The US national team concluded their excellent 2013 campaign on a down note in Vienna on Tuesday, falling 1-0 to Austria in an international friendly where – for the second game in a row – Jurgen Klinsmann's squad did not live up to their own lofty expectations in front of goal.
There were flashes of promise in the chemistry between Jozy Altidore and his former club teammate Aron Johansson as the latter earned his second start for the US, but a lack of precision and aggression in the Austrian box left the Yanks attack shut out again after last Friday's 0-0 draw at Scotland.
Fifteen minutes in, Johannsson cracked a shot on frame that Austria goalkeeper Robert Almer had to parry away for a corner kick. The Yanks thought they'd gone in front on the subsequent corner kick as Geoff Cameron thumped in a downward header at the near post that nicked off the hand of Marko Arnautovic and appeared to cross the goal line.
But a scrambling Almer palmed it back out from under his own crossbar, and neither Hungarian referee Istan Vad nor his assistant on the far touchline indicated a goal, allowing play to continue.
The game moved with plenty of pace from end to end as rain slickened the surface at Ernst-Happel-Stadion, but the USMNT's lack of precision led to several chances for the home side and it was no great surprise when Austria took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute.
The play began when influential Bayern Munich standout David Alaba played the ball wide to György Garics, who was given too much space by DaMarcus Beasley. The Austrian right back's low cross skipped right past Brooks and sat up nicely for Marc Yanko to fire a close-range finish into the roof of the net with Omar Gonzalez left trailing in his wake.
The setback rocked the Americans and seconds later Michael Bradley committed an uncharacteristic turnover deep in his own half that nearly gifted Austria a second as Tim Howard had to make a sure-handed save.
But there were glimpses of quality play and the Yanks seemed sure to level the score in the 43rd minute after a neat passing sequence pulled their opponents' backline well out of shape. Jozy Altidore took a short pass from Jermaine Jones and cut the ball back to Bradley inside the six-yard box, but the Roma midfielder couldn't get off a clean shot as Garics closed him down with some last-ditch defending.
Cameron was unable to score with the goal gaping in front of him in the 66th minute after Alejandro Bedoya headed substitute Eddie Johnson's far-post cross into his path, as Almer got down very quickly to block at the USMNT defender's feet.
The US unlocked the Austrian defense again in the 74th minute as Cameron's service caused chaos in the home team's box, but Altidore lingered on the ball a bit too long and his eventual shot was right at Almer.
Yanks coach Jurgen Klinsmann chopped and changed his lineup significantly down the stretch, bringing on Eddie Johnson, Sacha Kljestan and Terrence Boyd in search of attacking inspiration.
The visitors duly probed for an equalizer, pushing Austria back into their own half for long periods. But the final touch remained elusive and when Altidore fired a last-minute free kick just wide of the left post, the Americans had to exit the Alps empty-handed.
Despite the defeat, Klinsmann's side finishes 2013 with a 16-4-3 record, the most wins and best winning percentage in USMNT history. The US will learn their World Cup fate in the draw for next summer's main event on Dec. 6.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Jozy Altidore||The USA's big frontrunner was a handful and then some for Austria. With a bit more luck - and coldbloodedness - he'd have tallied a goal and an assist.|
|2||David Alaba||A left back for Bayern but an effective deep midfield presence for his country, Alaba started the sequence that led to the goal and covered plenty of ground.|
|3||Omar Gonzalez||A composed performance from the center back, who ably handled the unfamiliar role of veteran alongside his young partner John Brooks. The best is still yet to come from the Galaxy star.|