After being pretty soundly outplayed for nearly the entire match, Team USA still managed to conjure up an unlikely draw against their (probably very frustrated) Russian opponents Wednesday. Twice the USMNT fell behind by one goal, and twice they battled back on the strength of brief spells of decisive attacking to level the score.
It was Mix Diskerud (yup, that’s an American player) that ultimately solidified the 2-2 scoreline in the tense closing moments of stoppage time, but Michael Bradley’s first leveling strike in the 75th minute was probably the more spectacular of the two US goals. Netting a picture perfect volley on a excellent Juan Agudelo set up, Michael Bradley once again demonstrated just how valuable he is to this team. Here’s how it went down:
1.0 – Maurice Edu takes a look
1.0 - After getting the ball on a quick pass back, Maurice Edu quickly surveys his attacking options in the final third. He has Michael Bradley (yellow circle left) isolated in a bit of space between Russia’s midfield and defense, Jozy Altidore (yellow circle top) sort of halfway threatening up the right sideline, and Juan Agudelo (not shown in the picture) pushing right on the Russian backline. Since Bradley is sitting in a bit of room right in front of the Russian central defense, Vasili Berezutsky (the Russian right center back) pushes slightly forward to anticipate having to close down a maybe soon to be receiving the ball Bradley.
1.1 – Sending it over top to Juan Agudelo
1.1 - Unfortunately for Berezutsky, as soon as he locks onto Bradley, Juan Agudelo uses his speed to make a slicing run in between Berezutsky and the Russian outside back. It’s only a sliver of an opening, and one that is being mostly tracked by that Russian right back… but Edu sees the run on schedule (avoiding the offside call) and sends a driven overhead pass in Agudelo’s direction. As the ball approaches Agudelo’s fleet-footed charge towards goal, Bradley follows the play and continues to occupy the now growing space between the opposition’s defense and defensive midfield.
2.0 – Agudelo’s knock down to Michael Bradley
2.0 - Again, since Beretzutsky had pushed slightly forward to limit the possibility of Bradley (and probably the USA’s best player) getting the ball in a dangerous playmaking position… he’s now completely unable to protect against Edu’s aerial drop-in of a pass to Agudelo. In order to recover, Berezutsky turns towards Agudelo and attempts to get to him before he can settle the ball and have a crack on goal. Because of this, Agudelo immediately sees that Bradley has increasingly more and more room to work with (since the Russian defense is electing to close in on him rather than his trailing midfield teammate). As a result, Juan decides to head the ball backwards to Bradley, basically providing him with a knockdown set-up pass.
2.1 – Michael Bradley running onto Agudelo’s header
2.1 - This angle should give you an idea of just how much room Michael Bradley had to operate in. With Jozy stretching out the defense on the sideline and Agudelo making a dangerous run right into the heart of the center stronghold… one of the Russian central midfielders should have tracked back to cover Bradley. Had that happened, maybe Berezutsky is able to stay home and pick off Edu’s aerial lead pass to Agudelo, or (even more likely) maybe Edu isn’t even able to justify making the pass in the first place. It’s a pretty significant lapse in discipline by Russia’s midfield, but also a very impressive sequence of offensive efficiency by Team USA. Russia gave an inch, the USA took a mile.
3.0 - And finally… Michael Bradley’s eventual volley was the vision of technical precision. He catches the ball right on the laces and sends a heat-seeker of a shot off the post and into the net. Aesthetically speaking, absolutely one of the best USA goals in the Klinsmann era.
The Final Word - As you can see, Team USA connected a pretty impressive web of passes together without the ball ever touching the ground. Edu sends a ball to a sprinting Agudelo, Agudelo knocks it back to Bradley with his head, Bradley then sends it one-time into the goal.
Just 10 seconds earlier, it seemed like the USA were struggling to maintain possession in their own half, and then a few extremely direct and skillful passes later… they’ve equalized the scoreline. A remarkable goal, and one that should be as memorable for it’s adept execution as it is for it’s ruthless opportunism. The USA had no business staying level in this game, and yet they willed it so. Porous defense and lack of midfield cohesion be damned, at least Team USA under Kilnsmann believe they can win.