The United States Men’s National Team played the Scottish National Team at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, Saturday night in the first of their final five tune-up matches before qualifying for the 2014 World Cup begins later this year. Scotland easily won the battle of national anthems before the match as The Star Spangled Banner was completely mangled by an “artist” who will go unnamed, but the USA completely dominated the play on the field and beat the Scots 5-1 in their best performance of the Jürgen Klinsmann era.
The Americans dominated from the start and were on the board with their first goal before the match was three minutes old. Scotland keeper Allan MacGregor (Glasgow Rangers) took a short free kick to the right sideline that defender Phil Bardsley (Sunderland) mishandled. American (and Texan) midfielder Jose Torres tapped the ball towards teammate Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona). He corralled the loose ball and sent a sharp pass to Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04) just outside of the 18-yard box. Jones then found Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy) streaking into the box from the right side. Donovan received the ball out of stride and pirouetted back to his right to get around a Scottish defender. He took a low shot that MacGregor parried to the right. Donovan pounced on the rebound and roofed a hard shot to the back-left side of the net. 1-0 USA.
Bradley did Donovan one better less than ten minutes later with what Spanish-speakers call a golazo: an awesome, amazing goal. The kind of goal that gives soccer the nickname, “The Beautiful Game”. Donovan sent in one of the many excellent crosses he hit on the night from the right side of the field. It found Jones just outside the box and he very deftly laid the ball back to the right-middle of the field directly into Bradley’s path. Bradley then hit the most thunderous volley of his life, an absolute rocket, a shot that, many decades from now, they’ll play at his funeral to encapsulate his playing career:
The only blemish for the U.S. came just a couple of minutes later on a rare Scottish foray deep into the American end of the field. After a quickly taking a free kick in their own end, the Scots rapidly moved the ball upfield. Phil Bardsley sent in a long cross from the far side of the field that found striker Kenny Miller (Cardiff City) on the left side of the six-yard box. Miller headed the ball towards the goal where it unfortunately deflected off of American defender Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo) and past Tim Howard (Everton) for an own-goal that made the score 2-1.
The USMNT continued to display a crispness and pace in their passing that even Argentina, Holland and Germany would appreciate. They consistently connected multiple passes together for rapid-fire attacks and completely dominated the flanks in particular. Torres and Donovan ran up and down the left and right sides, respectively, at will and sent in cross after pinpoint cross all night. With better composure and finishing from first-time starter Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), the scoreline would have been far more lopsided. Defensively, the USA stayed organized and consistently won any fifty-fifty challenges while they also showed clearly superior athleticism by reaching every loose ball first.
The overwhelming display by the Americans continued in the second half and Landon Donovan showed once again why he’s the best American soccer player ever. Donovan was in form all night and probably would have been man of the match even if he hadn’t scored a single goal. Instead, he left no doubt and scored his second hat trick while playing for the national team during a game played in Florida.
Goal number two came in the 60th minute and was again the result of a combination between Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, who really seem to have built an excellent midfield partnership. Bradley sent Jones down the far right side on a perfectly executed give-and-go off of a throw-in in the Scottish half of the field. Donovan released towards the middle of the field at the same time Jones went right and was wide open eight yards from goal when Jones sent in a hard ground cross. Donovan skillfully one-timed the ball to the bottom left of the net for a 3-1 USA lead. The hat trick was completed less than five minutes later when Michael Bradley split two defenders with a perfect through-ball to give Donovan an unmarked shot on goal that he again hit to the lower left-hand side of the goal to make the score 4-1.
The final goal of the night saw the usual suspects combine once again, only this time it was Donovan setting up Jermaine Jones. Donovan sent in a cross from the right side directly into the middle of the box. Jones easily headed the ball home to make the score 5-1 and the U.S. Men had their largest scoring margin since an 8-0 thrashing of tiny Barbados in June of 2008.
As impressive as this victory was, enthusiasm must be tempered by the reality that Scotland is not one of the stronger teams in the world. They have not qualified for the European Championships or the Word Cup in 14 years, and they are ranked 48th in FIFA’s ranking system. But if the Americans want to be seen as one of the elite teams in the world, then they have to win the games they’re supposed to win, and this was one of them. A much stiffer test awaits next Wednesday in Landover, Maryland, at FedEx Field when the United States faces Brazil. If the red, white and blue has another strong showing and secures a result against a team of Brazil’s pedigree, then watch out. The hype machine will quickly go into overdrive ahead of a very long World Cup qualifying campaign.