It wasn't always pretty, but the United States Men's National Team started 2016 off on the right foot with a 3-2 comeback victory over Iceland, thanks in part to a Steve Birnbaum winner in the 90th minute.
The Yanks found themselves down twice in the match, but with the help of a few second half substitutes, eventually found themselves on top when the final whistle blew.
Even though the U.S. started the game on the attacking foot, Iceland scored the first goal in the 13th minute against the run of play. A deflected shot off the back of Michael Orozco left U.S. keeper Luis Robles helpless as the ball softly bounced into the net after the U.S. had failed to clear their lines. Just seven minutes later, however, the U.S. was back on level terms. A nice through ball from Michael Bradley found Jozy Altidore inside the box and the Toronto FC forward calmly chipped the ball over the Iceland goalkeeper and leveled things up at the StubHub Center, 1-1.
The biggest moment of the game, it could be argued, came during the halftime break. Steve Birnbaum came on for veteran Brad Evans to make just his second appearance for his country, and he made it count. With the U.S. trailing after a beautiful curling effort from Aron Sigurdarson gave the visitors a 2-1 lead, Birnbaum got his head on an Altidore cross and played the ball back across goal to Orozco, who was waiting on the doorstep to nod home the equalizer.
With the game tied in the 75th minute, Jerome Kiesewetter and Jordan Morris came on for Gyasi Zardes and Altidore. Kiesewetter, making his senior team debut, was an absolute menace on the right flank. After putting in dangerous crosses and earning a few corners, the 22-year-old Stuttgart product used his speed to draw a foul and set Bradley up for a dangerous set piece opportunity.
Bradley made no mistake on the free kick, putting a ball right on Steve Birnbaum's head near the penalty spot and the D.C. United man drove it home in the 90th minute to give the Americans the win. The goal was Birnbaum's first in a U.S. jersey and capped a thrilling game.
While the final scoreline will leave many U.S. players and fans happy, there is still plenty to work to do, going forward. The U.S. back line was rarely pressured throughout the game, yet when Iceland did find themselves in possession and going forward, the U.S. defense struggled to slow down things down and stay connected. Had it not been for a great save from Robles in the 69th minute, the U.S. would have been down for a third time in the game.
Moving forward, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to select his starting center back pairing and, with John Brooks and Geoff Cameron both not being in this camp, this was a chance for the likes of Matt Besler, Orozco and Birnbaum to really step up and make a claim for their inclusion. While both Birnbaum and Orozco scored, it does not take away from the fact the the pair were quite shaky in defense and both were at fault on the second Iceland goal.
Along with Kiesewetter, three other players made their international debuts in the match. Ethan Finlay and Kellyn Acosta each got starts and Finlay's Columbus teammate Tony Tchani came on for Jermaine Jones in the 71st minute.
Next up for the Yanks is a match-up with Orlando City's own Cyle Larin and Canada on Friday, Feb. 5.