CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Saturday, November 14, 2009
On a cold night in the Slovakian capital, the US struggled to find the back of the net as a first half Marek Hamsik penalty kick gave the hosts the win.

Eddie Johnson made a return to the field for the national team and Dax McCarty earned his first cap for the US as a 73rd minute substitute.

The Americans nearly stepped into the lead in the opening minutes off a Robbie Rogers corner on the right side. Conor Casey nodded forward to Carlos Bocanegra for the tap in, but Austrian referee Stefan Messner disallowed it after seeing his assistant's flag raised.

After some midfield play Steve Cherundolo centered to Casey but the Slovakian central defense snuffed it out before the Rapids front man could get his shot off.

It would be another few minutes before the USA pushed forward again, when a Rogers' delivery into the box from 25 yards out just missed the head of the advancing Casey, and was an easy claim for Slovakian keeper Jan Mucha.

In the seventh minute, a long ball down the right side found Cherundolo, who then found Casey in front of goal. The Colorado man hit the ground before he hit the ball while Mucha collected the non-effort.

After a period of stagnant play in which the US nonetheless dominated possession, the Slovaks seemed more as the visitors, preferring to sit back and try their luck on the counter from the outset.

In the 22nd minute the Americans knocked on the door as Clint Dempsey collected the ball 30 yards out with his back to goal, yet turned between a pair of Slovaks and pulled the trigger just missing the goal by inches as the ball cleared the near post.

With some home team possession, Robert Vittek flew down the right wing and played a one-two with Vladimir Weiss and was brought by Jonathan Bornstein and the Austrian referee pointed to the spot.

"They got the ball out wide and had a little combination play. The ball went through one of our players' legs, so I tried to recover from that play and it was kind of soft [contact,]" Bornstein told Yanks Abroad after the contest. "We were just hip to hip and he went down, so you know, the referee must have seen something."

Hamsik placed the ball down for the home team and hammered it past Brad Guzan to collect his eighth international goal in 28 games for the Slovaks, who will be entering their first World Cup next summer.

In the 34th minute Dempsey, who took over play-making duties in the absence of Landon Donovan, found Casey on the edge of the box and the ex-Mainz attacker got off his shot between a pair of defenders. However, the effort lacked any sting and Mucha collected comfortably.

The American's best chance came a few minutes later when Dempsey lined up a free kick top left of the box and fired a screamer past a group of defenders and forced Mucha into a finger-tip save, that sent the on-target shot just past the far post.

With the attack centered on driving down the right side, Bornstein found space on the left and delivered a fine cross for Benny Feilhaber in the box, whose header skipped wide of the net.

Entering the second half, Bob Bradley tried to add more speed up top, bringing in with Johnson for Casey.

The US controlled the tempo of the opening minutes of the second half and saw their first chance six minutes after Jozy Altidore found Johnson darting to the right of the goal box. The Fulham striker got a foot on the feed but found the wrong side of the net.

The Slovakians countered a minute later courtesy of Erik Jendrisek, who found space behind the defense but the side the net with his shot.

Soon after Dempsey produced a skillful whirlwind strike in the box but could not get a full foot on the ball. In the 64th, The Fulham man fired a free kick from 25 yards out that deflected off a foot and nearly caromed into the net. On the ensuing corner from Rogers, Dempsey and Mucha leaped for the ball, but the Slovak won the duel.

In spite of their ball control and play-making the US was unable to break through the stubborn Slovak defense.

"I knew it was going to be a tough game, but I was kind of surprised that once they got their goal how much they stayed back," Dempsey told YA after the game. "They stayed back and kept it compact and tried to catch us on the counter but I thought we did well with keeping most of possession and trying to create chances."

"I thought we created enough chances tonight that we should have had a goal. Sometimes it goes for us, sometimes it doesn't. I thought we did pretty well. It's hard to break down a team that just sits back."

With little action on both ends for much of the second half, Bradley experimented with the eleven to see if it would produce results. In the 73rd, Clarence Goodson was brought on for Bocanegra and McCarty came in for the overworked Dempsey.

A minute later, the US survived a scary moment when 61st minute sub Stanislav Sestak found himself just onside and fired away, but Guzan was able to get a foot on the would-be goal.

"I mean obviously in the first half we created some chances but it was difficult game for us, it was a tough game for 90 minutes, the Aston Villa keeper said."Overall we'll take the performance and we'll try to learn from our mistakes and apply it for Wednesday."

In addition to Johnson's reappearance on the national team after a yearlong absence, Jeff Cunningham resurfaced after a four year hiatus as a 82nd minute substitute for the invisible Jozy Altidore.

"That's a frustrating loss for us. We at least deserved a draw tonight," Jonathan Spector remarked. "Who knows if it was a penalty or not. I'm saying that we created some good combinations in the first half and created come good opportunities."

The Americans fly off to Denmark on Sunday to warm up for their Wednesday night encounter in Aarhus against the Danes.