US offense awakens in 3-2 win at Slovenia
In the fog at Stozice Stadium, the U.S. offense became visible for the first time since Jurgen Klinsmann became coach.
On a night when the Americans celebrated captain Carlos Bocanegra's 100th international appearance, Edson Buddle, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore all scored Tuesday to give the United States a 3-2 victory over Slovenia in Ljubljana.
"We have a three-month break until our next game, so to get the win tonight was the biggest thing for us," said Bocanegra, who became the 12th American to reach the century mark. "It wasn't the prettiest game we've played, but the result was what we were looking for."
The Americans had been outscored 5-2 in going 1-4-1 since Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in late July, and they had been 0-5 in Europe since a March 2008 victory at Poland.
Klinsmann switched to a 4-4-2 formation, starting two true forwards for the first time in his seven matches. The change led to far more scoring chances on a 36-degree night with fog coming off the Alps.
"That's the first time that I have ever played in a game with that much fog," Dempsey said. "You couldn't really see from one end of the pitch to the other."
Buddle scored his third goal in 10 appearances, and his first since June 2010 against Australia, after Handanovic's attempted clearance was stripped by Dempsey from Darijan Matic. Dempsey tipped the ball to Buddle, who put the ball in off a post from 25 yards.
Tim Matavz scored the first of his two goals for the Green Dragons in the 26th to tie it as Timmy Chandler was beaten, leading to the defense getting split.
"With the lights and the fog, it makes it a little difficult to read balls," American goalkeeper Tim Howard said.
Dempsey put the Americans back in front with an 8-yard header in the 41st off Michael Bradley's corner kick, and Altidore made it 3-1 when he converted a penalty kick two minutes later after Miso Brecko tripped up Fabian Johnson in the penalty area,
After the highest-scoring first half for the Americans since June 2008 against Barbados, 27th-ranked Slovenia responded with a furious rally, and Matavz cut the deficit in the 61st. The Green Dragons outshot the Americans 14-11.
"The attitude was to go forward," Buddle said. "It was good to receive the ball and to look up and have a partner up there and see Jozy. It was much easier to combine with two strikers and having Clint sitting right in behind."
At last year's World Cup in South Africa, the Americans rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second half to tie 2-2 on goals by Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, and an apparent go-ahead goal by Maurice Edu was inexplicably disallowed by referee Koman Coulibaly.
Slovenia returned its four defenders and goalkeeper from that match. The Americans played a higher defensive line and got caught several times.
"When the tempo is that high and a team like Slovenia has very, very good individual players that can always create something out of nothing, you always have to be very alert," Klinsmann said. "This is something that we have to improve."
Buddle and Bradley — son of the former coach — got their first starts since Klinsmann's debut in August.
Johnson, who started for Germany in the 2009 European Under-21 final, was in the midfield, four days after making his American debut as a second-half substitute.
"We know that Michael has tremendous qualities in terms of his commitment. He covers so much ground, stays calm and is very experienced," Klinsmann said. "Fabian Johnson is now coming through the ranks and his big potential in terms of how he sees the game. He reads the game well, sees gaps and can play killer balls. For the last couple months we have been working on our strikers to get them fitter and fitter. At this point we see Edson at his best again. He's healthy, sharp and hungry."
Johnson nearly put the U.S. ahead in the first minute, with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic just tipping his volley over the crossbar. Altidore had a good scoring chance in the 13th but skied one over the crossbar from Johnson's cross.
"We needed a win. We'd been struggling a little bit," Bocanegra said. "We have a three-month break until our next game, so to get the win tonight was the biggest thing for us. It wasn't the prettiest game we've played, but the result was what we were looking for."
NOTES: The U.S. is planning exhibitions at Panama on Jan. 25 and at Italy on Feb. 29. The second is a FIFA fixture date, meaning most of the player pool should be available. ... With his 24th international goal, Dempsey tied Joe-Max Moore for fourth place on the U.S. scoring list, trailing only Donovan (46), Eric Wynalda (34) and Brian McBride (30). ... The Americans, who have dropped to 34th in FIFA's world rankings, finished the year 6-8-3, their worst record since going 7-9-11 in 1994. ... Bocanegra received an engraved crystal cube from the U.S. Soccer Federation and a jersey from Slovenia with his name and the number "100" to mark his milestone appearance. "That was a nice, classy touch," Bocanegra said. "I'm really proud to have accomplished this." ... Howard's 38th victory moved him past Tony Meola for second among American goalkeepers, trailing only Kasey Keller's 53.