The Soccer Desk

Dempsey and U.S. Mark Centennial with Win Over Germany

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In a friendly honoring 100 years of U.S. soccer, Clint Dempsey and the men’s national team gave a performance befitting the circumstances, and then some. Dempsey, the side’s newly-confirmed captain, netted two fine strikes to help the U.S. top Germany 4-3 in front of a sold-out RFK Stadium Sunday afternoon.

After a poor display against Belgium last Wednesday, the Americans turned in a solid performance despite conceding two goals in the final 15 minutes. In addition to Dempsey’s brace, Jozy Altidore broke his scoreless streak with an early goal and the U.S benefited from an own goal by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. For the Germans, Max Westermann, Max Kruse and Julian Draxler provided the scoring on the day.

While the U.S. may have answered questions about their struggling front line and lack of midfield creativity, the back line had to endure a nervy finish to the game. Returnee Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones broke up most of the German attacks in midfield, but the center back pairing of Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez were still caught out in the game’s latter stages.

The first 20 minutes, however, were all U.S. Starting brightly, the Americans threatened first when Altidore raced through the German defense and had his shot blocked while many fans were still making their way into the stadium.

The American pressure was just beginning, though, as Altidore and Dempsey pushed forward and won several set pieces for the Americans. Graham Zusi, whose delivery was superb on the day, curled in a free-kick that was nearly headed home by Altidore in the 7th.

After Germany almost bundled in a goal against the run of play, the Americans struck first through Altidore in the 13th. A driving run by Dempsey allowed Zusi to receive the ball in space and cross for the striker to volley home—a well-deserved goal after a high-energy start.

Minutes later, a horrific mistake from ter Stegen doubled the Americans’ lead. High pressure from the U.S. forced Benedikt Howedes to play a pass to his goalkeeper, but ter Stegen let the ball slip under his foot and into the side netting for a comical own goal.

With the U.S. on a roll, Germany did well to settle into the match and produce several chances of their own. A goal by Miroslav Klose—which would have tied him with Gerd Mueller for most goals in national team history—was called back for offside in the 23rd and Tim Howard was finally forced into action in the 31st.

The American back line successfully dealt with most of Germany’s first-half attacks, especially midfielder Brad Evans, who was making his first start at right back. Yet while the defense played well in the first half, they couldn’t replicate the same levels of focus and tenacity in the second.

The United States starting XI with recently-named captain Clint Dempsey (8). (FIFA)

The United States starting XI with recently-named captain Clint Dempsey (8). (FIFA)

This time it was Germany who began the half on the front foot and they soon had their first goal of the game. Heiko Westermann slipped past Gonzalez to nod home a Lukas Podolski corner in the 51st and pull the visitors within one.

Enter Clint Dempsey. With his team’s first-half momentum all but gone, the American captain smashed home a cross from Altidore after good work from Jones in the 60th. He then outdid his previous effort four minutes later, cutting onto his left foot and curling a long-range strike past a helpless ter Stegen. The captain had two and the U.S. had four, a scoreline that sent the home crowd into hysterics.

Still, Germany had one more comeback in them. The visitors started dominating possession and eventually pulled one back in the 79th when Max Kruse cut inside and fired into Howard’s near post. Moments later, the Americans were made to worry when Julian Draxler, who had been running at the back line all day, turned in his first international goal to make it 4-3.

But with all hands on deck, the U.S. saw out the final few moments, which included a penalty shout for the Germans and a couple big saves from Howard.

Dempsey’s man-of-the-match performance and two goals, which moved him past Eric Wynalda into second place among U.S. all-time leading scorers, elicited high praise from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after the game.

“Clint is right on top of the best players around and certainly the top player in the United States. Having him at forward is important because he sends signals, not just to his own players but to the opponent,” he said.

The U.S. manager also noted how Dempsey’s determination, not talent, is what makes him a special player.

“He’s not satisfied today scoring two goals against Germany because he’ll be more satisfied if he scores in Jamaica. He always looks for the next game,” he said. “It’s important for other players to see that hunger and drive.”

Eddie Johnson of the U.S. challenges Heiko Westermann of Germany. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Eddie Johnson of the U.S. challenges Heiko Westermann of Germany. (Brad Mills/USA Today)

Dempsey acknowledged Klinsmann’s praise and was quick to highlight the experience of his manager and the knowledge he brings to the side.

“Any time you have a manager who’s done so much as a player and for him to say that he believes in you and believes in this team, it gives the team confidence. That’s huge. We just have to continue learning from him and his experience.”

When asked about making adjustments between the Belgium loss and today’s game, Dempsey said it was all about the team’s motivation and aggressive attitude, which included fouling more and breaking up the run of play. He also noted the side’s increase in possession and smarter play in the attacking third.

As for the rest of the attack, Klinsmann added that he hopes Altidore can learn from Dempsey’s drive and form a strong partnership on the front line. However, the manager stressed the importance of Altidore’s development and said he doesn’t want to rush the 23-year-old striker.

“I think it’s a maturing process, and it will continue,” he explained. “He needs some guidance, he needs some help and he knows not to expect perfection.”

After a string of disappointing performances for the U.S., Altidore finally provided a glimpse of the form that carried him to 31 goals for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar this season. His early strike was also his first goal from the run of play since June 2011.

Both strikers will go into next week’s World Cup qualifier against Jamaica full of confidence after sparkling performances. Klinsmann is also confident of his side’s ability to pick up a result on the road and said that the two friendlies aided in the U.S. preparation.

“Looking towards the qualifiers, it helps the players see that you can go at [a high] tempo and that’s why I didn’t want to sub too early. I wanted to let them go through a little bit of pain,” he said. “You go down to Jamaica and they will just try everything to disrupt your game. Opponents like Belgium and Germany can only help us.”

Still, Klinsmann has several decisions to make regarding his back line and midfield. Among those players in question are Gonzalez and Besler, a duo the manager said is developing at a fast pace after having the chance to play against the attacking talent of Belgium and Germany.

“You see some players maturing. Omar’s maturing. Besler’s just playing like he was here for the last five or six years and we have a good opportunity with Brad Evans as a right back,” he said.

Evans, who was surprisingly shifted from midfield to right back in place of Geoff Cameron, took his chance well, Klinsmann added.

“I think Brad Evans showed exactly what we wanted to see,” he said. “He has vision, he has technique, he’s strong and good at one against ones and he doesn’t shy away from overlapping runs as well.”

Buoyed by a better offensive performance and a back line that’s growing in maturity and consistency, the U.S. will head for Kingston on Tuesday to prepare for Friday night’s qualifier.

Meanwhile, the German team will head home and reunite with many of the first-team players omitted from their USA tour. Admittedly, Germany’s squad resembled a “B” or even “C” team at times, but manager Joachim Low said that it was a productive trip and his staff was able to take many positives away from the young team’s performances.

Germany’s defeat in D.C. comes days after handily beating Ecuador 4-2 in Miami. The Germans currently lead their group for European World Cup qualifying with a record of 5-0-1.