On Wednesday this week, the US men’s national team travelled across the Atlantic to take on Bosnia and Herzegovina (spelled it right on the first try!) in an international friendly. This was another match that would allow Jurgen Klinsmann to continue to tinker with line-ups and formations as well as evaluate player on the bubble prior to next year’s world cup. From the outset it was obvious that the back line (defensive line) is still up in the air. Geoff Cameron got the start in the center along with newcomer John Brooks. It would appear that Cameron is likely to make the roster in 2014 as he continues to get starts in the back line. Brad Evans and Fabian Johnson flanked them on the wings completing the back four in front of Tim Howard. I would imagine Evans and Johnson will be making the trip to Brazil next year as well. However, Brooks would have to prove himself and he (and the rest of the defense) was tested early.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are not to be scoffed at, especially considering they were riding a win streak in Sarajevo. They are also a very good team currently. They are at the top of their World Cup qualifying (WCQ) group right now; a group that contains a very good Greek team. They also have a +20 goal differential so it’s obvious they can score. It was even more obvious when they buried the rebound after a bad Eddie Johnson turnover near the box and a great first save by Tim Howard in the eight minute. Twenty two minutes later, they would add on a second goal off a laser strike header from a well placed cross. The U.S. would have some chances in the first half, including one chance by Mix Diskerud who drove towards the net but was eventually shoved off the ball (should have been a penalty kick in my opinion), but ultimately the half ended 2-0 in favor of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH). The commentators kept making references to the game at Russia last year in which we went down a goal early but eventually found a way to force a draw but I thought it looked more like the 2010 World Cup game against Slovenia. What’s with the US and struggling against teams from the Balkans? The US just didn’t look like the team that had rattled off 11 wins in a row including the Gold Cup championship. Maybe it was the 4-5-1 (or 4-4-1-1) formation we were in?
Klinsmann thought so and started the second half moving up Eddie Johnson to join Jozy Altidore in a 4-4-2 formation. At this point I was content to accept a 2-0 loss to a good Bosnian side because it was a friendly and was giving the young guys a chance to prove their worth to coach. However, as in the Slovenia game, the US came charging back. This time however, they walked away with the win (I still consider the Slovenia game a win too). 10 minutes into the second half Michael Bradley (I really like him in the midfield) perfectly placed an over-the-top pass at the feet of Altidore who slid it immediately to Eddie Johnson for the goal. Four minutes later Jozy got on the board to tie it up and it was evident that the USA machine was in full steam. Jozy would get two more in the 84th and 86th minute to complete the hat trick. The US was a different team in the second half and I have no doubt that the change to the 4-4-2 helped as it put someone up top with Altidore, a second threat. With the exception of a 90th minute goal in which Brooks got caught ball watching, the defense looked sound. Final score 4-3, 12th consecutive win for the Yanks. One final note, Aron Johannsson got his first start with the guys in red and white stripes after his transfer from Iceland. While he only came in as a late game sub for Eddie Johnson and didn’t get a goal, he put the moves on the BIH defense and rattled off a couple of shots. He looks to be a very promising striker.
You can check out all of the US goals below. You’ll definitely want to watch the third US goal because it was a beauty.
Goal #1 Eddie Johnson from Altidore
Goal #3 Altidore
Goal#2 Altidore from Fabian Johnson
Goal #4 Altidore from Bradley
So what are the implications of this game? They’re pretty big in my book. First of all we did all of this without leading US scorers Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Granted they’ve been at it a little longer than Altidore or Johnson but still. Second, I keep saying BIH is a good team. That’s because they are. In last week’s update of the FIFA world rankings Bosnia and Herzegovina jumped up one spot to 13th…in the world. The rankings had them at 995 points, one point above 14th ranked England. The US on the other hand, jumped up three spots, including over 20th ranked Mexico, to the 19th spot at 960 points. So based on the FIFA ranking calculations, BIH was the better team and they were at home. While international friendlies aren’t weighted as much as tournament/qualifying games, I would imagine this win would give us a boost in the rankings. However, the next rankings don’t come out until September 12th and we have two WCQ matches to play before that (at Costa Rica and at home against Mexico), so we’ll need to take care of business in those games. A win in either of those games will clinch us a spot in Brazil. Finally, this Bosnian side is the type of team that we are going to have to beat in next year’s World Cup. This is the type of game that we are going to have to win if we don’t want an early exit, and as of right now, this team shows a lot of promise.
A few final, unrelated notes: the Premier League in Britain starts up today and matches are probably going on right now as you are reading this. I’m trying to find a team to call my own, much like T.O. has claimed Everton. I’ve got one team in mind but I’d like some input from our big time soccer fan readers out there. So if you have any thoughts feel free to comment. I’d like to stay away from some of the big time teams like Manchester United, Manchester City, and Liverpool. Also, I really don’t want to just chose a team based on uniform/crest/nickname…I’d be ashamed of myself. Finally, long time Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel, got the axe today after serving as the manager since 2005. He has been replaced by Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg on an interim basis. Sandberg was serving as the Phillies third base coach. I’m surprised they just didn’t let the Manuel retire at the end of this bad season but I am happy for Sandberg to finally get a managerial job in the big leagues. I’m curious if the timing of this move is so that the owners/GM of the team can have a look at how Ryno handles the big league.
Alright that will do it for me. I’m very excited to see what the future holds for Team USA and hope that they keep marching on all the way to Brazil. Have a great rest of the weekend.