KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany Clint Dempsey headed home the game-winner early in the second half and the U.S. Men’s National Team fought through tough conditions, including a snowstorm in the final 20 minutes, to defeat Poland, 1-0, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. The match was played at Fritz-Walter-Stadion, the location of the USA’s June 17 World Cup match against Italy. The win improves the USA’s record to 4-0-1 during their 2006 World Cup preparations.
In front of 13,395 fans, a majority of whom were U.S. military personnel from Ramstein Air Base, the U.S. wore their new white Nike kits for the first time, opting for the long sleeves, as the temperature dropped to 28 degrees at kickoff. The conditions only worsened throughout the game and the U.S. players seemed to almost disappear behind the snowy backdrop when the storm kicked into full gear around the 70th minute, blanketing the field and players alike. The conditions got so bad, the officials replaced the white game ball with a yellow, high-resolution ball in the 80th minute.
After a sluggish first half that saw few chances for either side, Dempsey snuck his header in at the right post in the 48th minute. On the play, ussoccer.com Man of the Match Eddie Lewis crossed the ball in from the left flank for Taylor Twellman who challenged Poland goalkeeper Artur Boruc. Boruc’s attempted punch clearance redirected off Twellman’s head to the well-positioned Dempsey, who held off defender Michal Zewlakow to nod home the game’s only goal.
The goal was Dempsey’s fourth international strike and his first game-winner for the U.S. MNT. With the assist, Twellman has now scored at least one point in his last three games, accumulating four goals and three assists during that span.
”I was pleased with the win for our team,” said U.S. Manager Bruce Arena, who upped his record in Europe to 2-7-1. “It was not an easy game for either team. The field conditions were very difficult. I thought our team was a little unsteady in the first 30 minutes but in the last 15 minutes of the first half we settled in. It was one of those games where someone had to take an opportunity and we were the team today. We did well to hold on to the lead. A number of our young players really gained from this game tonight. It was an important experience for our young guys and hopefully we can continue to build as we move forward towards the World Cup.”
The U.S. has now won four games in a row in 2006, out-scoring their opponents 13-2 and posting three shutouts. The U.S. will return to Germany in three weeks to face the World Cup hosts on March 22, at Westfalonstadion in Dortmund. Kickoff for the match is at 2:25 p.m. ET and will be televised live on ESPN2 and delayed on Telemundo.
Besides a light snowfall that started just after kickoff and lasted for a few minutes, not much happened during the first half as both teams struggled to find any rhythm. Poland registered four shots compared to just one for the U.S., but that lone attempt from a Steve Cherundolo free kick just before halftime was the best chance for either side.
Kasey Keller was lightly tested in the first 45 minutes before giving way to Tim Howard in the second half. After a relatively easy save on forward Tomasz Frankowski’s header off a free kick in the 19th minute, Keller did well to squelch a couple of Poland chances eight minutes later. Jacek Krzynowek dropped in a nice lead ball at the top of the penalty area for Euzebiuz Smolarek, but Keller came off his line to clear the ball away before the midfielder could get to it. Poland was able to get the ball back and Zewlakow ripped a low drive toward the lower left corner, but Keller once again made the save.
Cherundolo came inches from giving the U.S. the lead in the 45th minute after Dempsey was taken down about 30 yards from goal. The right back bent his free kick over the wall and appeared to have beaten Dudek, but his shot veered just wide of the left post.
After the goal by Dempsey in the second half, Poland had their best chance for the equalizer on a free kick in the 66th minute. Kryzynowek bent his shot around the wall and on target, but Howard was positioned well to make the save.
“I think the goal was a big relief for us,” said Cherundolo. “I think we played a little nervous in the first half. The field conditions were very bad. Believe it or not, with the snow, it played a little better. It wasn’t as bumpy and it went a little slower so it went to our advantage. We kept the ball on the floor and, like I said, with the score, it gave us a lot of confidence and we took the game home from there.”
Chances for both teams were slim after the snowstorm hit, but Howard was required to make one last play in the 85th minute to solidify the shutout. With sure footing on the slippery surface, Howard came out of the box to calmly clear a long ball knocked to the top of the half circle.