111412_reuters_rtr3ae97 REUTERS/Stringer
Game Report

The U.S. Ties Russia 2-2; Howard and Bradley Shine

The United States fell behind early and looked lost on defense, but thanks to a series of brilliant saves from Tim Howard the Americans salvaged a tie against a tough, no-nonsense Russian squad.

BY Noah Davis Posted
November 14, 2012
7:50 AM
KRASNODAR, Russia—The U.S. looked ragged on defense and lost captain Carlos Bocanegra to injury early in the match, but fought back to earn a 2-2 draw on the road against an in-form Russian side. Tim Howard made a half-dozen sparkling saves to keep the Americans close, while second-half goals from Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud leveled the match for the Yanks.

"We are pleased with the game overall," Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match.

The back-and-forth contest, however, started horribly for the visitors.

In the ninth minute, U.S. central midfielder Danny Williams made a huge mistake and gifted a goal to Russia. During a U.S.-controlled dead-ball situation in the American third of the field, Williams opted for a quick restart. But his soft—scuffed?—pass caught everybody by surprise, including his teammates.

Russia’s Alexander Kerzhakov pounced on the mis-kick, took possession near the top of the 18-yard box, and then passed to Feder Smolov, who was alone on the right wing. Smolov moved in on U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard and his right-footed shot beat Howard on the near side. The home team took a quick—and easy—1-0 lead.

The Americans were stunned, and they played like it. And when team captain Carlos Bocanegra limped off the field with a hamstring injury, it appeared as though the wheels were falling off the wagon. For the first half hour or so, the U.S. was unable to maintain possession for more than a few touches, attempting a series of long passes that mostly went astray. And their one-v-one gambits did not accomplish much either.

"We didn't start well," Michael Bradley said. "We talked before about wanting to be aggressive, about trying to put them on their heels a little bit early on and we weren't able to do that at all."

The U.S. started to settle into a better rhythm in the final 15 minutes of the half. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones showed good poise—and ball control—spraying passes to the wings and creating a few half-chances. Joshua Gatt, making his debut for the national team, threatened from both wings during the later stages of the first half, but couldn’t cash in.

"It's an experience that I've always waited for, trying to get my first national team cap," the 21-year-old Gatt said. "[We] played a very good team tonight and I was happy to be out there. I don't think that I had my best performance that I ever had, but I'm happy to get it under my belt.

The Americans' best chance in the first half came in the 29th minute, when Clarence Goodson, who came on for Bocanegra, got on the end of a corner kick and sent in a clear, hard shot from 15 yards out. Unfortunately for the U.S., the ball went straight to Russian goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov, who bundled it up easily.

Though trailing 1-0 at the break, the U.S. had settled into the game and seemed positioned to step things up in the final 45.

Klinsmann agreed: "At halftime, we said to the team, 'if you continue to play like you did the 20 to 25 minutes before halftime, we have a game.' There's a whole game to play." Indeed, the U.S. played much better after intermission. Tim Howard had to make a sprawling save in the 47th minute, but the Americans showed poise and confidence, taking the game to Russia and creating a series of opportunities that fell short in the final third. A little Clint Dempsey inventiveness might have come in handy, but the Tottenham striker was not called in for this contest.

In the 65th minute, Russia pushed forward with five men and nearly doubled its lead. With just four U.S. defenders in the box—and none of them looking terribly confident—Howard was forced into two very strong saves. The second, a leaping parry of a shot heading for the top corner, was particularly impressive. Despite having three defensive-minded midfielders in the match, the backline appeared to be left to their own devices, and it has to be said that they did not inspire much confidence.

The final half-hour was a back-and-forth affair. Four minutes after Howard's back-to-back saves, U.S. left back Fabian Johnson made a strong run and delivered a beautiful pass to Jozy Altidore, who was alone in a dangerous attacking position. Altidore’s first touch failed him, however, and a great chance for an equalizer went to waste.

The U.S. nearly scored in the 73rd minute when Jones sent in a lovely cross to a wide open Sacha Kljestan in the box. Rather than head toward goal, however, Kljestan headed the ball down to Bradley. But the ball bounced too high and Bradley’s desperate header flew over the crossbar.

Three minutes later the Americans equalized. Pushing forward in the middle of the pitch, Maurice Edu lofted a lovely pass to Juan Agudelo in the center of the penalty area and Agudelo did well to head the ball back to a charging Bradley. The midfielder delivered a perfect strike that caromed off the upright and into the back of the net.

Just when the momentum had shifted toward the visitors, however, another serious defensive gaffe led to a second Russian goal.

In the 83rd minute, Russia earned a free kick on the right wing and took it quickly, surprising the U.S. and, in particular, Goodson. Artem Dzyuba slipped past the lanky center back, got on the ball in front of goal, and then was bumped to the ground by Goodson. The referee called a penalty and on the ensuing PK Roman Shirokov slammed the ball into the back of the net.

With Russia up 2-1, it appeared as though the scoring—and the game— was over. But in stoppage time the Yanks stormed back and equalized. Late substitute Terrence Boyd headed a ball down to another sub, Mix Diskerud, whose deflected shot skipped past Russian goalkeeper Vladimir Babulov to tie the game.

"It's a characteristic trait of this team," Howard said of the ability to keep pushing for the equalizer. "We have a bunch of hard-working guys who believe in each other, who are happy to fight for each other."

And that’s the way it ended: 2-2. The U.S. played well in stretches and overcame a defense that seemed totally lost. Howard and Bradley once again showed that they are difference makers within the squad.

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