KRASNODAR, Russia (Reuters) - The United States finished their 2012 campaign by twice fighting back for a 2-2 draw with Russia in Krasnodar on Wednesday, leaving head coach Juergen Klinsmann praising his team’s personality.
A brilliant 76th minute strike from Michael Bradley brought the U.S. level after they gave up a ninth minute opener, then an injury time equalizer from Mix Diskerud cancelled out Roman Shirokov’s penalty that looked to have given Russia the win.
“The way our team fought back twice after being down a goal was great,” said former Germany player and coach Klinsmann.
“It showed a lot of personality. It showed a lot of character. This is a young team, and a team that is growing. We are pleased with the game overall, and to score in the last minute was great,” he added.
This year, the U.S. have earned impressive wins on the road in Italy and Mexico in friendlies, both for the first time, as well as securing their place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“We saw a very entertaining game. Russia proved why they are one of the best teams in Europe, and we wanted to see how good we are against such a strong team. I think you saw we can compete with very good teams in the world,” said Klinsmann.
The U.S. did not include their all-time top scorer Landon Donovan, who stayed at home to focus on his club team LA Galaxy’s bid to reach the final of the MLS playoffs.
Tottenham Hotspur striker Clint Dempsey was also rested for the game as Klinsmann took the opportunity to have a look at some younger faces.
Joshua Gatt, who plays for Norwegian champions Molde, was handed a debut on the right-flank, while there were substitute appearances for 19-year-old striker Juan Agudelo and 21-year-old Terrence Boyd.
“It was important for us to introduce some younger players to the senior level. I think they all did great. There is nothing to lose for them in a game like that. They can only win,” said Klinsmann.
”For us, it’s important that we have these youngsters grow step-by-step. Our team over the last 6-12 months grew a lot. We developed a lot more personality and confidence to compete with the best teams out there.
“We still have a long way to go, but I think we have a very good path and these younger players are a very important part of this path. Hopefully, we get more opportunities to give them playing time,” he added.
Forward Jozy Altidore returned to the U.S. starting line-up after being surprisingly left out for the October qualifying games and Klinsmann, who had been critical of the player, praised his contribution.
“I think you saw Jozy Altidore today was a handful. He gets a big, big compliment for his performance,” he said.
The U.S. start the final phase of qualification for the World Cup away to Honduras on February 6.
Reporting By Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Julian Linden