Photos from the USA's 1-0 victory against the Czech Republic in Prague to open the 2018 FIFA World Cup cycle.
U.S. Men’s National Team forward Jozy Altidore has been itching to get back on the field for the past two-and-a-half months.
Altidore, who injured his hamstring in the opener of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is fully recovered heading into Wednesday’s international match against the Czech Republic in Prague.
“It feels great. I’m so excited to be back,” said Altidore, who leads the current USA roster with 71 caps and 23 goals. “I want to get on the field and help the guys put out a positive performance.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann named Altidore the captain for Wednesday’s game. It represents the second time that Altidore will wear the armband. Altidore’s other international match as team captain was on Oct. 15, 2013, during the USA’s dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Panama to cap off the Hexagonal.
CHICAGO (March 17, 2014) – The U.S. Men’s National Team will travel to face the Czech Republic on Sept. 3 in Prague, marking the first match for the United States following the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Details for the first meeting between the teams on Czech soil will be announced at a later date.
“While we are focused on preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we must always look ahead and therefore we are thrilled to get this match against the Czech Republic,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Historically, they have a very good team, and they are going to be preparing for a huge challenge against the Netherlands in their opening game of qualifying for the European Championships, so we expect this to be a tough match and another good benchmark for our team.”
The United States will be seeking its first victory against the Czech Republic. The USA is 0-3-0 in the all-time series that began at the 1990 FIFA World Cup. In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the Czech Republic collected a 3-0 win in the opening group match. Most recently, the teams met in the Send-Off Series for South Africa as the U.S. fell 4-2 on May 25, 2010, in East Hartford, Conn.
The Czech Republic has reached the World Cup finals on nine occasions, twice advancing to the championship final. Backstopped by Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech and led by team captain and Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, the Czech Republic finished in third place in its qualifying group for Brazil behind Italy and Denmark. The Czech Republic been drawn into a challenging Group A in qualifying for the 2016 European Championship and opens the campaign on Sept. 9 at home against the Netherlands.
The MNT will continue its long rivalry against Mexico when the teams square off April 2 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (TICKETS). Kickoff for USA-Mexico, presented by AT&T, is set for 8 p.m. Arizona Time (11 p.m. ET), and will be broadcast live on ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas and ESPN Deportes Radio. Fans can also follow the match live on Twitter @ussoccer.
Four weeks ago, U.S. Men’s National Team forward Aron Johannsson and his club AZ Alkmaar were seven points out of the third-place position in the Eredivisie. That third-place spot is particularly important because it guarantees the club that holds it a qualifying spot in the Europa League. With that many points to overcome, many of the AZ players were resigned to the fact that if they were going to play Europa League, they’d more than likely have to earn their place during the post-season playoffs.
“When we lost against Feyenoord six games ago we thought we were going to the playoffs,” Johannsson said. “For the rest of the games we were mentally preparing ourselves as if we were going into the playoffs.”
But that was four weeks ago.
On Sunday, Johannsson scored two goals and added an assist to lead Alkmaar to a 4-1 win over Excelsior. The win landed AZ in third place in Eredivisie, clinching a sport in the Europa League. It was an improbable run highlighted by a hot streak of performances from the MNT forward that began three weeks ago.
Following a 3-1 win against ADO Den Haag, AZ matched up with FC Twente on April 26. Thirty-five minutes into the game, Alkmaar found itself up 2-0 after Johannsson flicked a cross into the back of the net with the outside of his left foot. Johannsson and the team held on for the remaining 65 minutes, and for the first time since February, AZ had won back-to-back games. The positive result berthed a positive thought. If AZ could keep winning, maybe they had a chance.
“We went into the game against NAC Breda realizing third place was possible.” Johannsson said.
The team knew that continuing to win was the only way that possibility could turn into reality, but after 82 minutes AZ trailed 2-1. In the 83rd, Robert Muhren leveled the score line for AZ, but at this stage a tie was not much more valuable than a loss. With two minutes to go, Johannsson kept the Europa League hopes alive, blasting in a stunning long-range goal from 35 yards out.
“I’ve never shot from that far before,” Johannsson said. “We needed to win the game obviously so we could have a chance at third place, and the whole game NAC Breda was defending. They had almost 11 in their own box in the last 30-40 minutes. I didn’t’ get any chances and I barely saw the ball. Finally I got the ball and it was a little bit far away, but I just said ‘screw it’ and decided to shoot on goal. Obviously the result was great.”
With the win AZ moved into a tie with Feyenoord for third with 59 points. Had the season ended that day, Feyenoord would have claimed the automatic Europe League bid based on goal differential. But there was still one game left to play. With Feyenoord holding a huge advantage in the tiebreaker, Johannsson and his teammates knew that they’d need a win in their last game with Excelsior and some luck with the other result.
“After the NAC Breda game, we were thinking the whole week about Excelsior and we knew we had to win to have any chance and hope for good results,” Johannsson said. “It was also tough for us because it was not in our own hands. In a situation like that you can only focus on yourself and get those three points and hope for the best.”
Five minutes into the match with Excelsior, AZ proved they were ready to take care of business. And Johannsson was ready for the spectacular.
“The ball came into the box and bounced high in the air. It was on turf and it was spinning a lot, so I was trying to read where the ball would eventually come down and I made it there before the defender,” Johannsson said. “The ball was at a perfect height and I just decided to do a bicycle kick. I’m really happy it worked out.”
Johannsson’s goal sent the number of AZ fans that had traveled to Stadion Woudestein into a frenzy and gave his team an early 1-0 lead. It was good thing he heard the roar of the supporters, since he wasn’t quite sure it had gone in.
“I felt it when I hit it and it felt very good,” Johannsson sad. “First I heard everybody celebrating and then I just looked up in the goal and saw the ball, so I didn’t see it in exactly the same time as everybody else. It was amazing. Not only was it a beautiful goal, but we needed to score a goal early in the game to help us build confidence and this was after five minutes. From every perspective it was really nice.”
Bicycle-kick goals are rare, but for Johannsson, this one was not a fluke.
“Two days before the game I was training, we had a striker training at the club, and I was training bicycle kicks. So it was really fortunate the ball came exactly there in this game. We were training and we had the trainer play us the ball and I was kind of taking it off my chest and putting in the air and taking, I think it was five or six bicycle kicks. So it was probably in the back of my head in the game when the ball came in that position.”
In a weekend where Champions League and Europe League spots awaited clinching, where promotions lay for the taking, and where streaks sought to be continued, there to respond were members of the U.S. Men’s National Team who made an impact with their clubs.
Fabian Johnson and his club Borussia Monchengladbach made history this weekend. Entering just one win away from clinching a group-phase spot in next season’s Champions League, Johnson started and gave ‘Gladbach 78 strong minutes, which helped propel the Foals to capture the needed victory by a 2-0 score line against Werder Bremen. This marks the first time ‘Gladbach has punched a ticket to the Champions League group stage. The Foals have not lost a league match in which Johnson has started since the winter break, going 10-0-2 in that stretch.
Staying in Germany, Alfredo Morales and his squad FC Ingolstadt had an opportunity to secure first place in the 2. Bundesliga and promotion, needing a win against RB Leipzig. Leipzig got on the board early, scoring in the game’s fourth minute. In the 39th Morales came on, and just before the halftime whistle Ingolstadt leveled at 1-1 with a penalty kick. In the 76th minute Morales assisted on the goal that proved to be the game winner. In the end, he helped hoist the 2. Bundesliga silverware that declared Ingolstadt was headed to the top division.
Moving north, Aron Johannsson and his Dutch club AZ Alkmaar entered the weekend tied with Feyenoord for the Eredivisie’s third-place position and the Europa League spot that goes along with it. Johannsson was clearly set on AZ taking that position as he scored a pair of goals, including a full bicycle. Johannsson also added an assist in AZ Alkmaar’s 4-1 win over Excelsior. With Feyenoord losing, AZ are officially in the Europa League for next season.
In MLS, Clint Dempsey continued his point-scoring tear for Seattle Sounders FC. Dempsey again contributed to the Seattle attack, setting up Chad Barrett for what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 2-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. In doing so, Dempsey extended his streak of recording at least a point to 10 games, which is the fourth-longest streak of its kind in MLS history and the longest since 1998. Dempsey has at least one point in 18 of Seattle’s last 19 games and is tied for the league-lead in goals (7) and assists (5).
In Mexico, Ventura Alvarado and Club America entered the second leg of the Liga MX quarterfinals trailing Pachuca, 3-2. Alvarado came on in the 59th minute of a match packed with excitement and drama that included seven goals, two red cards – both for Club America and the first leaving them a man short after 33 minutes – and last-minute strikes. Ultimately, Club America lost 4-3 at home and 7-5 on aggregate.
Michael Bradley, Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo were a trio of other MNT players that made a mark last weekend, each scoring a goal. Agudelo was a difference maker for the New England Revolution scoring on a diving header to give his team the lead against Toronto FC. Michael Bradley, his MNT teammate, but opponent in this matchup, responded with a game-tying goal for Toronto. Bradley’s was an exhibition of individual dominance. The midfielder dribbled through a host of New England Revolution defenders and finished in the lower left corner of the goal. In San Jose, Chris Wondolowski directed in a header in his team’s 2-0 win over Columbus Crew SC. The goal was the 99th of his career, which ranks him ninth overall in MLS history.