After three-and-a-half months of scuffling along, Jurgen Klinsmann's US national team finally delivered upon the attacking flair the coach promised when he took the reins from Bob Bradley this summer.
Gone were experimental formations, stranded forwards or misplaced midfielders. In their stead came a somewhat classic 4-3-1-2 formation, two burly forwards in the form of Jozy Altidore and Edson Buddle and – most importantly – goals.
Three of them, to be precise, and all of them in one half for the first time in more than two years.
It spelled a 3-2 win at Slovenia, and some positive vibes in a locker room that had suffered one too many 1-0 defeats of late.
“I think it was great," Buddle said after the game to USsoccer.com. "I think the attitude was to go forward, and we played with two strikers, and it was good to receive the ball and to look up and have a partner up there and see Jozy. It was much easier to combine with two strikers and having Clint [Dempsey] sitting right in behind.”
Buddle got the game's first goal, while Dempsey and Altidore got the next two. The US created chances at will in the first half, threatening on turnovers, set pieces, in steady builds and from long range, putting together one of their more complete attacking performances in years.
While Buddle stood out thanks to his 20-yard strike to open the scoring, midfielders Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson earned their share of kudos as well. The two flanked defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman – who put in another steady performance, even as the US struggled with a rejuvenated Slovenian attack in the second half – and both made a strong argument for increased roles going forward.
“It’s really what we observe on a daily basis," Klinsmann said of going with the new faces after Friday's turgid performance against France. "We try to understand better and better every individual player that we have, and their qualities and strengths. We want to build a team over time based on their strengths.
"We know that Michael has tremendous qualities in terms of his commitment; he covers so much ground, stays calm and is very experienced. Fabian Johnson is now coming through the ranks and [has] big potential in terms of how he sees the game. He reads the game well, sees gaps and can play killer balls."
Johnson's performance perhaps deserved a goal, threatening as he was from nearly the first kick from his left midfield spot. He got the next-best thing, though, drawing a late first-half penalty after a passing sequence that saw all 10 US field players touch the ball. Though the final movement owed as much to lax Slovenian defense as it did to inspiration in the US attack, there was at least the reassurance that Klinsmann's team could function well enough to punish said lax defense when opportunity presented.
“Big time," said veteran defender Carlos Bocanegra, who picked up his 100th US cap in the game. "We have a three-month break until our next game, so to get the win tonight was the biggest thing for us. It wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve played, but the result was what we were looking for. We got some good goals from the guys, and some good attacking sequences. We’ve got to clean it up a little bit better in the back, but we got the win, and I think everybody’s pretty happy about that.”
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com