US lacks toughest opponents in World Cup warmups
NEW YORK (AP) — Defending champion Spain and stars Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta will train in the Washington, D.C., area next week. England and Wayne Rooney arrive Sunday for a week of workouts in Miami. Ivory Coast and Didier Drogba have games in St. Louis and Texas.
But instead of preparing for the World Cup against top teams and global stars, the United States arranged a sendoff series against No. 85 Azerbaijan, No. 39 Turkey and No. 44 Nigeria.
Not that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t try to schedule tougher opponents.
“You’re trying to find the best teams that suit you. It’s not that easy anymore,” he said leading to Sunday’s exhibition against the Turks at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
When the U.S. contacted high-profile teams, Klinsmann said they backed off.
“Has to do a little bit with our results of the last two years,” he added.
Since Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011, the U.S. beat Italy for the first time in 11 games over 78 years, defeated Mexico in Mexico for the first time in 75 years and qualified for its seventh straight World Cup.
Klinsmann chose Stanford University for a two-week training camp that opened May 14, and the Americans started their prep schedule Tuesday with a 2-0 win over the Azerbaijanis — coached by Berti Vogts, a special adviser to Klinsmann. The American defense and goalkeeper Tim Howard were hardly tested, and the U.S. offense seemed to be slowed by heavy legs following a physically demanding training camp.
“Now the teams start progressively getting harder,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “I think it’s a great three games for us, and it’s just an opportunity for us to shore things up, to gain a little bit of confidence.”
Turkey hasn’t appeared at the World Cup since 2002, when the Crescent-Stars finished third after losing to eventual champion Brazil 1-0 in the semifinals, then lost to Germany in the semis of the 2008 European Championship. The Turks finished fourth in their qualifying group for this World Cup, behind the Netherlands, Romania and Hungary.
Preparing for the start of 2016 European Championship qualifying, Turkey won 2-1 at Ireland last weekend on goals by Ahmet Ilhan Ozek and Tarik Camdal, then beat World Cup-bound Honduras 2-0 Thursday at Washington’s RFK Stadium when Mevlut Erdinc scored in the 70th minute and set up Caner Erkin’s goal on a counterattack in the 83rd.
“Turkey is an unpredictable team. It’s a team that has a lot of individual skills and they are good players that can make a difference in half a second,” Klinsmann said. “We need games that really keep us on our toes. We need games that especially for our back line ... 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.”
Four years ago, the U.S. rallied to beat the Turks 2-1 in Philadelphia, getting second-half goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey in the Americans’ final game before they headed to the World Cup in South Africa.
The Turks have been without Atletico Madrid midfielder Arda Turan, who missed last weekend’s Champions League final against Real Madrid because of a sore hip, but Borussia Dortmund’s Nuri Sahin is on the roster.
After this, the only pre-World Cup exhibition left for the Americans is on June 7 against Nigeria at Jacksonville, Florida. That’s followed by a scrimmage in Sao Paulo against Belgium on June 12. One question is whether Klinsmann changes his back four of right back Fabian Johnson, central defenders Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler and left back DaMarcus Beasley.
“We’re not worried about the results,” Klinsmann said. “Even if we would have a negative result in these preparation games, we would take it the right way.”