Amidst political turmoil in Ukraine, the scheduled international friendly between the Yellow-Blues and the United States nearly didn't happen. After a poor showing in a 2-0 loss, perhaps the United States wishes the match hadn't been played after all.
Ukraine regularly got behind a shaky U.S. defense and earned a meaningful win for the country behind goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Devic.
Given the current state of Ukraine, both teams and the Cyprus crowd took a moment of silence before the match, per U.S. Soccer on Twitter:
The teams take a moment of silence before kicking off. A poignant moment in light of the current conditions in Ukraine.— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) March 5, 2014
Meanwhile, 101 Great Goals shares this banner from several Ukraine fans in attendance:
Ukraine wasted little time getting on the board, and did so with far too much ease.
Denys Garmash slipped behind a United States back line that was playing too far up the pitch and found himself on the end of a lovely lobbed ball that placed him alone in the box. Tim Howard admirably stopped his first shot, but Garmash calmly picked up the rebound and slipped a pass to Yarmolenko, who ripped the ball into a wide-open net.
The United States defense didn't escape scrutiny. Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated chimed in:
Back line meltdown by US, 1-0 Ukraine. Easy.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) March 5, 2014
Bleacher Report's Michael Cummings added:
Just caught Ukraine's goal. Would be nice to have someone marking, anyone marking. #USMNT— Michael Cummings (@MikeCummings37) March 5, 2014
Ukraine dominated much of the early portion of the game, as the team's attackers like Garmash, Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka continued to get behind a shaky U.S. defense. Ukraine dominated the first half out on the wings, while the United States really never got much going on the attack.
But the defense remained the focus, as Fox Soccer highlights:
HT: Ukraine 1, USA 0. The #USMNT lucky only to be down one goal after a shambolic first-half display on defense.— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 5, 2014
The United States did open the second half strongly, however. Jozy Altidore nearly equalized in the 50th minute, but he pushed a header too high after Geoff Cameron found him in the box with a nice cross.
Two minutes later, Alejandro Bedoya let rip from just outside the box and had the keeper beat, but his fizzing shot spun just wide of the goal. He was arguably the United States' best player in the early going, as Ives Galarcep of SoccerByIves.net noted:
Bedoya's been best player for the USMNT so far today. Comes SO close to an equalizer in the 53rd minute. Ukraine sitting back in 2nd half.— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) March 5, 2014
Despite the United States dominating early in the second half and looking likely to earn an equalizer, Ukraine struck in the 67th minute. Once more, the Yellow-Blues beat the United States defense over the top, this time with Devic getting clear, and once again Howard made the initial save.
But Devic recovered the rebound, took his time and squeezed the ball past Howard and between the defense to give Ukraine a 2-0 lead. The defense was again the culprit, as Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com tweeted:
You know, someone on the #USMNT back line might want to kick the ball away instead of letting it roll by.— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) March 5, 2014
As former Sports Illustrated writer Andy Glockner pointed out, the incumbents in defense for the United States won't be too worried about losing their place after this performance:
Biggest winners today so far: Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. And DeMarcus Beasley.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 5, 2014
However, Galarcep felt that perhaps the pairing, and not the players, was the issue:
For me the big issue w/ the USMNT centerbacks is the pairing rather than individual failings. Too similar, never played together & it showed— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) March 5, 2014
This wasn't the United States' top team—and Ukraine is a talented side and the best team in the world that failed to qualify for the World Cup—so overreacting to this loss would be a mistake. There were some worrying signs, however, such as a poor effort from Clint Dempsey and a lack of incisive passing out of the midfield with Michael Bradley out of action.
And, of course, the United States' depth on defense is quite worrisome. So, yes, Jurgen Klinsmann will have plenty to address after this one.
Jonah Freedman of MLSSoccer.com provides Klinsmann's take on the game:
|John Anthony Brooks||D||F|
Man of the Match: Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine
You could make a strong argument for Garmash here as well, as both players hassled the United States defense all game long, but it was clear from the very beginning that the U.S. had no way to contain Yarmolenko out on the wing.
He made dangerous runs out wide. He slipped past the American defenders with ease. He scored the game's first goal. He simply looked like he was in a different league than the back four the United States put in front of him.
It was an epic performance from the Dynamo Kiev man.
The United States players will lick their wounds and prepare for Mexico on April 2, while Ukraine turns its attention toward qualifying for the 2016 European Championship. The win adds much-needed momentum for Ukraine in light of the country's current off-the-field political concerns.
The loss isn't overly concerning for the United States. However, the performance raised enough red flags for the team to focus on as it gets back to work.