Recap: USMNT 3–2 Iceland

On a rainy afternoon that turned to bright sunshine, the US did a reasonable imitation of the weather, going behind twice before coming back to defeat Iceland 3–2 on Sunday. Goals from Jozy Altidore, Michael Orozco, and Steve Birnbaum were enough to see off the Icelanders on a day when neither team seemed all that energized. Second half substitutes were the difference for the US.

First half

Jurgen Klinsmann gave debuts to two players at the start: Ethan Finlay on the right of a 4-4-2 diamond, and Kellyn Acosta at left back. Lee Nguyen was also given his first start under Klinsmann.

Perhaps due to the dreary weather at the start, the game started slowly, with few chances to speak of in the first ten minutes. The US tried to up the tempo but it was Iceland that scored first, in the 13th. Matt Besler misplayed a ball in the air inside the box, which fell to Iceland’s Kristinn Steindorsson. His shot deflected off Orozco and past Luis Robles, who could do nothing about it. After hardly threatening, Iceland were ahead.

Gyasi Zardes nearly equalized just 90 seconds later, as Nguyen put a cross on a platter for the young LA forward, but he headed the ball into the ground and it bounced over. Scoring would have been easier.

But the US would find a goal soon after. In the 20th, Jermaine Jones played a vertical ball to Zardes, who clipped it inside to Michael Bradley. He found Altidore, ghosting past the backline in the box, who finished easily.

In the 25th, Nguyen fed Altidore in the box, who turned with a man on his back and laid the ball off to Bradley, but his shot was deflected out for a corner.

In the 36th, Iceland’s Aron Sigurdarson found a pocket of space behind Brad Evans on the US right, but his curling shot drifted just high of Robles’s goal. Finlay found himself with room to turn in the Iceland box not long after, but his touch let him down and he was closed down. Good defending denied a similar opportunity for Altidore after he tracked down a ball over the top in the 43rd, but 30 seconds before extra time, Altidore was brought down in a last-man challenge. The Iceland defender saw yellow, but in a non-friendly would have seen red.

Second half

The US changed formations coming out of halftime hoping to inject some life into the offense, but again it was Iceland who struck first. After a US foul, Iceland took the free kick quickly, with the ball finding Sigurdarson high on the US right. He cut toward goal, dipping between three scrambling defenders and curled a shot inside the far post. The debutant was dangerous in the first half, and found his range quickly in the second.

In he 59th, the US drew level again. A series of two US corners seemed to have come to naught, but Altidore kept the ball alive and floated it to the back post. Second half sub Birnbaum leaped high to flick it back the across goal, and Orozco was there to nod it home.

In the 69th, Birkir Mar Saevarsson, the Iceland fullback, scythed his way through the US defense and put a shot on goal, but Robles was up to it.

While second half substitutes Darlington Nagbe, Jordan Morris, and Jerome Kiesewetter injected real drive and urgency to the US attack, the game seemed destined to peter out into a draw until a burst from Kiesewetter earned the US a free kick high on the right. With the clock ticking toward extra time, Bradley sent in a teasing ball and again it was Birnbaum with an important header, powering home the game winner.

US verdict

Finlay, finally: Many US fans have been calling for Ethan Finlay’s call up for months and finally he had his chance. The speedy winger looked dangerous at times, but also looked like he was trying a little too hard to make things happen. He will get more minutes and do more with them.

Shape shifting: The 4-4-2 continues to do little for the US offensively, and it will be interesting to see how long Klinsmann persists with it after a poor year in 2015. Though to be honest, the second half’s 4-2-3-1 didn’t add much until the subs came in and enlivened things.

Subs do the business: Speaking of the subs, Kiesewetter especially looked like he really wanted to make something happen, putting in a series of tantalizing crosses before earning the free kick that led to the winner. And it was Steve Birnbaum who made the difference for both second-half goals, finding the ball with his noggin to first create and then finish chances.

Does this mean anything? While it’s always good to start the year with a win, this had a laid-back feel, with only a few players on either team seeming that interested in making much happened. Hopefully the US looks hungrier on Friday.

Final thoughts

Iceland has fewer citizens than half a hundred US cities, and yet will be sending a team to compete in the European Championship this summer. They are a minnow that punches way above its weight. How can the US, a nation a hundred times larger, manage to unearth usable talent at the same rate?

That’s a question for another day, however, as the US now turns to a matchup with Canada on Friday.

Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Iceland
Date: Jan. 31, 2016
Competition: International Friendly
Venue: StubHub Center
Kickoff: 12:45 p.m. PT
Attendance: 8,803
Weather: 61 degrees; mostly cloudy, intermittent rain
Scoring Summary
ISL – Kristinn Steindorsson  13th minute
USA – Jozy Altidore (Michael Bradley) 20′
ISL – Aron Sigurdarson 48′
USA – Michael Orozco (Steve Birnbaum) 59′
USA – Steve Birnbaum (Michael Bradley) 90′
12-Luis Robles; 3-Brad Evans (15-Steve Birnbaum, 46), 19-Michael Orozco, 5-Matt Besler, 14-Kellyn Acosta; 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones (25-Tony Tchani, 71), 7-Ethan Finlay (6-Darlington Nagbe, 61), 16-Lee Nguyen; 9-Gyasi Zardes (18-Jerome Kiesewetter, 75), 17-Jozy Altidore (8-Jordan Morris, 75)
Subs Not Used: 22-David Bingham, 2-Eric Miller, 10-Mix Diskerud, 20-Wil Trapp, 23-Perry Kitchen
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
1-Ogmundur Kristinsson; 2-Birkir Mar Saevarsson, 3-Hallgrimur Jonasson (4-Hjortur Hermannsson, 46), 5-Jon Gudni Fjoluson, 23-Ari Freyr Skulason (18-Aevar Ingi Johannesson, 84); 7-Aron Sigurdarson, 6-Gudmundur Thorarinsson (14-Diego Johannesson, 46), 8-Runar Mar Sigurjonsson, 17-Kristinn Steindorsson (15-Aron Elis Thrandarson, 46); 10-Arnor Smarason, 22-Eidur Smari Gudjohnsen (capt.) (11-Kjartan Henry Finnbogason, 71)
Subs Not Used: 12-Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson, 9-Gardar Gunnlaugsson
Head coach: Heimir Hallgrimsson and Lars Lagerback
Stats Summary: USA / ISL
Shots: 16 / 6
Shots on Goal: 5 / 3
Saves:  1 / 1
Corner Kicks: 8 / 2
Fouls: 7 / 8
Offside: 3 / 2
Misconduct Summary:
ISL – Jon Gudni Fjoluson (caution) 45th minute
USA – Darlington Nagbe (caution) 72′
Referee: Jeffrey Solis (CRC)
Assistant Referee 1: Warner Castro (CRC)
Assistant Referee 2: Carlos Fernandez (CRC)
4th Official: Ricardo Montero (CRC)


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    Well that was better than the last time I watched the national team play… so that is good.
    Findlay got off to a rough start but settled in a bit… seemed to suffer from premature ejaculation every time the ball came his way which is understandable but not like Iceland is a supermodel or anything.
    Very Very interesting to me how much more dynamic the offense looked in the second half with Kiesewetter, Nagbe, Tchani and Morris.
    The defense was a fiasco as usual… and Zardes just annoys me… LeeN fed him a briliiant ball borderline sitter in the air and couldn’t convert… he’s no striker and I’m not sure he’s a midfielder either which TT highlighted in his color analysis.
    Michael Bradley is such a better 8 than a 10-2 …. please Jurgen… keep sending LeeN out there, who was productive and tidy when the ball actually came to him- in the name of keeping MB in the 8 hole… he still gets up the field and into dangerous spots (see lovely ball to JA on gol) but is a much better playmaker from deep cycling and building play cutting off angles in defense-
    or MixD who leaves me uninspired more times than not.
    I am FIRM in my belief the future isn’t quite as far away as it appears at times and still believe without question JK needs to scrap the veterans save:: FJ, MB, CD and one or two others and vet all the youngsters… Jozy even earned a small reprieve from me today though I still think he is just average at best.
    Hoping JK also solves the back 4 problem and it continues to be a problem no matter who seems to be the flavor of the game. Kellyn Acosta has hope is young and should get more looks.
    Lastly.. is it just me or does seeing significant Bundesliga playing time for BVB first team qualify Christian Pulisic to get a look see in some of these friendlies? he’s 17 who cares.
    …funny how findlay is finally getting is shot and the guy is 25 years old which by world standards is nearing old age… vet the young kids….today as an example is a perfect opportunity to throw a kid like Christian Pulisic into a game and say..go make some chaos.. and as anybody knows who follows my thinking… the USMNT needs some organized chaos on the field. He’s small, he doesn’t have his big body yet…who cares… the kid is a vortex of positive energy and things hapen when he is on a field.

    • better ethan finlay than brad davis

    • Yes. I was disappointed when JK said “maybe with the U23 team” about Pulisic. Maybe that was some reverse psychology at play. Who knows.
      If Pulisic begins to produce consistently for BVB’s first team, I have to believe JK will call him up.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    You pose an interesting question at the end of this article Jeremy and maybe it was rhetorical….but I am going to wager an answer after having a think on it.
    I’ve read multiple points of view reagarding this issue and for me it comes down to development… Iceland has 1/100th the amount of people and therefor roughly 1/100th the amount of footballers so their player pool is way way smaller… with this in mind…the players they mine have to matter, have to be given a chance, have to grow and develop, they simply have to emerge as legitimate national team players…
    Our player pool is enormous with multiple schools of thought within the federation, mulitple governing bodies, multiple philosophies of play… so many players flash locally and are called up to the national teams and get a chance or two… some stick — most do not… most fit the mold of the typical US player, athletically gifted, not exceptionally talented or intelligent… over and over and over… new callups replace players who didn’t even get a REAL chance to dirty the uniform…
    The arguments against our ODP system are legendary from parents, players and coaches alike who have actually been a part of it… just to site an example…
    One would think having a huge player pool would be helpful and it is certainly necessary for emerging talent to get a look but we have to find a better way of vetting the youth and giving them the opportunity to grow within a system of play and develop ‘over the years’ instead of throwing player after player after player into the pool hoping for brilliance to emerge.
    I do not pretend to know the solution… but I think it lies somewhere along that continuum.

    • I do think the fractured nature of our development processes is a big part of it. Without a unified system for development, a lot of excellent prospects fall through the cracks.

    • Iceland a country of less than 300,0000 the team had only 4 starters from Euro 16 proved that with good technical skills you can be competitive, US has a long way to go the whole system is based on athleticism, Time to get rid of the win the ball at all cost kick and run British style of play in the youth system, teach the kids possession like the German, Dutch, Spanish, Italians, etc. Small poor countries in Eastern Europe are so far ahead of us. if you don’t possess the ball you don’t score

      • I agreed with you until your last sentence about needing to dominate possession to score in international play. In international play, teams can score much easier from set pieces because teams just don’t have enough time together in order to defend set pieces as well as club sides can. So possession, while important, isn’t as crucial to generating goals in international play (look at how the US has succeeded over the past 20 years by just scoring off of set pieces). Plus, Germany totally thrived off of this formula during the ’90’s and early 2000’s.

        I would say that possession is more important in allowing teams to defend more effectively. The better that you are in keeping the ball, the better that your shape will ultimately which translates into being in better defensive positions. Plus, you wear the other team out if you can cycle the ball around and stretch the opposition which, of course, will definitely help your attack, but you get my point.

      • Zizousisgod

        If you don’t possess you don’t get that set piece.

      • Think that you meant to write that having possession helps you get that set piece as you don’t absolutely need to have possession to get a set piece.

        A kick and run clearance up the wing combined with a mistimed challenge by a defender can win you a set piece in a dangerous area. That’s not really keeping possession by the team that won the free kick.

      • you make no sense, your scenario is the typical British , Scottish, Irish style of soccer that we have to get away from to be successful

      • Jerome – I don’t think that you are comprehending what I wrote and focusing on the wrong things, but who cares?

    • There was a great article in the last edition of Howler that explained how Iceland now does things. Much easier to do in a smaller country, but shows how “non-footballing” countries can refocus on player development and see success rather quickly.

  3. I’d say if possession is emphasized at a young age the skill-set to utilize various styles of play will be available later on. You’ll have players who are comfortable on the ball and know how to move with intelligence without the ball. It would be much harder teaching a player steeped in counter attacking soccer to play possession at an older age in my opinion.

  4. Old Soccer Coach says:

    This comment has nothing to do with the Iceland game.
    Could someone at PSP look into how the rosters of MLS first teams and their wholly owned USL “second teams” interact, please?.
    2015 saw several examples of such first and second teams. I have read over the 2015 roster regulations summary on the MLS website once, quickly.
    I understand, I think, from that reading that in order to play for the first team in a non-preseason competition a player must be rostered with the first team (which to me suggests that first team depth may not be rostered with the second team side. To use the Union and BSFC as a concrete example, Ken Tribett cannot be considered depth for the Union Center backs positions because he is not on the Union’s roster.)
    I have seen no regulations summary for the circumstances under which a player rostered on the first team may play for the second team, either in an injury rehabilitation circumstance or a general non-injury-related circumstance. Does anybody know anything? All feedback appreciated.

  5. To Zizouisgod’s point, counter attacking soccer is a legitimate way to play the game. However, let’s be completely clear, what’s being “taught” in the youth game in our country is not counter attacking soccer, its kick ball that exalts the bigger, stronger and faster players above all else. Maybe I’m missing your point a bit also. At U15 or above give me a player who has been taught how to play out from the back and I’ll let them know when it’s OK to play out long (even that should be done with a purpose)but I’m screwed coaching someone that age if they have been taught to “when in doubt, kick it out” since they were 7. It’s too late at that point.

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