By Ridge Mahoney
Goals by Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud wiped out one-goal deficits to earn the United States a 2-2 tie with Russia in a friendly played Wednesday as the Americans closed out their 2012 schedule with a 9-2-3 win-loss-tie record in 2012.
Here a few thoughts on what the result and performances mean going forward.
HOWARD CALLED UPON AGAIN. Plagued by sloppy giveaways and one glacial reaction to a set play that led to the second Russian goal, the Americans needed bail-out saves by goalkeeper Tim Howard to stay in the game.
He thwarted several dangerous situations, including a crucial double-save in the second half by blocking a low shot with his knee, then getting up to tip a follow-up shot by over the crossbar. The first Russian goal resulted from a Danny Williams giveaway in the ninth minute that yielded a close-range goal by Feder Smolov, and Russia regained the lead with a Roman Shirkov penalty kick whistled on a Clarence Goodson foul after a quickly taken free kick surprised the Americans.
The loss of captain Carlos Bocanegra, who left the game injured in the 18th minute, contributed to confusion and breakdowns. He may have slowed down the past few years, but his ability to rally the troops and direct traffic at critical junctures is still a key factor for the U.S., as is Howard’s penchant for timely saves. Howard and Bradley were easily the top American performers among the starters.
Goodson replaced Bocanegra and though he and centerback partner Geoff Cameron did stand up solidly at times, they also got stretched too far apart as Russia found seams along the back line.
DIRECT PLAY BEARS FRUIT. For all the emphasis placed by Coach Jurgen Klinsmann on technical play and possession, the Americans – lacking their top two attackers, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey – used the long ball and knockdowns effectively to crack open a stingy Russian defense that had not conceded a goal in its four World Cup qualifiers this year.
Bradley equalized at 1-1 in the 76th minute with a spectacular right-footed strike created when substitute Juan Aguelo headed back a long ball from fellow sub, Maurice Edu, and Bradley hit a ball forward in the third minute of stoppage time that another sub combination, Terence Boyd and Diskerud, turned into another productive shot from distance.
The Roma midfielder instigated a lot of attacking sequences by pushing through the middle to work combinations and one-twos when not dropping much deeper to test the Russian back line with chips and lobs. Jermaine Jones, who drilled a good feed from Jozy Altidore over the bar, ranged to the left side late in the match to hit a few dangerous crosses.
Before the wave of substitutions, Altidore and forward partner Herculez Gomez had struggled to find shots. In the first half, Gomez delivered a cross that Altidore chested down and then blasted over the bar. Altidore squandered a great opportunity in the second half when he fluffed an attempt to trap a precise chip from Fabian Johnson with a clear path to goal in front of him.
COMEBACKS, AND A DEBUT. Defender Timothy Chandler, who last played for the USA last year, accepted a callup for a change and played the entire 90 minutes at right back. Agudelo, also out of the picture since 2011, came off the bench to set up the first goal and looked more like the sprightly forward who earned his first cap two years ago at age 17. Diskerud hadn’t played for the USA since January of 2011 but seized the moment by drilling a low shot just inside the far post six minutes after replacing Cameron.
Highly touted winger Josh Gatt, 21, who helped Molde with its second straight Norwegian league title last weekend, played 63 minutes in his debut. He didn’t unleash his trademark speed despite a few opportunities to do so, yet he looked composed and competent sliding inside to combine with teammates.