The United States' first match with their 23-man, final World Cup team will take place in Philadelphia today (2 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2), with many of the starting lineup likely to return after the understudies posted a 4-2 loss on Tuesday in Hartford to the Czech Republic. Whereas that match's outcome was secondary to evaluating a number of players vying for places on the final squad, today's match against Turkey comes with expectations. Minimally, the United States must improve on Tuesday's performance. If the team starts a full squad and loses on home soil, there will be cause for doubt.
Turkey failed to qualify for the World Cup and has not been to the finals since 2002, when they were semifinalists in the Japan/Korea World Cup. Last Saturday, the Turks beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in a friendly at Red Bull Arena. Considering the talent Turkey's brought to these matches, the result was underwhelming. Whereas the Czech Republic left most of their best players at home, Turkey has brought name players like Arda Turan, Hamit and Halil Altintop, Tuncay Sanli, and Volkan Demirel. Turkey dominated that match, with the Czechs getting a late goal to make the score more flattering than the play. Turkey's talent, however, could have put up a better result.
With only two more matches before their June 12th World Cup opener, the United States is expected to start a full squad today, injuries permitting. That does not mean there will not be surprises. Health at the back leaves the starting defense in doubt. The competition amongst the forward means it is unclear who will partner Jozy Altidore. If it is one of Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan, a wing replacement becomes a question. The health of Maurice Edu means Ricardo Clark could have competition in midfield.
Whichever players start, today has to be looked at as a barometer. Whereas Tuesday's loss could be scoffed at (with many players who saw time not making the 23-man roster), today will give the States an indication of where they stand. Turkey may not be in the World Cup, but they would be a mid-level World Cup-caliber team. If the Yanks perform against the Turks as they did against the Czechs, there will be reason for worry. If the United States plays well against them, they can board their flight to South Africa with confidence.
Tomorrow, the United States makes that flight, with a final friendly against Australia scheduled before their opener against England. Today against England, the Yanks start to answer their squad's last questions: Who will be healthy? How healthy will they be? Who will partner Altidore? Will Dempsey and Donovan stay on the wings?