After 45 minutes of getting mollywhopped by Bosnia in today's friendly, the United States Men's National Team were down, 2-0, at half. At halftime we (I) wrote as much, briefly detailing exactly how the Americans were getting mollywhopped, and saying that barring foolery, it was a wrap for U.S. Soccer's historic 11-game winning streak. Of course, as a relatively reasonable guy who loves his country but isn't blinded by the flag, I assumed the game was over. As did you, and your loved ones, and most Americans watching, and Bosnians the world over, and most of the Bosnians on the pitch, and most likely some of the Americans who were unfortunate to pit their talents against them. But...sports.
And more specifically than sports: Jozy Altidore. We could talk about the four changes Bosnia made at half, or the United States slowly wearing the home side down over the course of the game with what is now, improbably, their signature possession play, or the sheer sand that's ingrained in all of us as Americans when we are forced to stare down defeat or Eastern Europe. But all of that would be beating around the bush, because the story here is that for about 38 minutes, Jozy Altidore was the single best player in the world.
The Comeback started in the 55th minute, when Michael Bradley looked up from inside his own half and played a 45-yard ball over the top of the Bosnian defense. Altidore and striking partner Eddie Johnson both outran Bosnia's backs, but Altidore was also able to get to the ball before the onrushing keeper. With one perfectly weighted touch, Altidore took the pace off the ball and knocked it to Johnson, who passed it into the back of an empty net.
Four minutes later, Altidore struck again. Fabian Johnson gathered the ball and poked a short little through ball to Altidore, who was holding off the center back at the top of the box. He took one touch to create separation, and with his left foot, tied the game with a hard shot that tucked just inside the far post. He never even looked at the target.
The United States were about to fucking Do It, and they played with more confidence even after both managers made more changes. In the 84th minute, It finally came, and, glory to God, It was beautiful. When Bosnia conceded on the left side of the box, Altidore stepped up for the free kick and curled a right-footed shot over a six-man wall and into the top corner of the net to put the USMNT up, 3-2.
Two minutes later, the striker got his hat trick when Michael Bradley poked a pass through the Bosnian defense on the right side of the box. Altidore again beat everyone to the ball, and, with his first touch, ripped the fourth goal past the keeper.
Bosnia striker Edin Džeko scored his second before the final whistle on a long-range header that skipped past Tim Howard, but it wasn't enough. The whistle blew, and it was time to flip cars. The USMNT extended its win streak to a preposterous 12 games, and did it by coming back after trailing at half to win for the first time ever on European soil.
Today was supposed to be about two newcomers to the United States team: German center back John Anthony Brooks and Icelandic forward Aron Jóhannsson. Brooks played the whole game, but he kind of underwhelmed, and at times just couldn't compete with Džeko. Jóhannsson, however, looked great and could've scored two or three times. But he didn't. Altidore did, which is why everyone will be talking about him.
Altidore's now scored in five straight national team games, and he's been vaguely unstoppable over the last year domestically with Dutch side AZ. He transferred to Sunderland in the Premier League this summer, and though it's a jump in quality, the striker showed today that he has the pace, strength, instincts, movement and technique to do well anywhere. The guy's only 23.
Next year in Brazil, he'll be a year older and, hopefully, a year better. Brooks and Jóhannsson, both promising players, will push hard for spots and either mesh with the side or be kept out by better players. Michael Bradley will still be a beast. Legends Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, who didn't play today, will be on the pitch.
The United States got destroyed in the first half of the match, sure. But they came back and won without putting together two good halves of soccer, which is a sign of a good, experienced team. Somehow, against all odds, things keep getting better for the USMNT.