Top 5 of 2012: U.S. Men’s National Team

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Fabian Johnson’s emergence at left back was one of the highlights of 2012. (Photo: U.S. Soccer)

(Editor’s note: with the end of the calendar upon us, New England Soccer Today is taking a look back at the most memorable moments of 2012. In this edition, Sean Donahue reviews the top five U.S. Men’s National Team moments)

Some early struggles in qualifying could have made for a disappointing 2012 for the U.S. Men’s National Team, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s side did enough to advance to the Fourth Round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying and finish off a largely positive year. New stars emerged, old stars returned and some impressive international friendly results were had as the U.S. finished the year with a 9-2-3 record.

With much to choose from, here are our Top 5 moments (plus an honorable mention) for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2012.

Honorable Mention: Donovan records hat-trick in 5-1 win over Scotland (Highlights)

Injuries assured that Landon Donovan would have an unremarkable 2012 for the U.S., but things were looking promising for the U.S. star on May 26 in Jacksonville as he helped the Americans to a 5-1 win over Scotland with a hat-trick and an assist. The win, just the second for the U.S. in seven attempts against Scotland, also saw Donovan become America’s all-time leader in international starts  with 125 (now at 130). Donovan opened the scoring in the third minute and would add two more goals in the second half. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones would score the other two goals for the U.S. Unfortunately for Donovan and the U.S., those were the only three international goals he’d score in 2012.

5. Eddie Johnson’s return (Highlights)

With a faltering club career and a failure to score for the U.S. since 2008, Eddie Johnson’s international career appeared all but over heading into 2012. Johnson didn’t appear for the U.S. in 2011 and returned to MLS from Europe in 2012. The 28-year-old Johnson came alive at his new club, the Seattle Sounders, and finished sixth in MLS in scoring with 14 goals. That – combined with the U.S. struggling to find a consistent striker – finally earned Johnson another chance late this year. Johnson got a surprise start in an important World Cup Qualifier at Antigua & Barbuda and didn’t disappoint, scoring two goals in a 2-1 win – the lone road win in qualifying for the U.S. – on Oct. 12. Johnson would finish the year with two appearances, adding an assist four days later in a win over Guatemala.

4. U.S. stuns Italy (Highlights)

It’s not often the U.S. picks up a victory in Europe, but even rarer is a win against a four-time World Cup winner. On Feb. 29 in Genoa, the U.S. accomplished both feats, downing Italy for a historic victory. Clint Dempsey’s 55th minute goal – making him only the fourth American ever to score against Italy – was all the U.S. would need as Tim Howard made seven saves in the 1-0 win. Despite a history of matches that dates back 82 years, this was the first ever win for the U.S. against Italy, who are currently fourth in the FIFA World Rankings.

As U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match, “If you beat Italy on its own soil, then that means a lot.”

3. New blood in the back: Fabian Johnson, Cameron emerge

With the U.S. backline aging, new blood was desperately needed in 2012. Enter Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron. With the left back spot open, the now 25-year-old Johnson – who made his first appearance for the U.S. in Nov. of 2011 – claimed that position as his own with some fantastic appearances on both sides of the ball in 2012. Johnson, who plays for 1899 Hoffenheim in Germany, appeared in eight matches (all starts) in 2012, recording two assists and cementing his place in the U.S. backline.

Cameron, meanwhile, had made just one four minute appearance back in 2010 prior to this year, but would become the most consistent center back for the U.S. in 2012, making 10 appearances (nine starts), and earning a move from the Houston Dynamo to Premier League club Stoke City F.C. in August. The 27-year-old former Rhode Island Ram looks certain to play a big role for the U.S. heading forward.

2. Victory at Azteca (Highlights)

Sure, Mexico may not be as formidable a foe as Italy (FIFA currently has the United States’ neighbor to the south as 15th in the world), but getting a win at Estadio Azteca should have much more meaning to U.S. supporters. In their long rivalry as the two dominant countries in CONCACAF, the U.S. had never won at Azteca. But on Aug. 15, a strong defensive performance and Michael Orozco Fiscal’s first international goal in the 80th minute gave the U.S. a historic victory. Making it even more impressive was the absence regulars, such as Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo from the line-up. It may have only been a friendly, but now the U.S. can take confidence from that victory into next year’s World Cup Qualifier on Mar. 26.

“I think it’s huge. It’s huge for all American fans and it’s huge for the team. It’s historic,” said Klinsmann after the match.

1. U.S. defeats Guatemala, Advances to Final Round (Highlights)

With a group featuring Guatemala, Jamaica and Antigua & Barbuda, few expected the U.S. to have much trouble advancing to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Of course things didn’t turn out that way and it came down to the final match for the U.S., needing a tie on Oct. 16 to clinch a place in the next round. A nightmare start saw the U.S. down 1-0 within five minutes, but a goal from Bocanegra and two strikes from Dempsey quickly turned things around and the U.S. went up 3-1 at halftime. From there it was relatively smooth sailing to the 3-1 final score, equaling America’s most decisive victory of their qualifying campaign and sending the U.S. to the final round.

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue