Though the United States dominated the ball for long portions of the match, a silky smooth Austrian attack in the 33rd minute turned into the game’s lone goal as the Americans were shut out in Vienna.
To help shake off the dullness of a scoreless draw with Scotland, manager Jurgen Klinsmann wanted the US Men’s National Team to make an aggressive first half statement against Austria. NBC’s Arlo White said Klinsmann went so far as to outlaw backwards passes in practices leading up to this final match of 2013.
The early returns from Klinsmann’s confrontational strategy were a mixed bag, as Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley were able to move the ball well but the Austrians never stopped pushing forward as David Alaba’s movement created space behind the American midfield. Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, John Anthony Brooks, and DaMarcus Beasley shaped up behind Jones, Bradley, Brek Shea and Alejandro Bedoya in midfield. Aron Johansson and Jozy Altidore were paired up top and Tim Howard manned the pipes.
The Austrians countered with a similarly flexible 4-4-2 with Marc Janko dropping in front of the American defense to build while Lukas Hinterseer lurked on Brooks’ shoulder for most of the night. In the back, Robert Almer directed Gyorgy Garics, Aleksander Dragovic, Christian Fuchs, and Martin Hinteregger. Christoph Leitgeb and David Alaba were the midfield spine with Marko Arnautovic driving at Cameron down the left flank and the lively Martin Harnek holding Beasley deep on the right.
Arnautovic and Harnek’s roles were not purely theoretical. From an early stage, it was clear that Austria would look to draw the American defense high with good passing through the middle, then slide the ball wide and crash the box.
The US countered with Michael Bradley’s fine distribution and Jermaine Jones chasing down anything on the pitch with legs. In the first ten minutes, both playmakers sought to find soft spots in the opposition defense. Bradley found early gaps through to Altidore, who used his size to hold the ball and play off of Johansson. On the other end, Alaba would dictate play from the back and try to dash into the final third with give-and-go moves.
In the thirteenth minute, Harnik crossed the formation and found space outside of Gonzalez on the left. His cutback found plenty of space but all the runners had slowed, expecting a lofted ball.
Altidore responded a minute later with a fine cut to round Hinteregger and find space for a low drive that went wide of the target.
With Johansson checking deep, Alaba was drawn off of Bradley and the United States’ best player almost made Austria pay. Bradley executed a number of quick passes to get out of trouble on the right and switch play. He found Brooks who showed good range to hit Altidore. The big forward laid off for Johansson who saw his shot deflected.
On the ensuing corner kick the United States put the ball in the net, but did not score. Cameron met Bradley’s corner and his header deflected off Arnautovic’s outstretched arm and into the net. But the ref saw nothing, ruling that Almer had kept the ball out (though replays show it was not that close).
The let off revived Austria and Arnautovic dropped into the gap between the always-high Bedoya and Cameron to give the badgered Alaba an outlet. The left side proved a fruitful building ground for the Austrians, as both American central midfielders would get sucked in and leave Alaba space to attack. In the 22nd minute, Alaba galloped off the left side, found Harnik on the right, then got the ball stuck in his feet inside the box with both space and time.
A worrying pattern was developing in the back, as Omar Gonzalez felt it necessary to follow Janko’s runs into midfield while Brooks stayed quite deep in deference to Hinterseer and Harnik. This meant that if Austria could get the ball to the right and quickly put it into the mixer, the US defenders were often facing their own goal as they sought to clear the box.
In the 33rd minute, the Austrian strategy bore fruit. Arnautovic picked up the ball on the left, played on the effervescent Alaba, then Harnik popped up wide to play a fine low cross past Brooks that Janko mishit into the roof of Tim Howard’s net.
After being the better team for the first half hour, the US would struggle to create for the remainder of the opening period. Bradley dropped quite deep to stay away from Alaba, but only Johansson stepped into the midfield to help link play. Brek Shea was on instructions to keep the touchline within arm’s reach and Alejandro Bedoya’s GPS never located the game.
The best American chance of the first half came in the 43rd minute when a Brek Shea challenge gifted the ball to Johansson thirty yards out. He dropped the ball to Bradley who tucked in Bedoya. The winger put Altidore through on the right, and a cutback ended up on Bradley’s feet six yards out. The midfield general never got good wood on his shot and it rebounded off a defender and out of danger.
After ten minutes that proved the current lineup did not have the tools to solve the tightened Austrian defense, Klinsmann lifted the impressive Johansson and the frustrating Shea for Eddie Johnson and Mix Diskerud. The former moved into a left wing role while the latter played next to Bradley in front of the more recessed Jones.
The good news is that Johnson and Diskerud helped the US dominate possession. The bad news is that they did very little with it. Diskerud provided the midfield advantage that would turn the flow of the game in the USA’s favor, but he and Bradley saw no way through the twin lines of four that formed atop the Austrian box. Eddie Johnson was a needed outlet, but he proved EJ’s Law once again (EJ’s Law: Eddie Johnson’s usefulness is inversely related to how far he is from the center of the pitch).
This was, if nothing else, a good learning experience for Klinsmann’s men. Austria held a consistent line at the top of their own box and dropped the midfield as deep as it needed to go to prevent vertical passes into the eighteen. The poor play of Shea and Bedoya meant the Americans had no way to flank the well-formed Austrian defense.
In the 66th minute, Geoff Cameron initiated one of the few attacks up the right side by either team, cutting the ball in to Diskerud who found Altidore on the left. The striker’s lofted ball met a tangle of heads at the back post and fell to Cameron, who chopped it into the ground with a violet half volley. Though Almer was two feet away, he managed to get his toes in front of the shot and ricochet it out of play.
Terrence Boyd was introduced and Jermaine Jones made way, pushing Eddie Johnson into a full-on wide striker role while Altidore and Boyd tussled in the box. Four minutes later, Brooks corralled a loose clearance and sent an ambitious ball into Boyd’s feet atop the box. The young striker turned well but blazed far over the bar.
Cameron’s influence up the wing grew, and in the 74th minute he drove at the box and found Bedoya, who flicked the ball to Gonzalez. With his back to goal, Gonzo laid it off for Altidore who could not get off a strong shot before he was charged down.
Sacha Kljestan took Bedoya’s place and the United States moved to what was effectively a 4-3-1-2, with the “1” being Johnson on the left wing. The narrow formation was nearly exposed a minute later when Arnautovic pushed on to find a three-on-two in the American box. Gonzalez was lucky to clear the danger as he stepped in front of the cross that would have let Harnik in alone.
Andreas Ivanschitz replaced Alaba and Bradley, freed from the Austrian midfielder’s tracking, found space to loft a ball back post for Johnson. The cross floated just over the striker’s head as he sought space behind the retreating Leitgeb.
The final ten minutes saw Austria sit in and the US search for answers they would never find. Chris Wondolowski came on for Beasley in the 89th to challenge on a free kick that turned into an easy catch for Almer.
In the 92nd minute, a long dump into the Austrian box met the crashing Wondolowski, and appeared to deflect off an Austrian defender’s arm. No penalty was given, however, and the referee would wait out one last (all too dangerous) Austrian counterattack before blowing for full time.
An incredible 2013 ends in defeat for the USMNT, though many players that need to contribute in Brazil next year made big strides forward. Most importantly, Jurgen Klinsmann seems to be delivering a message that the players respect and understand. Whether the ambitious coach can meld the team’s emerging wide talent with a veteran core that has struggled to stay healthy and/or motivated will determine the future trajectory of a team that expects to last beyond the group stage in 2014.
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Austria
Date: Nov. 19, 2013
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: Ernst-Happel-Stadion; Vienna, Austria
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. ET
Weather: 44 degrees, mostly cloudy
AUT – Janko (Harnik) 33rd minute
USA: 1-Tim Howard (capt.); 20-Geoff Cameron (2-Eric Lichaj, 81), 3-Omar Gonzalez, 5-John Brooks, 7-DaMarcus Beasley (19-Chris Wondolowski, 90); 4-Michael Bradley, 13-Jermaine Jones (15-Terrence Boyd, 67); 11-Alejandro Bedoya (16-Sacha Kljestan, 76), 9-Aron Johannsson (10-Mix Diskerud, 56), 21-Brek Shea (18-Eddie Johnson, 56); 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs Not Used: 22-Bill Hamid, 6-Brad Evans, 14-Michael Orozco
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
AUT: 1-Robert Almer; 2-Gyorgy Garics, 3-Aleksandar Dragovic, 5-Christian Fuchs (capt.), 7-Marko Arnautovic (13-Markus Suttner, 81); 9-Lukas Hinterseer (14-Philipp Zulechner, 85), 11-Martin Harnik (17-Florian Klein, 81), 16-Martin Hinteregger, 18-Christoph Leitgeb (4-Kevin Wimmer, 90+2); 21-Marc Janko (19-Veli Kavlak, 68), 27-David Alaba (6-Andreas Ivanschitz, 72)
Subs Not Used: 12-Heinz Lindner, 23-Ramazan Ozcan, 20-Guido Burgstaller, 22-Manuel Ortlechner
Head Coach: Marcel Koller
Stats Summary: USA / AUT
Shots: 9 / 9
Shots on Goal: 4 / 5
Saves: 4 / 4
Corner Kicks: 4 / 0
Fouls: 9 / 10
Offside: 3 / 2
Referee: Istan Vad (HUN)
Assistant Referee 1: Robert Kispal (HUN)
Assistant Referee 2: Oszkar Lemon (HUN)
Fourth Official: Tama Bognar (HUN)