The combinations started to click. The confidence grew a little bit.
Goals by Fabian Johnson and Clint Dempsey led the United States over Turkey 2-1 Sunday for the Americans' second straight win in their World Cup sendoff series.
Getting ready for their World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16, the Americans move on to Florida for next weekend's stateside finale against Nigeria knowing preparation is far from complete.
"They [the U.S.] are a solid team with talented players."
- Turkish coach Fatih Terim
"It's important not to overanalyze these games," said midfielder Michael Bradley, who set up the first goal with a gorgeous chip. "There's a World Cup coming up and everybody wants to now look at every play in every minute in every game, but it's important to now look at these games in the context of a bigger picture."
Tim Howard made his 99th international appearance, and with his 54th victory surpassed Kasey Keller to set the American record for wins by a goalkeeper. Other than that, the way the U.S. played was far more significant than the result.
"Quite an open game," coach Jürgen Klinsmann said. "We still want to see a lot of little pieces."
Klinsmann made the decision 10 days earlier to cut American career scoring leader Landon Donovan, who got his third goal in two games for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday. Klinsmann's roster, lineup picks and formation choices are highly debated by a growing American fan base.
The 26-year-old Johnson, among the five German-Americans on the 23-man roster, made his second straight start at right back. He received a backpass about 40 yards from goal in the 26th minute, made a run and laid the ball off to Bradley. Johnson continued his run, Bradley chipped the ball over the defense and Johnson coolly slotted past goalkeeper Onur Kivrak with a left-footed volley from 6 yards.
"He kind of told me with the way he was running that he was going to keep running through," Bradley said
Johnson, who had not scored in 20 previous national team games, jogged down the endline with both arms outstretched, stopped, turned and gave Dempsey a double high-5.
"On his celebration, you could see that he's not an experienced goal-scorer," Klinsmann said.
Johnson joked about his lack of preparation for jubilation.
"I'm a defender. On this part a Jozy or a Clint are better," he said.
Jozy Altidore, who started alongside Dempsey in the 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield, remained scoreless in six international matches since October. Altidore put the ball into the goal in the 15th minute after Kivrak saved Matt Besler's header off a corner kick, but Tunisian referee Slim Jedidi called a foul on Altidore for pushing the goalkeeper. Altidore was saved on a breakaway in the 71st, but Jedidi had whistled off the play for a foul on defender Hakan Balta. Altidore broke in with a nice move in the 81st only for Kivrak to block his shot.
At this point, Klinsmann would be happy to wait 2½ weeks for the drought to end.
"I wouldn't mind if the goal comes against Ghana right now," he said.
Dempsey, who missed Tuesday's win over Azerbaijan in San Francisco because of a sore groin, made it 2-0 in the 52nd with his 37th international goal, joining Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride as the only Americans to score in 10 consecutive years.
Bradley brought the ball up the middle and passed to Brad Davis, who laid it off for Timmy Chandler on the left flank. Starting his first game for the U.S. since February 2013, Chandler sent a cross that Balta mis-hit in his clearance attempt. The ball went into the path of Dempsey, who poked it in from 1 yard.
"Especially the first half, I felt really sharp, energetic, got in some good positions," said Dempsey, who replaced Carlos Bocanegra as the U.S. captain last year.
Brad Guzan took over for Howard at the start of the second half, and Turkey scored on a 90th-minute penalty kick by Selcuk Inan after Mustafa Pektemek stripped the ball from Chandler about 30 yards out, dashed by the left back and cut back to his left foot. His shot hit the right arm of Geoff Cameron at the goal line.
"Just a mental lapse," Cameron said. "That's where we need to maybe just not make that mental mistake and not switch off for that few minutes."
Julian Green, the 18-year-old surprise pick for the U.S. roster, entered in the 64th for his second international appearance. He had a great chance two minutes later following a cross by Graham Zusi but wasted it with a heavy touch.
Preparing for its seventh straight World Cup appearance, the U.S. is playing No. 85 Azerbaijan, No. 39 Turkey and No. 44 Nigeria. After the match against the Super Eagles in Jacksonville on Saturday, the 18th-ranked Americans head to Brazil for first-round games against far tougher opposition: No. 38 Ghana, No. 3 Portugal and No. 2 Germany.
Turkey coach Fatih Terim predicted the Americans can do well.
"They are a solid team with talented players," he said through a translator. "And I'm confident of Jürgen Klinsmann, too."
The mayor of Manaus, Brazil, Arthur Virgilio Neto, whose Amazon rain forest city will host the U.S.-Portugal game, attended the match. Asked about Brazil's high crime rate, Neto said that "I spent some time in New York before Giuliani," a reference to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "We're trying to follow his steps."