CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The U.S. National Team traveled to Sarajevo to take on the soaring Bosnia and Herzegovina National Team, undefeated at home since September of 2010.
Jurgen Klinsmann's team brought an 11-game winning streak halfway across the Atlantic with them, longest in American history and looking to make it the longest active streak in the world.
With a roster made up of a mix of youth and experience, foreign and domestic clubs, and natural born and dual-citizen players, it was always going to be an interesting trip to the Balkans as Klinsmann looked to try out some new ideas in the run up to the final flurry of World Cup Qualifiers starting next month.
One of the new ideas was the introduction of John Anthony Brooks, seemingly now a permanent acquisition from the German system that still seemed to covet him. Brooks earned the start at center back alongside Geoff Cameron, while Fabian Johnson and Brad Evans took position on the flanks.
The Bosnian team, led by Edin Dzeko, struck first after capitalizing on a monumental mistake by Eddie Johnson in the 8th minute. The Seattle Sounders forward had started the game on the wing, and was dropped back deep playing defense. Picking up a loose ball, Johnson took a couple touches and looked to finesse it out of the defensive third, but was stripped with the resulting pass going to Dzeko on a through ball. Inside the box, the Manchester City man's first shot was saved well by Tim Howard, but the rebound was struck in past the diving bodies of Brooks and Cameron.
Despite a couple momentary shifts in momentum, the Bosnian side controlled the run of play through most of the first half, doubling their lead in the 30th minute with former St. Louis resident Vedad Ibisevic stepping offside behind Brooks and heading home a cross from Zvjezdan Misimovic. Unfortunately for the U.S., the linesman did not see Ibisevic in the offside position.
Going into halftime, it looked like the U.S. win streak was going to be over, and that they would be lucky to leave Eastern Europe with some dignity intact. While there was positive play from some parts of the field, it was largely a Bosnian night in the capital. Klinsmann decided on a tactical change at half time, putting Edgar Castillo in for Diskerud and moving Fabian Johnson in to the left midfield, pushing Eddie Johnson up top next to Jozy Altidore. With the formation change, Altidore had someone to work with and the extra option up top gave more opportunity for the American transition game to blossom during the run of play.
This was clearly evidenced in the 55th minute when Michael Bradley's long, lofted pass fell perfectly to Altidore just at the top of the penalty box, and with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic rushing out, the new Sunderland signee deftly touched the ball to his right, where Johnson was waiting to pass the ball into the wide open goal. With the score cut in half and the tactical changes taking effect, the momentum visibly started to swing on the field as the U.S. team gained confidence.
In the 59th minute, Brooks did well to make a splitting pass through the middle to Fabian Johnson, finding his fellow German-American in space at the edge of the offensive third. Johnson's turn through the defense and pass to Altidore were exquisite, and the streaking Altidore was up to finishing the job. One quick touch to his left to get out of the defender's reach, and Altidore smashed the left footed shot to the far post, making a difficult play look easy on one of the Premier League's better goalkeepers.
The night only got better for the U.S. as the game went on, with Aron Johannsson entering the game for Eddie Johnson in the 63rd minute, making his American debut after FIFA approved his switch yesterday. The Alabama-born, Iceland-raised, Danish-trained, Dutch-enhanced striker was an immediate impact on the field, making threatening runs on both sides of the field and making it look surprisingly easy to beat the Bosnian fullbacks. His shot was not there, but his speed and touch were.
Castillo showed his own speed and touch in the 83rd minute when he weaved through the Bosnian team in the offensive third, setting up a dangerous free kick from the left side, 25 yards from goal. Altidore was always going to be the one to take it, and nobody else stood around the ball to suggest otherwise. Altidore chose finesse rather than power, and his curled shot over the wall tucked beautifully into the near-post upper 90, completing the second half comeback and putting the Americans ahead.
Altidore wasn't finished though, as the American midfield set up a blazing push through the center of the field, as Sasha Kljestan played a short curling pass to Johannsson, who put his defender to the ball and made it a give-and-go by laying it back off to Kljestan. Kljestan continued the play, beating his defender and passing the ball ahead to Bradley into the offensive third. Bradley controlled the ball, dribbled to his left to make center back Ermin Bicakcic commit to the play, then touched a light ball ahead to Altidore who needed a quick one touch poke shot to beat Begovic, completing his hat trick and doubling the American lead. In all, it was five passes, six touches, and eight seconds to go from half field to goal in a play that has American fans foaming with excitement.
For Altidore, it was his second international hat trick, his seventh goal in five games, and perhaps the best tuneup he could have going into his potential Sunderland debut over the weekend.
The game was not quite over, as Dzeko tallied his second of the night in the 90th minute, beating Brooks to an incoming cross and heading it home past Howard. Though it made for an interesting blip of injury time, it was no longer a capacity crowd to see it, as Altidore's goal flurry had the home fans leaving in droves before Dzeko's header.
Despite giving up the late goal, the Americans held on and collected their 12th straight win, and now possess the longest active international winning streak.
With Altidore's scoring performance, he became the first player in team history to score in five consecutive games, and also reached the 20 goal plateau, only occupied by six other American players. He joins Bruce Murray, Joe-Max Moore, Brian McBride, Eric Wynalda, and teammates Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.
The U.S. will look to make it 13 straight on September 6, as they travel to Costa Rica to continue World Cup Qualifying.