A stoppage-time strike from Mix Diskerud helped the US national team plant their flag on hardened enemy soil for the third time this year and end 2012 on an emphatic note, as the Americans white-knuckled their way back twice from a one-goal deficit en route to a 2-2 draw against Russia on Tuesday night in Krasnodar.
The goal was the first on the senior team for Diskerud, one of a handful of promising young players given a real chance to impress ahead of next year’s World Cup qualifiers by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The 93rd-minute goal also helped ease concerns surrounding two defensive flops by the US that nearly sent them to yet another loss to their former Cold War foes.
The matchup was just the fifth all-time between the two countries and the first since 2000, and the US remain winless all-time against Russia (0-3-2) and just 1-7-3 all-time against the Soviet Union/CIS/Russia.
Midfielder Michael Bradley also scored for the US with a brilliant 76th-minute strike to counter an early miscue from midfielder Danny Williams, and goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was rarely tested in the first half, loomed large after the break and finished with eight saves that helped the US post another gutsy road result after wins earlier this year in Italy and Mexico.
Diskerud’s equalizer was equal bits luck and timing. He entered the game for former Houston Dymamo defender Geoff Cameron just minutes before he struck a right-footed shot that deflected off Russian defender Andrey Yeschenko. Terrence Boyd - one of five players on Klinsmann's roster Tuesday that were part of the failed US Olympic bid earlier this year - picked up the assist.
That goal came after the US dug themselves into a late hole thanks in part to substitute defender Clarence Goodson, who was whistled for a foul on Artem Dzyuba in the penalty box in the 84th minute. Roman Shirokov promptly buried the ensuing penalty kick to break a 1-1 tie.
Russia’s Fedor Smolov put the hosts up in the ninth minute thanks to a costly miscue from Williams, who mistakenly scuffed the ball directly to Alexander Kerzhakov. The Russian midfielder promptly poured through the US defense and dished off to a streaking Smolov on the right side, and a small window of space was all it took for Smolov, who coolly beat Howard with a shot to the back post.
The US – who played this game without offensive stalwarts Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan because of club commitments – struggled all night to find the offensive rhythm to counter on the road. Klinsmann opted to start the game with a 4-3-3 formation with the embattled Jozy Altidore flanked by celebrated newcomer Josh Gatt and Herculez Gomez up top, but the trio failed to generate any real offensive chances in the first half.
In fact, the Americans’ first genuine scoring chance came off the foot of Goodson, who pounced on a loose ball after a US corner kick in the 28th minute but buried his right-footed shot into Russian goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov’s waiting arms. They didn’t seriously threaten again before the halftime whistle.
Goodson entered the game in the 16th minute for hobbled captain Carlos Bocanegra, who was forced to leave the game with a left hamstring injury.
Gatt, for his part, made his senior-team debut after recently winning a second consecutive club title in Norway with Molde, but he never quite put his fingerprints on the game as some optimists had hoped. His best chance to score came in the 47th minute after midfielder Jermaine Jones bowled his way to the top of the 18-yard box, but Gatt’s right-footed blast was easily snuffed out by Gabulov.
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He was taken out of the game in the 63rd minute for Chivas USA youngster Juan Agudelo in a move that proved to be a turning point for the Americans. Agudelo’s drop pass to Bradley after a pin-point chip from Maurice Edu gave the Roma midfielder the perfect chance to strike a stunning equalizer off the far post.
Howard was typically impressive after the break, first parrying a shot from Russia’s Alexander Kokorin in the 49th minute and then following with two consecutive saves in the 66th minute, steering aside a point-blank attempt from Kokorin and then tipping a shot from Roman Shirokov over the bar.
Altidore found himself back in the mix after his public falling out with Klinsmann surrounding last month’s World Cup qualifiers, but he proved largely ineffective against a stingy Russian defense. He got a golden opportunity in the 70th minute via a through ball from left back Fabian Johnson, but a rough first touch thwarted the chance.
The game also marked the return to the US fold of German-American defender Timothy Chandler, who recently told USsoccer.com that he is “1,000 percent committed” to the US team going forward. He started and logged 90 minutes, but his fate with the team certainly isn’t sealed after appearing in a friendly. He’ll only be cap tied if he suits up on Feb. 6, when the US open play in the CONCACAF Hexagonal on the road against Honduras.