"You can only go to another level, when you play someone on another level." Words from U.S. Men’s National team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann that echo the goals of the U.S. Soccer program: to rise amongst the world’s premier soccer powers, and as it did last night against the Netherlands - the World’s No. 6-ranked team and third-place finisher at the 2014 FIFA World Cup - to beat them.
Since taking over as the head coach in 2011, Klinsmann has led the USA to a 3-3-2 record against teams ranked in the top 10 in the world. Here’s a look at the three big wins against elite teams that Klinsmann and his squad have earned in the last four years:
The most recent victory was one of the most impressive. The U.S. entered into the orange lion’s den, Amsterdam ArenA, having lost all four of its previous matchups with the Dutch. In the previous 360 minutes against the Netherlands, the U.S. had only managed a single goal and in this match the team would be without two of its top goalscorers, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. Against the odds, Klinsmann and the team broke through with four scores in a comeback win for the ages. Trailing 3-1 in the second half, the U.S. responded with a trio unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes, including two just 96 seconds apart as the game reached the 90th minute. Three of the U.S. goalscorers, Gyasi Zardes, Danny Williams and Bobby Wood, scored for the first time in their international careers. All of the USA’s scorers earned their first caps under Klinsmann; In fact, Williams was the first newly capped player in the Klinsmann era back in 2011.
A similarly impressive road victory occurred in 2012, less than a year into his coaching tenure. Klinsmann and the U.S. pulled off a 1-0 victory against four-time World Cup champion Italy. The Italians entered the game on a hot streak after cruising through qualifying for the 2012 European Championship. The U.S. proved it could hang with the strong Italian squad that featured veteran stars Gianluigi Buffon, Thiago Motta, and Andrea Pirlo. In the end, it was Clint Dempsey that buried the game-winning goal off of a Jozy Altidore assist. The win was the first for the U.S. against the Italians in 11 attempts. It was also the first time Italy lost in Genoa since 1924.
In June 2013, the MNT squared off against No. 2-ranked Germany in Washington D.C. that marked the centennial celebration of U.S Soccer’s 100th anniversary, and ended with a 4-3 USA win. At the time, Germany was coming off of a third-place finish in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and was on its way toward winning the World Cup in 2014. The German lineup featured all-time leading scorer Miroslav Klose and veterans Per Mertesacker and Lucas Podolski. In another high-scoring affair, a pair of goals from Dempsey, a score from Altidore and a German own-goal gave the United States a victory at RFK Stadium and Klinsmann a win over his former team and former assistant coach Joachim Low.
In addition to the three wins, the U.S. MNT has also earned two draws against top-10 opponents since 2011. The group went into to Russia and walked away with a tie against the then No. 9-ranked team in 2012, twice coming back from being down a goal. Michael Bradley got the first, then Mix Diskerud put in his first-career goal in the waning seconds of stoppage time to get the job done. In addition to being a good result over a highly ranked team, the draw put a cap on a record-tying year, the U.S. equaling its best winning percentage in the modern era (.750).
The second impressive draw came last summer when the U.S. battled with the world’s No. 4-ranked Portugal in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The result was fundamental in helping the team advance through the “Group of Death” and into the Round of 16. Jermaine Jones buried a 27-yard rocket and Clint Dempsey guided in the go-ahead score in the 81st minute. Were it not for an incredible cross from Cristiano Ronaldo that set up a Silvestre Carela game-tying goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time, there might well have been another win added to the tally.