Ukraine beats U.S., 2-0, in soccer exhibition
LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) -- On a night that gave a small contingent of Ukrainian fans an opportunity to wave their flags and unite amid a political crisis back home, their national soccer team eased past the United States 2-0 Wednesday in an exhibition game shifted from Kharkiv to a Mediterranean island nation 600 miles to the south.
Andriy Yarmolenko scored in the 12th minute and Marko Devic in the 68th as Ukraine exposed the shaky American central defense of Oguchi Onyewu and Anthony Brooks.
Ukraine's players linked arms on shoulders during their national anthem of their nation, which has been disrupted by political protests followed by Russia's military intervention. Players in both starting lineups bowed their heads as they stood on the field before the game for a moment of silence for the victims of violence in Ukraine. A banner in the stands read "Ukraine is Undivided!" on the top and "One Country - One Team!" on the bottom.
The crowd of 1,573 at Papadopoulos Stadium, which has a capacity of about 10,000, was so small that players could be heard talking with each other during the game. Ukrainian fans sang their nation's anthem in the final moments.
"Our country is facing difficult times now, we must support our team and our country," said Oleg Ivanovskyi a fan from Kiev currently residing in Larnaca. "Ukraine lives and will live. This friendly match is important for us to show the friendship between the U.S. and Ukraine. The friendship between the two countries is more important than the score."
After the match, some Ukrainian fans broke into a chant of "No war in Ukraine!"
Ukrainian coach Mykhailo Fomenko said trouble at home was on the minds of his players.
"Of course we do it for our supporters, for our country," Fomenko said. "I asked to make our people happy. We had to show that we're all united."
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said his team's thoughts were with the Ukrainian people.
"You feel for that country. You feel for that nation, and there's nothing more than wishing them well and to solve these issues peacefully," Klinsmann said.
At 18th, Ukraine is the highest-ranking nation that failed to qualify for the World Cup. The match marked the last chance for Klinsmann to evaluate his Europe-based players before he chooses his 23-man World Cup roster in mid-May. He will use players mostly from Major League Soccer for an April 2 exhibition against Mexico at Glendale, Ariz.
Onyewu's only prior international appearances since June 2012 were last July 5 in exhibition against Guatemala and in a CONCACAF Gold Cup match against Cuba eight days later.
He was paired in central defense with Brooks, a 21-year-old who making just his third international appearance. Geoff Cameron played at right back and Edgar Castillo was on the left.
"It's understandable that collectively, it's not clicking. It would be half a miracle if we would click," Klinsmann said. "It was difficult for a lot of players to get into a rhythm."
Ukraine dominated the first half and went ahead when the U.S. defense failed on an attempted offside trap.
Yevhen Konoplyanka sent a looping pass from just before the midfield stripe to Denys Harmash, who split Onyewu and Brooks and trapped the ball at the top of the penalty area. Howard blocked his shot, but Harmash picked up the rebound and squared the ball to Yarmolenko, his Dynamo Kiev teammate. He slotted the ball into a virtually open net with a left-footed shot from 6 yards for his 15th international goal.
The U.S. showed more spark at the start of the second half, and Jozy Altidore put an open header over the crossbar following a cross from Cameron.
But Devic scored two minutes after entering when he outran Fabian Johnson onto a headed pass from Roman Bezus inside the midfield circle and cut the ball back to his left foot. Playing a day before his 35th birthday, Howard blocked the initial shot with a sprawling save, but Devic latched onto the rebound and slid the ball between Johnson and Brooks with a left-footed shot from 15 yards.
Playing 99 days before the World Cup opens in Brazil, the U.S. wore its new Nike jerseys with collars that resemble polo shirts. The Americans changed all 11 starters from the 2-0 win over South Korea on Feb. 1 at Carson, Calif.
"I think it would be totally wrong to criticize what went wrong," Klinsmann said. "It's still a lot of work to be done and a lot to build on."
NOTES: The U.S. plans to announce details Thursday of its final home exhibitions before the World Cup. The Americans likely will play May 27 on the West Coast, then at Harrison, N.J., on June 1 and at Jacksonville, Fla., on June 7. The Americans play their World Cup opener against Ghana on June 16, face Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal six days later and close the group stage against Germany on June 26.