Jozy Altidore scored a stunning hat trick to inspire the United States to a stirring second-half comeback and a 4-3 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo. The memorable friendly triumph not only breeds further confidence in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side ahead of next year’s World Cup but extends the U.S.’s record win streak to 12 matches.
With much of their Major Leaguer Soccer talent like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan left at home, the U.S. looked like suffering a harsh lesson in the opening half. Goals from Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic had Bosnia two goals to the good 30 minutes in and looking capable of adding to American misery.
But Klinsmann’s half-time tactical switch helped give his side a much greater threat after the break and within 15 minutes Eddie Johnson and Altidore had leveled up the scores. And what followed took the breath away as the new Sunderland signing first curled in a superb free kick from 25 yards and then finished coolly to make it seven goals in his last five matches for his country. A second goal for Dzeko in the dying stages wasn’t enough to dampen U.S. joy.
It was always likely to be a stiff test for the U.S. after their record run had encompassed making the most of weaker opposition than they are likely to see in Brazil. That certainly couldn’t be said of a Bosnia team with plenty of top-level quality and that is in prime position to earn a first trip to a major tournament. But Klinsmann will be delighted with how his side responded to initial adversity on the road.
With debutant John Brooks starting in an unfamiliar back four, the U.S. looked unsteady in the early going. And Bosnia were ahead after just eight minutes as they capitalized on Eddie Johnson conceding possession on the edge of his own box in an error that typified his side’s early struggles. The mistake allowed Bosnia’s danger man throughout, Dzeko, to be played in behind, just onside and, despite the best efforts of Tim Howard to keep the initial shot at bay, the ball went straight back to the Manchester City striker who made no mistake at the second attempt.
After a nervy start, the visitors started to establish themselves in the match with some better spells of possession, albeit with little goal threat. The best opportunity fell the way of Altidore, but his response was out of keeping with what was to come as, following a defensive mishap, he elected to lay the ball across the six-yard box for a none existent teammate rather than take the glaring opening to shoot himself.
But it was Bosnia that had the greater cutting edge and on the half-hour mark the home side doubled its lead. Having already failed to make the most of one near-post cross, Ibisevic, who grew up in St. Louis, took full advantage at the second time of asking by powering a header through the arms of Howard. The hosts continued to be more incisive and threatened on more than one occasion to add to their tally on fast-paced counter attacks.
At half time it looked like being a stiff learning curve for Klismann’s squad, but the coach’s decision to bring Edgar Castillo on for Diskerud at the break and switch to a 4-4-2 with a more direct approach quickly paid dividends. Within 10 minutes the new strike pairing combined to reduce the arrears. Bradley’s long pass over the top caught out the Bosnian defense, allowing Altidore to get there just ahead of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to lay it to his left and leave Eddie Johnson with the simplest of tasks to side-foot into an empty net.
Less than five minutes later Altidore was on the scoresheet, with Klinsmann’s move to push Fabian Johnson forward down the left this time vindicated. The Hoffenheim wide man did well to hold onto the ball under pressure moving forward down the left before feeding an intelligent ball into Altidore, who showed his confidence by wasting no time in taking a touch and then instantly driving a left-footed shot into the far corner.
The narrative of the match could have been very different had Howard not prevented Edin Visca from halting the U.S.’ fight back with a fine save from the substitute’s volley. Instead, the introduction of a second debutant, Aron Johansson gave the U.S. a renewed threat up top. It was Altidore, though, that stole the show.
With six minutes left on the clock, the former AZ Alkmaar striker showed he could also do damage from set-pieces as he curled an unstoppable free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards. And just two minutes later his second hat-trick for his country was complete. This time he neatly finished off an clever ball into his path from the again influential Bradley.
There was a sobering moment to temper U.S. enthusiasm when Dzeko got ahead of Brooks in the final minute of the 90 to direct a skilled header past Howard and again expose the absence of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Yet, while it may just be a friendly, Klinsmann will leave Sarajevo in the knowledge that these are the types of results and performances necessary if his side is to fulfill his job remit of making a real impact at on soccer’s biggest stage.