The lights went out on the U.S. team in their hotel on Wednesday. They were still out when Danny Williams invited Russia to open the scoring early on, and they barely flickered for the remainder of the 90 minutes in Krasnodar.
Williams' howler set the tone for a poor performance from Jurgen Klinsmann's team, and if late goals from Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud and the 2-2 scoreline mask that fact, it's to the disservice of American progress.
This was not a showing that bodes well for the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying. The U.S. were poor defensively and wasteful in attack. If not for Tim Howard's heroics in goal, they could well have suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Fabio Capello's bright and energetic hosts.
Klinsmann may praise his team's spirit, but technically he will know they fell a long way short. His team started badly, and they never quite found their rhythm. And it all started with Williams' act of generosity in the ninth minute.
Williams was beyond careless, side-footing a free kick to an opponent without looking. Fedor Smolov, when played in on goal, exacted just punishment. The Russian injured himself as he took the ball on, but he maintained his cool to stroke a finish past Howard.
It was the worst of starts for the U.S., who in their defence made the long journey via Frankfurt in Germany without the notable talents of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan or Steve Cherundolo to draw on.
At least Carlos Bocanegra was around to lend his experience. Or at least he was until the 18th minute, when he was withdrawn injured and replaced by Clarence Goodson.
Everything was going wrong. It began to look as if the U.S. team would rather have been anywhere else.
Defensively, the U.S. lacked authority, and Williams' carelessness appeared to have infected a number of his teammates.
There were still positives to be found, though. Debutant Josh Gatt was a bright presence on the U.S. left, Bradley the pivot to everything in midfield, and the recalled Jozy Altidore full of running up front on his own.
For all Altidore's tireless endeavour, though, he lacked the killer touch when played through in the second half. Bradley was also guilty of profligacy when presented with a free header 12 yards out on 70 minutes. He would make amends soon after.
Bradley's goal was a special one—the Roma midfielder reacting to Juan Agudelo's cushion header and extending his right leg to crash a first-time shot past Vladimir Gabulov in the Russian goal.
Fleetingly, the U.S. were on course for an unlikely draw, but it appeared justice was served when Russia regained their lead from the penalty spot on 84 minutes—Roman Shirokov sending Howard the wrong way after Goodson was adjudged to have fouled Artem Dyzuba.
That was that, we thought. And rightly so—the least the Russians deserved.
But, to their credit, Team USA kept working, and they kept running. And when Terrence Boyd's header found Diskerud in added time, his shot deflected into the corner and salvaged the most unlikely of draws.
Smash. And. Grab.
Russia will wake up tomorrow wondering how it happened. U.S. soccer can only hope Klinsmann wakes up knowing he still has a lot of work to do.
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