In a result that was unforeseeable in the wake of a Wednesday dismantling at the hands of Belgium, the United States produced one of the more memorable wins of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, though not without some drama. At one point leading by three goals, the U.S. were left to sweat out the last few minutes against visiting Germany, eventually downing the world’s second-ranked team 4-3 in front of 47,359 at RFK Stadium.
The match was part of U.S. Soccer’s 100th anniversary celebration, the first of a doubleheader that concludes with the U.S. Women’s National Team’s visit to Toronto to face Canada. The game also marked Klinsmann’s first meeting against his former team, the Nationalmannschaft’s former star player and boss producing a confidence-boosting result against a world power.
The highly-touted Germans were short-handed, with many of the team’s stars left in Europe. But coming off a lopsided win over Ecuador on Wednesday, Joachim Löw’s side had proven themselves dangerous, with most considering the visitors the likely winners ahead of kickoff in Washington, D.C.
But over the first 75 minutes, that danger rarely bore out, with the U.S. carrying a three-goal lead into the match’s final act on the back of tallies by Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey (two) and German `keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who was at fault on an early own goal.
Late scores from Max Kruse and Julian Draxler built on Heiko Westermann’s early second half header, saving the Germans from what would have been an embarrassing result. When the final whistle blew, however, Germany had suffered their first defeat since losing to Argentina in August.
The two teams came into the day’s match off drastically different mid-week results. Germany scored four goals in the first 24 minutes against Ecuador in Boca Raton ahead of a 4-2 win on Wednesday. That night, the United States gave up three second half goals en route to a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland.
Coming off the defeat, Jurgen Klinsmann made a number of changes to his starting XI, welcoming Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and, at left midfield, Fabian Johnson back into the team. The U.S. head coach also made two changes to a defense that struggled mid-week, starting Matt Besler over Clarence Goodson in central defense along with Brad Evans over Geoff Cameron at right back.
They were part of the team that faced a largely second-choice German squad, no players from Bayern Munich in attendance, all but one of Borussia Dortmund’s stars out, and neither of Real Madrid’s Mesüt Ozil or Sami Khedira in Joachim Löw’s starting XI.
The U.S. changes brought immediate improvement over Wednesday’s match, with confident play from Jozy Altidore helping the U.S. establish early possession in their attacking third. Combined with a defensive intensity that was absent against Belgium, the U.S. were the better side from the opening kickoff.
But the Germans nearly offset that in the 11th minute, with Per Mertesacker given a chance to open the scoring from nine yards out. As Tim Howard challenged, the Arsenal defender pulled his shot wide left, giving the U.S. and early reprieve.
The States took advantage. Two minutes later, a ball out of the U.S. end for Altidore near the center line was laid off for Clint Dempsey, the U.S. captain carrying the ball on the counter from inside his own half to the edge of the German area. Dempsey then played the ball wide right, with Graham Zusi crossing for Altidore at the penalty spot. Having peeled off Mertesacker, Altidore created enough room to put a right-footed volley into Ter Stegen’s side netting, the German keeper with no chance to prevent the U.S.’s opener.
The goal marked the end of a prolonged drought for Altidore. The 23-year-old forward, who has scored 51 goals over the last two seasons with AZ in the Netherlands, had yet to score an open play goal under Klinsmann. The only other time Altidore had scored since his head coach took over in July 2011 was a spot kick against Slovenia in November 2011. His last open play goal for the U.S. came under Bob Bradley, against Guadalope in June 2011 at the last CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Three minutes after Altidore ended that slump, the U.S. doubled their lead. Or, more accurately, the Germans doubled the States’ lead, with a bad response to pressure off a goal kick ending with Ter Stegen’s poor handling of a Benedickt Howedes back pass – an innocuous ball from just outside the penalty area rolling into the German goal, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Andre Schurrle nearly pulled the gift back in the 19th minute, a move from the right that went through Demarcus Beasley and around Matt Besler leading to a shot from 15 yards out. The Chelsea target pushed his shot just wide of Howard’s left post, leaving the U.S. up two.
Before halftime, Altidore would generate a 20th minute chance for Dempsey and German striker Miroslav Klose would see a goal waved off for offside. As the clock approached the 45th minute, the pace slowed amid the late spring Washington D.C. heat, the teams fading into halftime with the score 2-0.
The U.S. made one change at halftime, a forced substitution as Fabian Johnson came off with a hamstring injury. Brad Davis, who started Wednesday against Belgium, came in to what began as a very different half.
Whereas the U.S. were the aggressors at the opening kickoff, the 46th minute started with the Germans in control. Pressing for the quick score that would halve the States’ lead, Löw’s side converted a 52nd minute corner, Heiko Westermann getting space on Omar Gonzalez at nine yards out to head the Germans within one.
Though Germany initially continued their control after the goal, Westermann’s score evolved into a wakeup call, with the U.S. able to quell German momentum after a set of 56th minute substitutions: Eddie Johnson coming on for Zusi; Edgar Castillo replacing Beasley. With Johnson proving valuable for a team forced to rely on their transition game, the States were able to restore their two-goal lead at the hour mark.
In the 69th minute, a long ball from Jermaine Jones found Altidore isolated against Philipp Wollscheid. Able to bring the ball down and work his way to the byline, Altidore eventually played a pass back across the German area to Dempsey, whose right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area beat Ter Stegen into the left of goal, giving the U.S. a 3-1 lead.
The score pulled Dempsey even with Eric Wynalda for second on the U.S.’s all-time goal scoring list, a status that would last four minutes. In the 64th minute, Dempsey was given too much time on a left-footed shot from 24 yards out, curling his 35th international goal around Ter Stegen to give the U.S. a shocking 4-1 lead.
In the 79th minute, well after what seemed to be the match’s denouement, Werder Bremen attacker Max Kruse broke through with his first international goal. Allowed to cut across the defense from the left at the top of the penalty area, Kruse was given little resistance before letting go of a 19-yard shot that beat Howard into the left of the U.S.’s goal, cutting the States’ lead to two.
Less than two minutes later, Sidney Sam was allowed to make a similar move to Kruse’s, cutting in from the right side ahead of a left-footed shot from just outside the U.S. area. Howard’s push save left the ball at the edge of the six-yard box, allowing Draxler to make it 4-3.
Like Westermann’s early second half tally, the Germans’ late onslaught seemed to awaken the U.S., who eventually generated a chance for Eddie Johnson as they sought to reestablish a hold on the match. Yet over the the game’s final 10 minutes, fans were left gasping as speculative shots gave Germany faint hope of pulling off the huge comeback.
Shortly after the 92nd minute, however, after Howard had played a final, relief-granting ball out of the back, the U.S. heard the final whistle and were able to claim a huge, bounce back victory, capping their centennial celebration.
Beyond getting a much needed victory, the U.S. can look at the play of Altidore, the match’s best player, as a much-needed awakening. The AZ star had struggled under Jurgen Klinsmann, at one point left out of a squad last fall as he struggled to be productive in his new coach’s scheme. Even after reclaiming a regular place in the national team, the 23-year-old had struggled to make an impact.
With today’s performance, however, Altidore hinted his club influence may start to translate onto the international stage. Active as a outlet and productive both producing and providing for goals, Altidore had his best performance in two years. It was one of the best performances of his career.
For a U.S. team that has struggled to produce goals, it is difficult to imagine a more positive development coming out of Sunday’s friendly. Ahead of Friday’s World Cup Qualifier in Kingston, an Altidore awakening couldn’t have come at a better time.