Ukraine may not have been playing on home soil, but they made their countrymen proud on Wednesday against the United States.
Behind goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Devic on either side of halftime, Ukraine defeated a mostly European-based US team in an international friendly at Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Cyprus, which played host after political turmoil in Ukraine forced the match to be moved.
With many of the group that gathered in Frankfurt for training camp facing their last chance to impress ahead of the World Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann named a lineup that included regulars Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Geoff Cameron as well as a number of hopefuls.
John Brooks and Oguchi Onyewu started in central defense, while Edgar Castillo manned the left side. In midfield, Sacha Kljestan got the nod next to Jones in the center, and Alejandro Bedoya lined up on the right in support of Altidore and Dempsey.
It was a team with very little experience together as a unit, and that showed during a largely subpar first half for the Americans, marked by the lack of understanding in central defense and an inability to hold possession for extended stretches.
A gaping hole between Brooks and Castillo resulted in the opening goal 12 minutes into the match. Denis Garmash made a slashing run through the central channel and collected a ball over the top before bearing down on Howard in the US goal. His initial shot was saved, but, with the US scrambling to recover, Garmash latched onto the loose ball and fed Yarmolenko for a simple finish in the bottom corner.
Only Garmash’s hesitancy kept the Ukrainians from going up 2-0 in the 32nd minute after the midfielder once again ghosted in behind the US backline. Alone with Howard, the Dynamo Kiev man dallied on the ball and Brooks eventually cleaned up the mess, preventing what would likely have been a sure goal had he been decisive with his finish.
Despite failing to register a shot on goal during a listless first 45 minutes, the US began probing the Ukrainian backline after halftime.
Their first real chance of the match came in the 49th minute after Kljestan drove through midfield to spark some neat possession around the home side’s 18-yard box. The ball eventually ended up back at the Anderlecht man’s feet, and his clipped ball to the back post was chested down by Bedoya, but the ensuing volley was deflected out for a corner.
Two minutes later, Altidore had a chance to draw the visitors even, but he pushed his header from Cameron’s cross over the crossbar. Bedoya followed that chance up with a driven shot from distance that whistled past the right post.
Looking for an equalizer, Klinsmann went to his bench in the 63rd minute, sending Brek Shea and Aron Johannsson on for Kljestan and Castillo. Unfortunately, neither could prevent what happened next.
Yet another defensive breakdown allowed Ukraine to make it 2-0 in the 67th minute. With both Onyewu and Brooks pushing upfield, Roman Bezus slipped Devic in behind the US line with a picture-perfect diagonal ball. Devic’s first effort was saved by Howard, but his second slipped under the ‘keeper.
The American’s final whispers of hope came when Dempsey’s corner kick flashed wide of the far post in the 83rd minute and Johannsson’s volley from another corner was cleared off the line four minutes later.
The US are back in action on April 2 against Mexico in Glendale, Ariz. (11 pm ET | ESPN2, Unimas).