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U.S. defeats Iceland 3-2 Behind Birnbaum Winner

Despite a disappointing defensive performance, the U.S. narrowly defeated Iceland 3-2 thanks to a 90th minute winner from Steve Birnbaum.

Harry How/Getty Images

The United States Men's National Team entered the 90th minute tied 2-2 with Iceland and the match looked to be headed for a draw. However, thanks to late heroics by D.C. United centerback Steve Birnbaum the U.S. avoided embarrassment and escaped with a win.

Iceland took a shock lead in the 13th minute through former Columbus Crew midfielder Kristinn Steindórsson. From 8 yards out Steindórsson's goal took a significant deflection leaving Luis Robles helpless. Soon after, the U.S. began to establish control of the match.

The USMNT equalized in the 20th minute through a Jozy Altidore strike. Michael Bradley found Altidore with a brilliant defense splitting pass and Altidore made no mistake with a delicate chip over the diving Ögmundur Kristinsson.

In the 40th minute, Altidore was played in behind Iceland's high defensive line and found himself all alone just past midfield. He was then taken down by Jón Gudni Fjóluson 40 yards from goal. Fjóluson was shown a yellow card, as Altidore was too far from goal for it to have been considered a clear goal scoring opportunity.

As the second half began Iceland quickly re-took the lead with a beautiful curling goal from the right side of the eighteen by Aron Sigurdarson. Iceland took a quick free-kick and the U.S. defense was caught out of position, allowing Eidur Gudjohnsen to easily play Sigurdarson into the box. Sigurdarson's far post shot left Luis Robles helpless and the USMNT stunned.

Both teams struggled to control possession after Iceland's second goal, but the U.S. equalized via Michael Orozco in the 59th minute. A corner kick fell to Jozy Altidore who played a cross to the back post.

Steve Birnbaum rose above the Icelandic defense and headed the ball across the face of the goal to Michael Orozco. The unmarked Orozco easily nodded the ball into the goal.

The U.S. struggled to create chances after Orozco's equalizer, but Steve Birnbaum secured a victory with a 90th minute winner.The U.S. won a free kick on the right side of the of the field just outside the eighteen and Michael Bradley played a perfect ball to Birnbaum who once again out jumped his marker, and buried the ball in the back of the net.

While the USMNT won, Jurgen Klinsmann cannot be happy with the team's performance. The defense was awful and while the U.S. had 61% possession, the team failed to create many chances. The U.S. had four shots on target which was only one more than Iceland. The team will hope for a better performance as it faces Canada on February 5th.

3 Thoughts

Defensive Woes Continue

The USMNT defense struggled greatly in 2015 and those struggles continued in the first match of 2016. As this wasn't a FIFA International Date, both team lacked several first team players. However, the U.S. defense consisted of several veterans such as Brad Evans, Matt Besler, and Michael Orozco.

The defense failed to pressure Iceland's attackers allowing the Icelanders far too much time to take shots. When the U.S. defenders did attempt to close down Iceland's forwards, they were beaten far too easily. Iceland's quick free kick, which led to its second goal, highlighted just how poor the USMNT's defense was.

No national team caliber defenders should be that slow to react to a free kick. While Steve Birnbaum was excellent offensively, he was guilty of several of the mistakes his more experienced peers made. Birnbuam will need to defend better if he hopes to continue to play for the USMNT.

Bradley Returning to Form

Michael Bradley may have been named U.S. Soccer's Male Player of the year in 2015, but he was not as effective as usual this past year. While this was not a first choice Iceland team, Bradley had a very good game.

Bradley covered a lot of ground, had two assists, and was excellent in possession. For the U.S. to succeed Michael Bradley needs to be in top form and Jurgen Klinsmann must be pleased with Bradley playing this well before the MLS season has even begun.

Morris and Kiesewetter Provide Instant Energy

Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter entered the match in the 75th minute for Jozy Altidore, and Gyasi Zardes respectively. Morris and Kiesewetter helped the faltering U.S. attack kick into high gear and push for the winner. The duo created several good chances and proved that they deserve more playing time in the match against Canada on February 5th.