USMNT secure first win in Germany with composure and quality
COLOGNE, Germany --
This daunting test against Germany required a particular sort of performance. There were plenty of tenets to carry over from the victory over Netherlands on Friday, but the overall cadence of that affair would not suffice in the quest to garner a result here. The World Cup winners simply would not permit the sort of revival show produced in Amsterdam.
In order to thrive against Germany, the Americans needed to produce a composed, incisive and resolute display worthy of toppling the World Cup winners. It took them a bit to adjust to those demands, but they eventually delivered in spades to claim a 2-1 victory on the night and wrap this difficult European trip with two wins in two matches.
“I thought it was a good night for us,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Any time you come to Germany and beat them, you know there’s going to be a lot that goes into it. That was certainly the case tonight.”
Early German flurry exposes lack of width …
Germany opened this match with the distinct intent of securing a result in the early stages. The bright and energetic start owed much to the willingness to move intelligently and quickly and the work of debutant Patrick Herrmann on the right.
Borussia Mönchengladbach winger Hermann spent his first minutes in the national team as a direct threat to run at the tentative American back four and provide his teammates with an opportunity to flourish. His pace exploited the decision to play a relatively narrow diamond midfield and relegated Mix Diskerud to chasing defensively at the outset.
Those endeavors carved open a back four hesitant to close down those runs and created two glorious chances. Mesut Özil eventually hit tamely at Brad Guzan to squander one of them, but Mario Götze took advantage of his opportunity after three players failed to close Herrmann’s excursion on the edge of the penalty area and Timothy Chandler rather noticeably permitted Götze to drift free at the back post.
As a going concern, the status quo could not endure. Germany combined too easily, created too many 2v1 and 3v2 situations and exhibited too much control over the game in those early stages. On another day, the Americans might have found themselves completely swept aside, but the Germans failed to place the game out of reach and watched the Americans find their footing instead.
“The team realized after 20-25 minutes that there was a whole game to play,” Klinsmann said. “I think the leadership, particularly Michael Bradley, was tremendous. He was the absolute best player on the field tonight. With his experience -- he already played in Europe and he’s back in MLS now -- the players really look to him and said we’re really going to turn this slowly into the other direction. And so it all shifted.”
… until adjustments in midfield restored the proper equilibrium
Bradley served as the fulcrum of the efforts, but he needed help to rectify the immediate concerns as Germany knocked the ball around with impunity in the early stages.
Klinsmann assessed the issue and veered away from the diamond when Germany operated too smoothly in possession. Diskerud and Gyasi Zardes adopted positions near the touchline to cover more ground in the wide areas. Bradley roved around as usual as a one-man menace designed to apply pressure to the ball, but he also slipped into good defensive areas to congest the operating room through the center of the park.
“Defensively, we flattened out the midfield, which meant we were able to cover a little bit more of the width,” Bradley said. “At that point, Mix and Gyasi were able to defend a little bit wider. It just gave us more of a solid starting point.”
Compressed lines lead to fruitless German possession
Those foundations eventually tempered Germany’s attacking intent. There were the odd moments here and there when the home side burst forward, but those occurrences were few and far between once the Americans settled into the game and reduced the space allotted
After tinkering with the shape and weathering the early storm, the U.S. grasped the demands of the game fully. The back four improved across the board -- John Brooks, in particular, made several key interventions -- and reaped the benefits of the revised midfield structure.
Germany still retained plenty of the ball, yet the menace slowly dissipated. The revamped defensive shape eventually paved the way for more thrust before halftime and a comprehensive performance after the interval.
“Even in the moments when we didn’t have the ball and we were behind it, that can be a positive at times,” Bradley said. ”You draw them out a bit. One of our strengths has always been and will always be to win the ball quickly and then use our mobility and our athleticism and our speed to go. I think, as the game wore on, that was something we did well.”
Halftime substitutions build on improvements and increase the threat
The interval allowed the Americans to build on the underpinnings of that bright spell to end the first half and take firm control at the outset of the second. Klinsmann made three critical substitutions at halftime -- Kyle Beckerman for Danny Williams, DeAndre Yedlin for Juan Agudelo and Brad Evans for Fabian Johnson -- in order to amplify the strides made before the break.
Germany buckled toward the end of the first half when placed under firm examination in the wide areas. Aron Jóhannsson drifted off the line often and mined the space in front of left back Jonas Hector. Bradley floated into that same area in the middle of a 30-pass sequence to play the sumptuous diagonal for Diskerud’s equalizer shortly before the break.
Each of the changes at halftime increased the advantage held by the Americans in those areas. Beckerman immediately picked up intelligent positions to keep the shape, maintain possession and supply Bradley with even more latitude to look for opportunities to lead the counter. Evans presented more of the same issues on the right as he sought to push forward at the right times without shunning his defensive duties. Yedlin perhaps posed the most critical threat by introducing searing pace on the right flank to challenge Hector even further and stretch the proceedings both horizontally and vertically.
“We just said that we needed to keep the ball in the attacking half and that would change things for us,” Evans said. “Let’s make them move, let’s make them run. DeAndre’s speed is always going to cause problems. It’s always going to pin back the opposing defense, no matter who you play. They’re very well aware of that. When he steps on the field, there’s a little bit more space and a little bit more cover from the outside mid. That gives me more space to operate. It gives Michael more space to operate. As soon as you bring on some fresh legs, there were some good combinations. We found success.”
Commitment to result leads to precious victory
As the second half unfolded, the Americans emerged as the more likely side to create something and seize the game. They exerted enough control over the proceedings to generate several good chances -- Zardes probably deserved a penalty at the end of a well constructed move early in the second half, for instance -- as the half progressed.
The improvement eventually presented the Americans with a choice: They could simply see out the game in search of a draw or they could surge forward even more in a bid to secure the victory.
Klinsmann and his players chose the second course of action. Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood climbed off the bench to inject endeavor and pace up front against the tiring Germans. Their movement -- combined with the forays of Bradley and Yedlin from midfield and Evans from his perch at right back -- took advantage of the space afforded.
Everything pulled together in one sweeping movement to cinch a first victory in Germany. Bradley turned neatly and swung the play from left to right. Evans picked out Wood’s run and slid a diagonal toward him. Morris pulled away the defender with a clever run over the ball. Wood collected on the edge of the penalty area and thumped inside the far post three minutes from time.
Wood’s second winner inside the space of a week -- and a little help from the crossbar on a Sami Khedira header -- completed a deserved triumph in the end. The nature of the performance highlighted some of the lingering weaknesses in that difficult opening period, but it mostly reinforced the growth of the team over the past year (particularly given the absences of several senior players for this trip) and underscored the ambition within the ranks.
“It’s that learning curve to be courageous, to go for it and do it,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a different mindset that you develop. There’s a lot of psychological work that we’re doing with the players. They need to believe to go to Europe and have a game. We know the games can go the other way. If we get a lesson, so be it. But I think we grow a higher confidence level. We learn how to grind out things. It helps more to have wins in that process to keep things balanced and calm.”