Michael Bradley stars, defensive woes persist in USMNT's wild comeback
So much for the second-half woes.
A U.S. national team that has struggled, to say the least, after intermission came alive during the second stanza on Friday, scoring three goals in the final 19 minutes to earn an astonishing 4-3 exhibition win over the host Netherlands.
This was a Dutch team that started nine players who appeared at last summer’s World Cup, where it claimed the bronze medal, and led 3-1 as the 71st minute approached. But they were blown away by a confident and committed U.S., which overcame considerable shakiness in back to punish the Netherlands for its own defensive ineptitude.
Goals from Gyasi Zardes, John Brooks, Danny Williams and the 90th-minute winner from reserve forward Bobby Wood were enough to secure the Americans’ first win over Holland in five tries. The triumph lifted the U.S. record against teams ranked in FIFA’s top 10 to 3-3-2 under coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Zardes, Williams and Wood each scored their first international goals.
“It was unbelievable game,” Williams told ESPN immediately afterward.
He was right. Here are three thoughts from a remarkable night at the Amsterdam Arena.
Michael Bradley was superb
The U.S. linchpin proved his worth again on Wednesday.
Deployed in a five-man midfield anchored by Real Salt Lake stalwart Kyle Beckerman, Bradley had the freedom to push forward knowing he had support, or to withdraw thanks to the presence of Alfredo Morales. Given the opportunity to read the game, pick his spots and play box-to-box, Bradley was the man of the match.
He hit the post in the 19th minute but was at his best late, when his drive and vision simply were too much for the hosts to handle. In the 70th, Bradley split the Dutch defense with a pass to the speedy DeAndre Yedlin, who raced onto the ball and then fed Brooks at the left post. Bradley’s corner kick in the 89th led to Williams’s equalizer.
Then in the 90th came one of the plays of his career.
He took a feed from Michael Orozco deep in the U.S. half, beat two Dutch players at midfield and another near the Dutch penalty arc before feeding Jordan Morris with a through ball that led to Wood’s winner.
Bradley has been the national team’s best player this year by some distance. The move to MLS hasn’t slowed him down.
Defensive issues persist
The Americans needed four goals to win because they yielded three. While that’s not necessarily anything to be ashamed of when playing the Netherlands in Amsterdam, it did indicate that the U.S. lacks the defensive depth to keep up with world-class attacking teams.
In addressing Jermaine Jones’s return to midfield before injury ruled him out of this month’s matches, Klinsmann said he had “so many high-quality center backs” from which to choose. He may have overstated his position.
Starters Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks (despite his goal) and substitute Michael Orozco had ample difficulty dealing with passes played into the penalty area. Huntelaar won clean headers on either side of halftime, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan had to bail out his backs several times. The U.S.’s inability to deny the Dutch service, especially from wider and deeper positions, was inexcusable for a team set up relatively conservatively (in a 4-1-4-1) and coherently.
Team shape was often decent, but individually the Americans were far too generous. Once that service came, the U.S. defenders struggled to follow both their marks and the ball. Holland’s 49th-minute goal was a prime example, as Gregory Van de Wiel was granted time to cross from the right and Huntelaar slipped effortlessly between Brooks and Orozco to head home.
If not for the Americans’ late heroics, the defensive issues would have been the story of the game. Each of the three men who started in central defense during the World Cup—Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron—was left off the current roster. They should be back in the mix for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Guzan, Zardes each get, give a boost
Brad Guzan and Gyasi Zardes needed a lift this month, and they got them in Amsterdam. Guzan was given the starting job in July’s Gold Cup without earning it on the field. He hadn’t played for the U.S. since last fall (Nick Rimando has been the No. 1 this year) and was benched by Aston Villa toward the end of the English Premier League season.
Klinsmann said Guzan would be ready and eager to re-establish his form, and he started to do so Wednesday with a series of fantastic close-range saves. He denied Robin van Persie in the 47th minute and then snuffed out a chance from a wide-open Georginio Wijnaldum later in the second half. Guzan had seven saves in all and looked like a goalkeeper ready to re-establish his position at the top of the depth chart. It was a timely performance, considering Tim Howard's statement this week concerning his interest in returning to the national team after the summer.
Zardes faced a different sort of hurdle. The 23-year-old LA Galaxy forward got his chance during Klinsmann’s January camp. After a strong start, Zardes struggled in several outings and was doing just enough to stay in the picture. But it appeared things finally clicked in Amsterdam. Although far from mistake-free, Zardes was active, frequently around the ball and often there for teammates either with a nice lay-off or as an open passing option.
Zardes nearly scored in the 15th, but his powerful bid was blocked by goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen. He then was involved in the play that sent Brek Shea through on a 22nd-minute breakaway. In the 33rd, Zardes opened his international account with a gorgeous finish of a Fabian Johnson cross using the outside of his right foot, and he nearly notched a second off a Bradley cross in the 64th.
Zardes's confidence, flexibility and unwillingness to quit despite some early adversity were emblematic of a U.S. team that won a game to remember in Amsterdam.