm up game.
Leading up to that contest, there was much debate and scrutiny following Klinsmann’s decision to leave perhaps the country’s greatest ever player, Landon Donovan, off his final 23-man roster. But the U.S. coach will be hoping that making the announcement ahead of schedule will pay dividends and that all focus can now turn to those players remaining and their first game in Brazil.
Unlike some teams who may well arrive with a mind set of looking to grow into next month’s tournament, the U.S. will have no such luxury. With matches to come against European heavyweights Germany and Portugal, a win against the team who has knocked them out of the last two World Cups, Ghana, is all-but essential if they are to progress through the group stage for the fourth time in their last six finals. Klinsmann emphasized that there will be little difference in the level of importance compared to when the U.S. met Ghana in the round-of-16 four years ago.
"It's pretty much just like a knockout game anyways,” he told ESPN FC during U.S. team’s Fan Appreciation Day in New York’s Times Square on Friday. "We know if we can get the three points (against) Ghana we put ourselves in a very good position for the next game against Portugal in Manaus, in the Amazon. Therefore it is very, very crucial we have a good start.”
Given that the U.S. will need to hit the ground running in Brazil, Klinsmann will be delighted that captain Clint Dempsey will be able to take the field against Turkey. The Seattle Sounders attacking midfielder was removed from the starting lineup against Azerbaijan at the last minute due to a minor groin problem.
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“We kind of made sure he's not going sideways,” Klinsmann said last week, according to the Associated Press. “That was kind of bothering him and worrying him a little bit. He's all good. Today they have an easy regen day, travel day. So by tomorrow full speed in training. Everything is good.
“If something gets worse now the first 30 minutes or whatever, then you know what, there's no reason why we should risk now anything. It was not really risk, but it was a lot of work they put in here the last 2 1/2 weeks, so we just decided there on the field, c'mon, it's good [OK to sit him]. But he's ready to go.”
The U.S. can expect a stiff challenge from a Turkey team who narrowly missed out on qualification for the World Cup. Since Fatih Terim took over for his third spell as national team coach last august, Turkey have won nine out of 10 matches -- their only defeat coming against the Netherlands -- and comfortably beat World Cup qualifiers Honduras 2-0 in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick off at 2 p.m. from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available via Watch ESPN.