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Altidore leads USA to win over Bosnia

ONE MAN GANG
Jozy Altidore's hat trick helped the United States defeat Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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Before Wednesday, the scrutiny surrounding the United States men’s national team record 11-game winning streak had been justifiable. Even if the American streak numbered among the longest in the sport on record, it had been cobbled together in large part against the likes of Belize, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala and more of the soccer world’s lesser lights. And ten of the 11 wins had come at home.

There can be no arguing with the 12th consecutive American win, picked up in a gutsy but confounding 4-3 come-from-behind win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo on Wednesday. The win now makes the USA’s the seventh-longest streak in the sport all time. Three more wins and they will equal the all-time win streak record, held by world champions Spain. And the thing is, for long stretches, it didn’t look like the Americans would be getting anything of note from this game.

The USA was badly exposed in the first half. Eddie Johnson, one of just two Major League Soccer players called up for this game, clumsily surrendered the ball outside of his own box in an attempt at trickery in the seventh minute, having already ruined a good look with his inaction at the other end. Zvjezdan Misimovic picked the ball up and slipped it through the gap between crashing central defenders John Brooks and Geoff Cameron and into the path of the outstanding Edin Dzeko.

US goalkeeper Tim Howard blocked Dzeko’s initial attempt, but the big Bosnian got a second crack at it. Since Howard’s defenders failed to cover him in a timely fashion, the net was left wide open for Dzeko to roll in the go-ahead goal.

Bosnia pressed well and was quick to knock the recovered ball over the top to Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic. But just as the Americans were starting to get a grip on the game, halfway through the opening act, Misimovic was left with too much room out on the right. So in the 31st minute, he whipped a poorly cleared corner into the goalmouth. There, Ibisevic, who spent his teenage years in St. Louis, Mo. and was an All-American at Saint Louis University, beat Geoff Cameron to the ball and slammed his header past the helpless Howard.

The score fairly well reflected the balance of power in the run of play. Only Jozy Altidore, whose holdup play and off-the-ball work was sound; and Michael Bradley, who did the work of three men, earned their keep for the USA. The defense of Fabian Johnson, Cameron, the debutant Brooks and Brad Evans couldn’t tether itself to anything resembling a straight line. Jermaine Jones and Mix Diskerud were largely ineffective in midfield. And Eddie Johnson and Alejandro Bedoya were nigh on invisible.

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But while the first half showcased rampant malpractice, the second half was far more polished. Organizationally, the Americans were much improved, and in the 55th minute, Bradley clipped a splendid ball over the top to the streaking Jozy Altidore. With a single touch, the striker deadened the ball and knocked it square for Eddie Johnson to slide into the empty net.

Four minutes later, Fabian Johnson cut through several defenders and played Altidore into some space in the box. The Haitian-American took a touch and then smacked his left-footed shot across Asmir Begovic for the equalizer. The Bosnians leaky defense was catching up with them, as it has been for years.

But the Americans deserved just as much credit for closing their ranks and tightening their lines, foisting control of the game from their hosts. But as the second half wore on, only substitute and debutant Aron Johannsson produced any danger, as he got in the habit of picking the ball up wide and charging at goal.

It took a deep run from substitute Edgar Castillo to break the game open again in the 85th minute. He got caught in a jumble of legs outside of Bosnia’s box and won a free kick. Altidore then deftly curled his effort over the wall and under the bar in the near corner to make it 3-2.

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And then, in the 87th, Bradley picked up a turnover in the middle of the field, galloped some 30 yards forward and gently glided a through ball ahead of Altidore. Now brimming with confidence, the striker lashed his shot past Begovic on the near side first-time for his hat-trick.

Dzeko did his best to spoil the party late on, rising over Brooks – to further muddle up the mixed bag that was his first US game – on a soft cross and nodding it past Howard.

But the USA held on, adding a good dose of credibility to a streak that lacked it. Bosnia didn’t send in its second string – the way Germany did in the first win of the run. Nor was this win against a regional minnow or underdog. Bosnia is a world-class side, who lead their World Cup qualifying group without having suffered a defeat.

After this, these dozen wins mean something: the USA is on a roll.

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