CARSON, Calif. — Steve Birnbaum and the U.S. men’s national team both need some time to shake off an up-and-down 2015 season.
The defender and his American teammates all got off to a fine start on that process Sunday.
Birnbaum headed home the tiebreaking goal on Michael Bradley’s corner kick in the 90th minute, and the U.S. men’s national team opened its 2016 schedule with a 3-2 exhibition victory over Iceland on Sunday.
Birnbaum had his first international goal and an assist as a second-half substitute in his second U.S. appearance. The Orange County native set up Michael Orozco’s tying goal in the 59th minute before knocking in the late winner, celebrating in front of a crowd that included his mother and grandmother.
Considering Birnbaum didn’t even know he would be in this training camp with coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team until shortly before it started, he was thrilled by the follow-up to his U.S. debut last year.
“I didn’t really think I was going to be called into camp, and then a couple of days before, (Klinsmann) just said, ‘Can you be in on Monday?’” said Birnbaum, the D.C. United regular. “(Last year) was an up-and-down year. Getting my first cap was great, and then I got injured and it was downhill, and I didn’t really hear back from them. It was an up-and-down season at D.C., too. I’m just happy to be back to work.”
Jozy Altidore scored in the first half and Bradley had two assists in an entertaining start to the Americans’ season after a rough 2015 that included a 2-5-1 finish. Klinsmann’s team is preparing for World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala in March, and the coach fielded a lineup mixing World Cup veterans with four players making their U.S. debuts.
“The players got rewarded for a lot of work with that late goal,” said Klinsmann, whose 44th career victory moved him past Bob Bradley into second place in U.S. history. “Overall, we had effort and we had spirit, exactly how we’ve had in training for the whole three weeks. Obviously you can see it — we’re not fine-tuned yet. Here and there, this just takes time. But overall, I think they worked very hard.”
Kristinn Steindorsson and Aron Sigurdarson scored for Iceland under intermittent rain showers and wind at StubHub Center south of downtown Los Angeles.
With regulars for both teams still playing in Europe, Iceland fielded a starting lineup with just four players who participated in Euro 2016 qualifying, when the team became the smallest nation ever to qualify for the tournament.
The available Americans have spent January in a Carson training camp split between players on the senior team and under-23 prospects. The seniors have a busy year including World Cup qualifiers and the Copa America this summer, while the youngsters must attempt to qualify for the Rio Olympics in March with a two-leg qualifier against Colombia.
Defender Kellyn Acosta and midfielder Ethan Finlay made their U.S. debuts in the starting lineup. The 20-year-old Acosta is a homegrown FC Dallas prospect, while the 25-year-old Finlay is with the Columbus Crew.
“It was an honor and a privilege,” Finlay said. “I wanted to put a good step forward.”
The Crew’s Tony Tchani also made his U.S. debut as a substitute for Jermaine Jones in the 71st minute, and 22-year-old Stuttgart forward Jerome Kiesewetter followed for his own debut. Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles made his first U.S. appearance since 2009.
Iceland scored in the 13th minute when a shot by Steindorsson, who played 21 games for Columbus last season, deflected off Orozco and caught Robles diving the wrong way.
The U.S. evened it seven minutes later when Gyasi Zardes set up Bradley for a deft pass through to Altidore. The veteran striker deposited his 32nd career goal, just two behind Eric Wynalda for third place in U.S. history.
Early in the second half, Sigurdarson showed impressive skill in curling a long shot past Robles. The Americans evened it off a setpiece, with Orozco — another late addition to the U.S. roster — finishing work by Altidore and Birnbaum.
The U.S. men have another friendly at StubHub Center against Canada on Friday night.