A Nicklas Bendtner hat trick carried Denmark to a 3-2 win over the USA, who held two leads thanks to goals from Jozy Altidore and Aron Johansson. Bendtner's strikes - in the 33rd, 83rd, and 91st minutes - gave the Danes a victory they completely deserved after spending most of the game pinning the USMNT deep inside their own end.
Jurgen Klinsmann's side came out in an attack-minded 442 featuring Gyasi Zardes - at his best up front - playing on the right side of midfield as well as a central midfield featuring Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya working as a double-pivot (as opposed to having a full-time holding midfielder). Klinsmann also opted for two true #9s in Jozy Altidore and Aron Johansson.
Despite the intent indicated on the team sheet, it was the Danes who started the match on the front foot. Fortunately for the US, this was mostly restricted to crosses aimed at Nicklas Bendtner, who was usually alone in the box and easily marked. A Greg Garza turnover nearly turned into a threat in the first few minutes, but the Danish attack ran into a crowd of royal blue-clad US defenders at the top of the box.
The biggest early chance came via a bad error in the corner from Timmy Chandler. The Eintracht Frankfurt fullback was far too casual under pressure from Nicolai Boilesen and ended up having his clearance attempt blocked. Boilesen smashed in a hard cross that deflected on frame, where Nick Rimando managed to prevent a goal with his chest. The ball popped out into the box, where Christian Eriksen took a touch before ripping a shot well over the crossbar.
Completely against the run of play, the US responded with a goal in the 19th minute. With a stagnant team all around him, Chandler played a one-two down the right touchline with Johanssen, who had dropped underneath most of the rest of the midfield to help get things moving. Chandler lofted in a long cross from virtually out of bounds to the back post, where Jozy Altidore muscled past Daniel Wass and Simon Kjaer before crushing the ball past Stephan Andersen with his first touch.
While it could be fairly said that the goal gave the Americans a bit more pep in their step, it did not change the fact that the Danes continued to monopolize possession:
#USMNT had 36% possession in the first half, its lowest in a first half in the last four years.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 25, 2015
It's difficult to hold off an opponent who has so much more of the ball, and that advantage paid off for the hosts in the 33rd minute. Denmark methodically attacked the American left, pushing enough numbers forward that fullbacks Wass and Boilesen were even with the USMNT's back four at one point in the move. Eventually Jakob Poulson played Wass through towards the endline, where the Evian TG man rolled a cross towards the goalmouth. Lasse Vibe backheeled the ball on to Bendtner - who had been kept onside earlier in the move by Zardes - for the simplest of tap-ins.
Aside from an inability to string together lengthy possession, the American issues were similar to something us D.C. United fans saw over the weekend: When you're 2v3 in central midfield against a particularly dynamic trio, you need a lot of help from wide players to neutralize your opponent. With Zardes and Fabian Johnson true wide men rather than the sort of midfielder who pinches inside to help out, the USMNT were forced to play defend-and-counter soccer throughout the first half. On the plus side, the louder set of supporters in a half-full NRGi Park were indisputably the mix of American ex-pats and traveling supporters chanting away throughout.
Denmark probably should have walked off at halftime with a lead, and they very nearly did. A sloppy moment of inattention from Garza in the 44th minute gifted possession in the defensive third back to the Danes, and Vibe's cross from the wing bobbled behind Bendtner's run before somehow rolling across the entire box untouched. Chandler almost ruined this escape by letting Eriksen simply trot around him to keep the attack alive, but he made up for it a couple seconds later by poking the ball away and clearing it upfield.
At halftime, Klinsmann made two changes: Brek Shea - who plays left back for Orlando City and who as recently talked up as a potential left back at the international level - was naturally deployed at left midfield as a replacement for Johnson, while Alfredo Morales came in for an unusually subdued Alejandro Bedoya in central midfield. The Danes stayed on the front foot, with Michael Orozco-Fiscal badly misjudging a goal kick within a minute of the start of the half. The ball ran on for Bendtner, who despite being in a promising position blazed his shot several yards too high.
In the 48th minute the Danes came close again. Morales - struggling badly to catch up to the speed of play - made a mess of an admittedly risky pass from Shea at the top of the US box. Eriksen's low shot was saved but not completely stopped by Rimando, and Orozco-Fiscal had to scramble the ball away to preserve the draw.
While the bleeding stopped over the next few minutes, it still looked as if the game was being played 12v10 in Denmark's favor. A beautiful one-time pass from Eriksen just inside the Denmark half put Vibe into a great spot in the 57th minute, but the IFK Goteborg attacker thumped his volley well over the bar.
Just like the first half, the US took the lead against the run of play. The move again involved Johansson in its infancy, as he dropped into the midfield to strip Michael Krohn-Dehli of the ball. The Americans strung together a couple of passes before Bradley served up a tremendous 40 yard pass for Altidore, who just barely stayed onside. Altidore's first touch prevented him from having a chance to shoot, but he showed the smarts to sidefoot a pass for the onrushing Johansson, who beat Erik Sviatchenko to the ball for an easy 66th minute finish.
It was the AZ striker's last action in the game, as Rubio Rubin replaced him. DeAndre Yedlin also came in at right midfield for Gyasi Zardes, with the US staying in the 442. The two subs nearly linked up just three minutes after entering the match, with Yedlin's cross from deep in the corner requiring Andersen to intervene to prevent Rubin from having a point-blank header.
Ventura Alvarado made his USMNT debut by entering in the 80th minute, but it was in a center back role that he doesn't often play at with Club America. Fortunately for him he was not involved in what followed, which was another Danish equalizer. Thomas Delaney's cross from the right deflected towards the center of the box, where Lasse Schone and Chandler collided. Schone knocked the ball down for Bendtner, who lashed it through a crowd of bodies inside the six yard box in the 83rd minute.
Denmark got the winner they richly deserved in the first minute of stoppage time. Eriksen picked up a loose ball wide to the left at the midfield stripe before looping an inch-perfect pass over the US back four. Bendtner let the ball take a bounce before hitting a wonderful half-volley across goal and into the lower corner. It was a strike that belied what has been a rough season for Bendtner:
In case you were wondering, Nicklas Bendtner has one goal in Bundesliga play this season for Wolfsburg.— Travis Clark (@travismclark) March 25, 2015
John Brooks nearly gave the US a thoroughly undeserved draw in the 93rd minute. Bradley's free kick from the right wing was in a perfect location, and Brooks barged through the crowd to meet it, but his header flew past the post with Andersen frozen to his line. It would have given the USMNT a result they didn't earn, but Brooks appeared to know that it was a chance he would expect to bury.
In the end, the questions that have plagued Klinsmann's side were not alleviated at all by the performance. The 3-2 scoreline flattered the Americans, who offered little danger on anything beyond long balls in behind and set pieces. The USMNT will get another chance to make some progress next Tuesday against Switzerland.
We will add highlights when they become available.