Sometimes an international friendly is more than just an exhibition match.
With Team USA reeling from a loss to Belgium last week, it needed a big performance to build some momentum for World Cup qualifiers. It got just that with a 4-3 upset victory over Germany Sunday, lifted by two tremendous goals from Clint Dempsey.
Even with Germany starting a bevy of usual substitutes, it took the U.S. a few minutes to get into the flow of the game. But by the 16-minute mark, the home side was sitting on a two-goal lead thanks to a tremendous strike from Jozy Altidore and an embarrassing own goal on the parts of Benedikt Howedes and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
It began in the 13th minute with a lobbed cross from Graham Zusi into the box to Altidore. Altidore struck the pass from the air with a strong right foot that found the bottom corner of the net to give the Americans an unlikely 1-0 lead, as noted by Bleacher Report Soccer’s Twitter account:
But even with the 1-0 advantage, there was a sense of cautious optimism for a team that has struggled mightily in World Cup preparations.
That is, until Howedes' massive mistake.
In the 16th minute, the defender nudged a pass back to Ter Stegen that somehow made its way past the keeper and into his own net for a 2-0 Team USA advantage. As Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl pointed out, it was the kind of mistake one wouldn’t expect from a club at the international level:
The U.S. continued its aggression into the following minutes, but Germany wasn’t without opportunities to chip away at the lead.
In the 24th minute, a Miroslav Klose strike made its way past American keeper Tim Howard, but the offside warning came out and the goal was disallowed, much to the relief of an American side pushing hard to maintain a comfortable lead, via SI Soccer:
The final 20 minutes of the half would yield similar results. Germany pushed back and turned the pressure back on the home side, but there was never much to suggest the U.S. would break down in the first 45. As hard as Germany battled back, the U.S. wouldn’t give the visitors enough momentum to cut the lead in half.
At the half, Germany held the edge in possession (59 percent) and passing and aerial success, but Team USA had attempted three more shots (8-5) and an extra shot on target. Those extra shots made all the difference in the first 45.
And of course, this own goal didn’t help matters, via SportsCenter:
But in the second half, the U.S. came out a little flat and allowed Germany back in the match. In the 51st minute, Heiko Westermann took advantage of an American defensive breakdown and headed one past Howard to split Team USA’s lead in half, via Fox Soccer:
It seemed the momentum had shifted in favor of the Germans, but that momentum wouldn’t last long.
Germany had awoken the sleeping giant in Clint Dempsey, who netted his 12th goal in 19 appearances under Jurgen Klinsmann in the 60th minute, bringing him into a tie for the second-most international goals in team history, via SportsCenter:
Apparently Dempsey didn’t feel comfortable in a tie, however. Just four minutes later, the striker added a second tally to his line, this time moving into sole possession of second place behind Landon Donovan, via sports journalist Marc Ribolla:
Germany got one back in the 78th minute with a beautiful strike off the foot of Max Kruse, and the visitors found themselves back within striking distance with just over 10 minutes to play. It wouldn’t be long before they further cut into the lead.
With a rebound off the hands of a diving Howard, Julian Draxler poked the ball into the left side of the net in the following minutes to bring Germany back within one goal of tying the score and handing the U.S. a terrible stroke of luck, via U.S. Soccer:
Germany turned the screws on the American side from that point forward. Despite holding a three-goal lead well into the final portion of the match, Team USA was without any momentum toward the end of the contest, and it was left to defend its goal and cling to a dwindling lead.
The two minutes of added time only served to increase the tension of a match that seemed much more important than an ordinary international friendly. But after a couple attempts at goal and a Howard clearing effort, Team USA had notched only its third victory against a top-two FIFA-ranked squad.
The entire match felt like a World Cup contest, but at the end of the day, the USA is left with nothing more than the confidence of knowing it can hang with one of the best international squads in the world.
It was redemption for the Americans after an ugly loss to Belgium last Wednesday, and a good sign of things to come ahead of World Cup qualifiers this week.
Jozy Altidore, A
Altidore looked like a new man on Sunday, and it all started with a beautiful scoring strike in the first half that gave Team USA a 1-0 advantage.
From that point forward, the striker played with much more poise and confidence, heading an American attack that looked as strong as ever against a top-ranked international squad. Although Altidore didn't do the damage in the second half, it was his added pressure that opened the door for Dempsey to have a tremendous game for the American side.
Clint Dempsey, A+
The hero for Team USA on Sunday, Dempsey netted two impressive goals in the second 45 that broke the match wide open for the home side. Neither goal was an easy opportunity, either.
Dempsey's scoring strikes proved to be the difference between a win and a loss in the international friendly. Despite a massive three-goal lead, Team USA would have fallen victim to a horrendous comeback if not for Dempsey's contributions.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, D
It would be easy to pile on Ter Stegen following his own-goal snafu in the first half, but the German keeper really can't be faulted for Dempsey's subsequent scoring strikes. The American striker put the ball out of Stegen's reach, the blame falling squarely on the shoulders of a German defense that simply broke down around Ter Stegen.
Still, allowing four goals to an American team that has struggled mightily to score in World Cup qualifying action wasn't a good sign, and Germany may have to reevaluate its options as more qualifying matches draw near.
Tim Howard, B
Like Ter Stegen, Howard can't be blamed for all three goals he allowed. While he certainly could have done a little more, his efforts were enough to keep Team USA out in front in a tough international friendly.
At age 34, Howard won't be around forever, but he's put himself in good position to help lead the American team to a World Cup pursuit. Every bit of confidence matters with qualifiers approaching, and Howard's performance will go a long way toward adding momentum to that run.
With the pair of international friendlies with Belgium and Germany now in the rear-view mirror, Team USA will look ahead to its World Cup qualifying match with Jamaica on June 7. Following that contest, the American team returns to the U.S. for a contest with Panama on June 11 and Honduras on June 18.
Germany will wait until September 6 for its next qualifying tilt, scheduled to take on Austria. The Germans will then square off with Faroe Islands on September 10.