Monday, June 3, 2013

US Surprises Germany 4-3

From Fox Soccer:

They were strange and unusual scenes: the United States men’s national team picking apart the three-time world champions Germany in a 4 - 3 romp.

This startling result came on the back of the USA’s embarrassing 4-2 defeat to Belgium on Wednesday, in which they had been resoundingly outplayed.

“I think we saw a lot, a lot of good things on the field,” said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who faced the team he starred for and later coached. “Today, we set the tone right from the beginning, we pressured them high. We made it very difficult for them to play out of the back. There was a far higher pace in our game, a better understanding.”

The game marked the United States Soccer Federation’s hundredth anniversary. So a grandiose opponent was found in Germany to properly mark the occasion and frame the cocktail parties, gala dinners and other festivities which surrounded it. A boisterous sell-out crowd of 47,359 crammed into decrepit old RFK Stadium, where the overwhelmingly pro-USA patrons saw entertainment sufficient to justify the $60 average ticket price.

So abundant was the merriment that it was easy to forget that this was only a friendly, and that Germany had shown up with its second string – players from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, who form the core of the squad, were unavailable – or that the USA had given up two late goals, allowing the contest to become unnecessarily close.

In the sweltering 85-degree heat and 60-percent humidity, the heralded opponents, rumored to have been swayed with an eight-figure match fee, wilted quickly. Ahead of the game, Miroslav Klose, who would captain the Germans on Sunday, had denounced the predicted weather as “extreme”. And sure enough, the Germans looked very sluggish and a step behind the pace. At half-time several of them slumped over in exhaustion.

“I would almost call my team sleepy at times,” Germany head coach Joachim Low said following the game.

But if their opponents were hamstrung by their surroundings, the USA, looking resplendent in their white 1950 World Cup throwback jerseys, made the most of the opportunity afforded them. For the first time since their World Cup qualifier against Jamaica in Columbus in September, they zipped the ball about purposefully for long stretches. Jozy Altidore formed a good target, Clint Dempsey connected the dots around him and Michael Bradley dictated a smooth rhythm. At last, runs were sharp and transitions snappy.

“We did a better job with keeping possession in the attacking third, creating chances for ourselves and being sharp in front of goal,” said Dempsey.

The USA showed its willingness and intentions early, earning a series of looks from corners. With the backs overlapping well, allowing the wingers to drift inside to create a presence in the center of the park, ball circulation was markedly improved from previous outings. That’s how Graham Zusi was found out on the right in the 13th minute. Zusi quickly deposited a cross onto the boot of Altidore, who was wide-open in the box and struck his volley past the well-beaten Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Three minutes later, the high pressure USA head coach Klinsmann has so vociferously advocated throughout his time in charge forced Stegen into a bad own goal. Trying to play a square pass on a goal kick, ter Stegen mishandled defender Howedes' return pass so awfully that it trickled past him into his own net.

It was a deserved lead, but not one that went unthreatened. In the rare German jousts upfield, they twice created wide-open looks. But Per Mertesacker and Andre Schurrle both inexplicably sent their finishes wide and Klose drifted offside on his disallowed goal. The Germans looked disinterested and, at times, comical in moments of ineptitude, like when a teammate struck a pass into the back of Julian Drexler’s head.

Early in the second half, Heiko Westermann rose amid a pack of Americans and hammered his header through the raised arms of Tim Howard to make it 2-1. But soon enough, the newly-confident Altidore prepared a chance for Dempsey, who smashed in the USA’s third. A few minutes later, Dempsey deposited a sharp curler behind ter Stegen from outside the box.

“Having a player like Clint Dempsey on your team is just a privilege,” said Klinsmann. “This is one of the best players I think in U.S. history, you see him perform almost now every game on a very, very high level.”

With the stadium rocking, the USA grew emboldened and tinkered with the fancy stuff: the stepovers, the little chips, the against-the-grain clips. For the regular observer of this team, it was a strange and somewhat unsettling sight, the USA taking liberties with mighty Germany. And it would backfire. Max Kruse was afforded the room to hit in the 4-2. Then, Sydney Sam's shot was poorly handled by Howard, allowing Draxler to sweep in the 4-3.

This unloosed a topsy-turvy, end-to-end finale in which both teams had a bundle of chances. The USA maintained, however, and was allowed to add Germany to the high profile teams it has vanquished in friendlies, along with Mexico and Italy.

“We’re a little bit frustrated that we conceded three,” said Dempsey. “We thought the game should have been 4-1, 4-2 – that would have been nice. But still we take confidence from this going into the World Cup qualifier games.”

That’s the big question now, how this game affects the Americans going into their crucial bouts with Jamaica, Panama and Honduras between June 7 and 18. Spirits could soar, but the draining conditions may have sapped precious energies as the USA readies itself to travel to Kingston on Tuesday.
The legacy of this game will be decided by its aftermath, throughout the next month. It could prove a harmful and ultimately needless overexertion, or it may transpire to be the badly-needed boost in morale.