A young, unfamiliar United States side earned an encouraging 1-0 friendly victory over Czech Republic on Wednesday in their first game since the summer's World Cup in Brazil.
With head coach Jurgen Klinsmann stating before the game that the aim for the next World Cup—in 2018 in Russia—would be to reach the semi-finals, Alejandro Bedoya’s first-half finish was just enough for the U.S. to start on the path to that ambitious goal in winning style.
The Czechs pressed in the second half and created a number of chances to equalise, but were ultimately forced to settle for a defeat in front of their own fans, in their final game before European Championship qualifying gets underway next week.
One slight mistake ultimately decided the game in the visitors’ favour. In the 39th minute, Vladimir Darida mishandled goalkeeper Petr Cech’s throw, and midfielder Mix Diskerud—impressive throughout—pounced on the loose ball before forcing a good save from Cech.
The ball fell perfectly for Bedoya, however, who moved in to slide home the rebound.
Klinsmann named a youthful starting XI for the game in Prague, with Julian Green and Joe Gyau both making their first starts (and Gyau his debut) for their country, Joe Corona named in midfield and Michael Orozco partnering John Brooks in defence.
The Czech side was only slightly less experimental, with the likes of Cech, Tomas Rosicky and Michael Kadlec offering some valuable experience to an otherwise callow side.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first half was a slightly disjointed affair, with the home side—pushed on by coach Pavel Vrba—attempting to start expansive, attacking moves from deep but finding the United States well organised in midfield and threatening on the counter-attack.
There were few clear-cut chances for either side, with Darida narrowly failing to convert Rosicky’s low cross in perhaps the best opening of the match. For the United States, Green and Gyau both forced Cech into action with speculative efforts.
That changed five minutes before half-time, however, as the U.S. broke the deadlock. There appeared to be little danger when Cech threw the ball out to Darida but, when the ball squirmed away from the midfielder 30 yards from his own goal, Diskerud was on it like a flash.
He perhaps should have scored at the first time of asking, but team-mate Bedoya was rewarded for following the play as he slotted home in the open goal.
The second half saw both sides make changes, but it was one substitute in particular who ended up being the most prominent. U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who replaced Brad Guzan at the break, proved to be far more active than his compatriot had been in the first half.
The longer the game went on, the more chances the Czechs created, with the U.S. forced deeper and deeper and proving scarcely able to muster one effort on the opposition goal.
Instead, they were relying on Rimando to keep them ahead, with the 35-year-old making a fine save to deny Ladislav Krejci after he had been played in by the composed Rosicky.
It would be the first of many saves the veteran would make. The MLS player denied substitutes Radim Rezik and Daniel Pudil from close range as the Europeans somehow contrived not to equalise in the closing stages. On more than one occasion, Rimando denied their initial chances, causing them to panic and waste opportunities from the rebounds.
The U.S. defence dropped even but, after seeing out the three minutes of added time, they were rewarded with a slender victory.
My MOTM voting would be. 1. Rimando 2. Brooks 3. Diskerud. #USMNT— Joe Tansey (@JTansey90) September 3, 2014
The experience of having to dig so deep to secure a victory will undoubtedly be invaluable to such a young squad, although they all owe a huge debt of gratitude to their substitute goalkeeper.
Klinsmann should be impressed by the way some of his younger players acquitted themselves, and will doubtless look to give them further experience in next month's friendlies—before competitive action in the run up to the Gold Cup offers a different, more pressurised challenge.
Before the match, Klinsmann told NBC (per The Associated Press):
Once you get out of the most difficult group in the World Cup, you should go further than just (the) round of 16. This is our goal going towards Russia, not to stop at the round of 16, maybe not to stop at the quarterfinal, to say clearly, listen: We have four years to prepare this cycle.
Our goal is going into a semifinal in a World Cup. And that means a lot of work, a lot of competition, a lot of grind.
The United States now have over a month until their next matches, as they face Ecuador and Honduras in successive home friendlies.
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, get their European Championship qualification campaign underway on Tuesday in a tough home fixture against the Netherlands.