On a very bright and sunny Sunday afternoon at a full RFK stadium in Washington, DC, the U.S. put in a performance nearly as assured and committed against Germany as the performance against Belgium was tentative and lax.
Behind a sterling all-around display from Jozy Altidore and two well-taken goals by Clint Dempsey, the U.S. weathered some late heavy legs and German pressure to win 4–3. It was a great way to celebrate U.S. Soccer’s 100th anniversary, and could not have been a better statement to make as the team heads into three crucial World Cup Qualifying games.
Jurgen Klinsmann made four changes to the team that started against Belgium. Fabian Johnson pushed Brad Davis to the bench, playing in midfield, as rumored. Clay Goodson was dropped for Matt Besler, and Geoff Cameron also sat, making Brad Evans the latest player to attempt to fill the right back void when Steve Cherundolo’s not available. Michael Bradley returned to midfield in place of Sach Kljestan.
From the first whistle, the U.S. played better than it had against Belgium. Midfield pressure was strong, led by Bradley and Jermaine Jones, and up top, Altidore, flanked by Johnson and Graham Zusi, were closing the Germans down, forcing them to play quickly.
What’s more, the offensive play was confident. On two minutes, a cross from Evans into the box found Altidore, who managed to settle and take a shot, which was deflected for a corner. Altidore was clearly in a mood, getting touches in important areas and being positive with them.
The U.S. defense was also looking better, with all four defenders moving as a unit, and covering well for one another. However, there were early signs that Germany could get through them.
On 10 minutes, Miroslav Klose, the German forward close to becoming his country’s all-time leading scorer, beat the U.S.’s offside trap, but Omar Gonzalez was able to recover. Then, only moments later, after a scramble in the U.S. box, German defender Per Mertesacker could have put Germany ahead, but pushed his shot wide.
But in the 13th minute, Clint Dempsey drove through the middle of the field, eventually pushing the ball wide right to Zusi. Zusi crossed with his first touch, and the ball came to Altidore, who had ghosted away from Mertesacker. Against Belgium, Altidore would have taken the ball down, or flubbed the volley attempt. On Sunday, Altidore was a different player, and he made a very difficult shot look easy, taking the ball on the full volley and firing home across the keeper. It was a remarkable piece of skill, and a sign of things to come.
Only a few minutes later, the U.S. went further ahead, though not through their own skill this time. The U.S. was marking the German defenders and midfielders on German goal kicks, but the German keeper. Marc-André ter Stegen, attempted to play it short, putting his own players under pressure. Benedikt Howedes played the ball back to the keeper, who tried to take a touch with Dempsey closing him down, but only managed to push it too far away from himself to get a second touch before the ball dribbled across the line for an own goal.
It was a dream start, beyond anything the U.S. could have expected, but the Germans were unbowed. On 19 minutes, Andre Schurrle drove at Beasley and beat him (the one time all night Beasley got taken), finding himself alone in the U.S. box, but he, too put his shot just wide. A game that could have been 2–1 to Germany instead remained 2–0 to the U.S.
Altidore was determined to increase the U.S. advantage, and made a difficult turn in traffic outside the German box, poking the ball forward to Dempsey, who managed to get off a tough half-volley that the keeper did well to parry. And speaking of confidence, on 23 minutes, after a German turnover in midfield, Altidore attempted a fifty-yard chip, with the keeper off his line! He didn’t put it on frame, but this was definitely the Altidore that scored more than 30 goals in Holland this year, not the one that hadn’t scored from open play for the U.S. in nearly a year.
The Germans had a few more chances as the half wore on, with Klose having a goal called back for offsides, but as the heat took its toll and play slowed down, the U.S. actually looked comfortable—like they deserved to be up two to nothing on the second-ranked team in the world. And they did deserve it.
Johnson came off for Brad Davis at half with a hamstring issue. U.S. fans will hope it was a precautionary change more than anything, as Johnson’s movement up top was a big part of the U.S.’s first half success.
Germany came out motivated, and were clearly on top in the early going. And barely six minutes into the half, they scored. The young striker, Max Kruse, did good work to get into the U.S. box and put in a dangerous cross that Beasley could only head out. On the resulting corner, center back Heiko Westermann lost Gonzalez too easily, and powered a header home.
At 2–1, the game was poised. In an alternate reality, Germany would equalize, then go ahead, the U.S. would collapse, and the victory would be moral, at best. In this one, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey had other ideas.
On 60 minutes, Altidore took a long ball over the top from Jermaine Jones and drove into the German box, holding the ball near the end line and waiting for help. Seeing Dempsey making a late run, he chipped the ball over the German defense. Dempsey, unmarked, calmly took the ball on the bounce and drove a right-footed shot into the back of the net.
Just a few minutes later, Dempsey decided to do it on his own. With the ball at his feet on the right, just outside of the German 18-yard box, Dempsey turned his man inside out, cutting the ball from right to left, then curled a left-footed shot into the far corner of the German goal. And just like that, the U.S. went from playing on a knife’s edge to beating Germany by three goals.
As the half wore on, and the heat took its toll on the players, the U.S. players perhaps got a little too enamored of their own performance, Germany came back into it. German winger Julian Draxler put a howitzer on the U.S. goal that Tim Howard punched away, then Kruse had a chance on his left foot that he pushed wide, before having the mirror image chance on his right foot, which he buried at Howard’s near post.
Then, on 81 minutes, Sidney Sam, who had been terrorizing Edgar Castillo from the moment he was subbed on after 56 minutes, put in a grass cutter that Howard did well to get down and paw away, but the U.S. defense was asleep, and Draxler put the rebound away.
With less than ten minutes remaining, an historic win looked like it might turn into a somewhat-less-historic tie, but the U.S. held on.
Nice to see you, Mr. Altidore: This performance by Jozy Altidore was so good, and so unlike the performances he’s put in over the last year for the USMNT, that it begs the question: Where the hell has this guy been? Whatever the answer, the U.S. must hope he’s here to stay, because when Altidore plays like this, the entire U.S. offense has a different dimension.
Beasley for President (or at least left back): Seeing Edgar Castillo play okay, but get his lunch money taken multiple times late on, made it clear just how well Beasley had been keeping Sidney Sam in check. And Fabian Johnson’s play ahead of Beasley was also very encouraging. So, maybe it’s time to stop calling the Beasley-at-left-back experiment an experiment.
Midfield balance: Something about having Johnson, Dempsey, and Zusi ahead of Jones and Bradley provided the U.S. midfield with a better balance of offense and defense and left/right play than it has had of late. It’s a lineup worth another look.
The defense improves, but still must be better: Brad Evans was quite good at right back, playing smart, and never getting out of position. Besler was an improvement over Goodson, and his recovery speed makes up for a lot of his inexperience. Gonzalez made too many errors, again, but should keep his place. Too many mental errors late on.
This was an excellent performance by the U.S. Cynics will say that Germany wasn’t at full strength, and could have—perhaps should have—scored two or three more goals, and that the own goal for the U.S. was lucky. All of that is true, but the own goal was caused by U.S. pressure, the U.S. was clinical while the Germans were not, and you can only beat the team that’s in front of you, and that German team, if not at full strength, was still very strong.
The danger for the U.S. now is to dwell too long on the good aspects of this game and too little on the real problems exposed by Belgium. The defense looked much better on Sunday, but lost concentration late on. In Jamaica on Friday, the U.S. will need to maintain concentration throughout, and be just as clinical.
And it won’t hurt if one of the Eredivisie’s top scorer keeps playing like it.