USMNT Defense Must Improve Before Nigeria Game

By Matt Johnson
Fabian Johnson
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In a little more than two weeks, the United States will open their 2014 World Cup campaign against a Ghana squad that features both skill and speed up front.

Whether the Stars and Stripes will ultimately be ready for that challenge remains a question.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s side certainly appeared ready to go offensively in their friendly against Turkey Sunday afternoon. On the flip side, the American defense remains shaky at best, which is where doubt remains.

The four-man combination of Geoff Cameron, Timmy Chandler, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson often appeared disorganized and confused. Perhaps it was due to an admittedly high degree of unfamiliarity with one another, especially in the case of Besler and Chandler, which allowed the Turks to roam freely through the American defense for the balance of 90 minutes.

Regardless of the reason, similar performances from the back four will result in a much worse result in Brazil than the 2-1 win they posted Sunday in New Jersey.

Questions also remain with forward Jozy Altidore, who looked aggressive when given space and created more than his fair share of chances. Yet Altidore, who is coming off a disheartening campaign with Sunderland, again came up short on the score sheet.

Even with Altidore’s struggles in finding the net, the Americans were pretty good offensively. Clint Dempsey, the team captain, looked especially composed and dangerous while Michael Bradley has clearly established himself as the team’s best midfielder, providing a beautiful helper on Johnson’s goal in the 26th minute.

It certainly appears Klinsmann will continue to push the pace on offense, which will play right into the skills of Johnson and Bradley, who were decisive in their moves forward during the contest.

With that said, midfield play yielded a bag of mixed results against Turkey. Despite Bradley’s strong game, the United States lost possession in midfield far too often and got caught in transition as a result. Jermaine Jones, while a solid defensive midfielder, surrendered the ball on multiple occasions. Doing so against the likes of Germany and Portugal will definitely make goal tender Tim Howard’s life more difficult in a few weeks.

The United States has one more tune-up against another World Cup entry in Nigeria on June 7.  It would not be surprising given the team’s defensive woes against the Turks to see Klinsmann shake up his lineup for that contest. Certainly Chandler, whose lazy giveaway led to Turkey’s lone goal on Sunday, figures to get some consideration for relegation to the bench against the Nigerians.

Klinsmann is no doubt aware of the struggles his side had defensively on Sunday. Will the United States again turn to virtually ageless DeMarcus Beasley and his 115 career caps against Nigeria?  That seems likely given Chandler’s lackluster performance against Turkey.

No matter what moves Klinsmann ultimately makes, one thing is clear: the United States needs to improve in its own end. The Turks, while a skillful side, don’t possess the firepower that will be front and center against the Americans in Brazil. And you can bet it will be a point that the German coach will make all too clear before the Nigeria game on Saturday.

Matt Johnson is a Big Ten Conference basketball columnist for  Follow on Twitter at mattytheole or “like” him on Facebook.

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