The U.S. national team did it again on Wednesday, coming from behind to defeat a world power on home soil.
Unheralded forward Bobby Wood, who plays in Germany for third-tier bound Erzgebirge Aue and whose continued call-ups baffled some observers Stateside, scored another late game-winner as the Americans shocked World Cup champion Germany, 2-1, in Cologne. It marked the first U.S. win over Die Mannschaft in Germany and only the second time it beat a reigning world champion. The other came back in 1998 with a CONCACAF Gold Cup upset of Brazil.
The U.S. victory was the second in six days over a top European side. It beat the Netherlands last Friday. While that was a wide-open, helter-skelter game that the Americans probably were fortunate to still be in as the Dutch folded late, Wednesday’s win was deserved. The U.S. bossed Germany in the second half and had several chances to pull ahead before Wood clinched it in the 87th minute.
Here are three thoughts on a memorable evening in Cologne:
U.S. resiliency is impressive
Last Friday, the Americans pulled themselves back from a two-goal, second-half deficit and won, 4-3, in Amsterdam.
“It’s very encouraging to see all of our group coming back in a game … [when] it’s not looking so positive for a bit of time, and then having the courage and the energy to take it back to Holland and obviously turn the thing around,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said following the game. “It’s wonderful to see young players coming through with confidence and also taking risks and trying to surprise their opponents.”
That quote sums up quite a bit of what Klinsmann is about—“courage” and “energy”. With those in abundance, a gap in talent may be less pronounced. The U.S. was awful in the opening moments at the RheinEnergie Stadion. The 4-4-2 formation, a change from the 4-1-4-1 deployed against the Dutch, offered the Germans far too much space with which to work. Meanwhile, the U.S. back four continued to struggle with marking, and World Cup hero Mario Götze easily lifted the hosts into a 12th-minute lead.
But toward the end of the first half, the U.S. started to settle in and find its footing.
Midfielders Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud made improved decisions with the ball and the Americans did a better job of reading and disrupting German passing lanes. Diskerud pulled the U.S. level with his spectacular 41st-minute goal, and the U.S. clearly was the better team throughout a stirring second half.
Gyasi Zardes, who was active and involved in the win over the Dutch, was especially effective after shifting up front in the second half on Wednesday. He helped the U.S. maintain a significant amount of sustained pressure. Bradley’s work rate and ability to set the tempo was outstanding again, and the Germans, who are preparing for a European Championship qualifier on Saturday, wouldn’t or couldn’t maintain their early energy level. Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger was substituted at halftime.
Yes, it was a friendly. But this was a German team that took at lead, at home, with multiple World Cup winners in uniform. And the 27th-ranked U.S., with courage and energy to spare, made a game of it. Stanford junior Jordan Morris nearly scored seconds after entering the match. Aron Jóhannsson and Brad Evans nutmegged opponents. DeAndre Yedlin fed Bradley for an 83rd-minute chance that probably should have been converted.
Then in the 87th, Wood hit his deserving winner. Brad Evans found Wood in a pocket in front of the German back four, and the Honolulu native turned and rifled a perfectly-place shot inside the left post.
As Danny Williams said following the Holland game, “It’s not just words that we always say, ‘One nation, one team. We believe.’ Because we really do believe in us and you can see what you can achieve with team spirit.”
That, and a fair bit of skill, were evident in Cologne.
Two goals to remember
These were not rough-and-tumble, lucky goals. There were no deflections or egregious defensive errors. The goals the U.S. scored Wednesday were earned, world class and worthy of the occasion. They’ll be replayed for some time.
Diskerud’s opener, his sixth for the U.S., came at the end of a 30-pass, 90-second move that started with Zardes inside the American penalty are and ended with a gorgeous, deep cross from Bradley. The Toronto FC captain was immense again in the U.S. midfield—not perfect, by any means, but influential, proactive and inspiring. His ability to hit accurate, searching passes or to put the opposition on its heels with a long run through midfield kept both the Dutch and Germans off balance.
Last Friday, it was the latter that did more damage. In Cologne, it was his perfect cross to Diskerud that set the table.
And what a finish from Diskerud. Open thanks to the German shift toward the flank where the U.S. was probing with shorter passes, the New York City FC midfielder-- whose MLS form has been inconsistent—chested the ball down and took the shot off the bounce with a stab of his right foot.
Wood’s winner, which capped an amazing week for the 22-year-old, also was impressive. Bradley started the play, as usual, by shifting the point of attack from left to right and finding Evans on the wing. The Seattle Sounders veteran hit a quick pass to Wood, whose first touch took him away from German defender Shkodran Mustafi. All that was left to do was beat goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler with a quick, left-footed shot from beyond the penalty arc. And Wood, who scored all of three club goals in the German second division this season and looked out of place in his first few U.S. appearances, made it look easy.
Klinsmann rewarded for ambitious scheduling
It takes a bit of bravery to schedule games that could, and maybe should, end badly. But credit to Klinsmann. He’s willing to risk defeat, and the criticism that often follows, in an effort to get his growing team the experience and exposure to top-class competition it needs. Wins make people happy, but they don’t always make people better.
This week, Klisnmann was rewarded with both. The U.S. traveled to Europe to take its chances against the gold and bronze medal winners from last summer’s World Cup. Both teams featured several big-name veterans. Both were preparing for European Championship qualifiers and both started off strong.
And the Americans fell behind in both games.
But thanks to the sort of collective confidence and patience that the best teams in the world possess—along with a bit of good fortune that wasn’t necessarily undeserved—the U.S. came back to defeat both powers. Other than advancing out of last summer’s difficult World Cup group, it could be argued that this is Klinsmann’s signature achievement as U.S. coach.
Following a “year of transition” that often was frustrating and disjointed, his team will hit next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup on an unprecedented high, believing in itself and in several new players who have broken through. That momentum would be much more difficult to establish with matches against less vaunted opposition. There is no reward without risk.