Mix Diskerud was the man of the moment with his 93rd minute goal, but Tim Howard was the Man of the Match on a wild night in Krasnodar, as the United States escaped with a 2-2 tie.
The Russians were by far the better side for most of the match against a shaky U.S. defense that put itself in an early hole, gifting Russia an eight minute goal off of a mindless free kick from Danny Williams.
The American backline has been a worry for a lot of observers, although Jurgen Klinsmann recently pronounced himself satisfied with his backmen. That group was already looking unsettled against the Russians when team captain Carlos Bocanegra hobbled off injured in the 17th minute. Clarence Goodson replaced Boca as the U.S. struggled to find their footing against this talented Russian side.
Klinsmann’s roster selections had raised some eyebrows on Monday, and two of the more talked about picks, Jozy Altidore and Timmy Chandler, were in the starting lineup. Of the two Chandler had the better evening. Although not dominant, the German-American fullback, who has been reluctant to commit to the U.S., showed good crossing ability as part of a solid overall performance. Altidore, who had been left out of the last round of World Cup Qualifiers by Klinsmann, worked hard, but had little to show for it against a stingy Russian defense.
Klinsmann also named several members of the failed U.S. U23 Olympic team to this 20 man roster. Josh Gatt, who was in the group but was recalled by his club, started on the right side of the midfield, and was as advertised, raw but promising. Gatt had some good moments and Klinsmann should keep him in mind when the Gold Cup rolls around next summer.
The U.S. began to work their way into this match around the half hour mark, with defender Goodson getting the first U.S. shot on target. Klinsmann would have been happy to hear the half time whistle, with the U.S. closing out with a solid final 15 minutes, relieved to still be in the game despite that nightmare start.
Klinsmann made no changes on the restart, but his side came out playing far better. Gatt had an early shot, but he put in the keeper’s chest. The action was end to end, but the Russian’s were testing Howard, while the visitors were finding real chances hard to come by against a Russian team that has yet to concede in World Cup Qualifying play.
The U.S. caught a break in the 52nd minute when Russian dangerman Kokorin was given a yellow card for diving, instead of a penalty, although Howard appeared to trip him. An outstanding double save from Howard kept U.S. hopes alive, and then in the 76th minute Michael Bradley buried a stunning equalizer.
Subs Maurice Edu and Juan Agudelo made it, and Bradley finished it in style. Edu floated in a well placed pass and Agudelo showed real class in cushioning his back pass to Bradley. The hard working Roma man showed some class of his own, blasting his volley in off the upright.
It looked like the home team had pulled out what would have been a deserved victory when Goodson gave away a penalty. Howard could do nothing with Shirokov’s well taken spot kick, but surprisingly the game had one last bit of drama. Diskerud provided it with his first goal for the United States, and the Yanks had an unlikely tie to take into the new year.
Klinsmann may want to reevaluate his satisfaction level with his defense in the weeks between now and February 6, when the U.S. travels to Honduras to start the final round of World Cup Qualifiers. Howard was fantastic, but the defending in front of him was unacceptably shoddy. The problem seems to be as much about the midfield as it is about the central defense, and answers need to be found soon.
On a better note Klinsmann can be happy with what he saw from some of his younger players. Gatt showed enough to warrant another look, Diskerud took his chance well, and Agudelo reminded us just why we were so excited about him in the first place. Agudelo turns 20 this month, and he showed tonight with his assist on Bradley’s goal, and with several other touches, a real bit of class that this United States team would do well to cultivate.