United States vs. Slovenia
Where: Stozice Stadium, Ljubljana.
When: 12:15 p.m. ET.
TV: ESPN2, Galavision, ESPN3.com
ESPN announcers: Ian Darke, John Harkes.
FULLTIME: USA 3, Slovenia 2.
After a lively first half, the match continued at an entertaining pace. (Defensive shortcomings aside, why can’t more friendlies be like this?) The pace was relentless, but as the half unfolded, Slovenia exploited the crumbling U.S. defense: a post, a crossbar, a line clearance, deflections, and finally in the 61st minute, Matavz struck for his second after surging into space deep in the box and beating the helpless Howard.
Klinsmann added Shea for the impressive Johnson and, in an effort to fortify the resistance, Edu for Buddle. Williams came on for Chandler, who was the recipient of a brutal sideline tackle earlier. In the final moments, Jones replaced Beckerman and Rogers replaced Bradley.
Forced to do a lot of defending, the Americans lived dangerously. In the last 20 minutes, they were better composed and didn’t yield as much possession as they had earlier in the half, slowing the match and seeking to counter for a killer fourth goal. They didn’t get it, but Slovenia couldn’t discover an equalizer either.
Overall, the Americans showed vast improvement in attack and looked dangerous in both the run of play and on set pieces. By the way, we still haven’t seen Dempsey and Donovan together since the Gold Cup. If Klinsmann doubted Bradley’s place in the lineup, he certainly appreciated his importance today.
On a side note, captain Bocanegra became the 12th U.S. player to earn his 100th cap.
So the United States ends a turbulent year on a semi-high note: its largest goal total in 17 months, its first win in Europe since March 2008 at Poland (3-0) and its finest result since Klinsmann’s arrival in August.
“We are pleased with the result, but especially how the team performed,” Klinsmann said. “First half was excellent. Second half we had a couple of issues. It’s normal. It’s a process.”
HALFTIME: USA 3, Slovenia 1.
The Americans did more in the first 10 minutes than they did over 90 against France on Friday. They seemed more comfortable in a traditional and simpler formation (4-4-2), which resulted in an energetic, confident and harmonic performance. Bradley’s return stabilized the midfield, Johnson made a sterling debut and Buddle relieved pressure on Altidore, a lone striker without support at Saint-Denis. Both sides generated quality opportunities in the early stages, with the Americans going ahead in the ninth minute. Dempsey’s pressure forced a Slovenia giveaway, and Buddle smashed a 25-yarder with pace and direction, kissing the shot off the inside of the left post for his third international goal.
Buddle should’ve scored again but failed to convert Johnson’s low cross into the six-yard box. The U.S. backline showed cracks, however, and relied on close offside calls to endure pressure. The equalizer came in the 26th minute when Matavz exploited a channel between Goodson and Chandler, collected a through ball in stride and beat Howard with a composed finish to the far corner. Was he offside on the run? Maybe. Tough to tell from the camera angle and dense fog enveloping the field. Goodson might’ve kept him onside.
The end-to-end play continued, with both teams coming tantalizingly close to another strike. The Americans reclaimed the lead in the 41st, with Dempsey directing a 10-yard header off Bradley’s corner kick. Brecko then clipped Johnson’s ankle from behind a moment later for a penalty kick, and Altidore converted into the left side for a 3-1 lead — the U.S. team’s largest scoring haul since the final tuneup before the 2010 World Cup against Australia and more goals than it had scored in Klinsmann’s first six matches at the helm.
USA LINEUP: Howard; Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Goodson, Chandler, Johnson, Beckerman, Bradley, Dempsey; Altidore, Buddle.
Subs: Hamid, Orozco Fiscal, Williams, Jones, Edu, Shea, Rogers.
Not in uniform: Onyewu, Morales, Beasley.
I will provide my thoughts at halftime and after the match. Your comments are welcome.