Americans' shaky defense helps Ukraine win friendly match

Ukraine 2, United States 0

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LARNACA, Cyprus — 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.

Ukraine's Artem Fedets'kyy (left) fights for control of the ball with Fabian Johnson, of the U.S., during an international friendly match Wednesday.  PETROS KARADJIAS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
PETROS KARADJIAS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ukraine's Artem Fedets'kyy (left) fights for control of the ball with Fabian Johnson, of the U.S., during an international friendly match Wednesday.

Andriy Yarmolenko scored in the 12th minute and Marco 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.

The crowd at Papadopoulos Stadium, which has a capacity of about 10,000, was so small
that players could be heard talking during the game. Ukrainian fans sang their nation’s
anthem in the final moments.

The match marked the last chance for American coach Jurgen 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 with Hertha Berlin who showed his inexperience.

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 the two 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 scored past Brooks 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 Geoff Cameron.

But Devic scored after outrunning Fabian Johnson onto a headed pass from Roman Bezus inside the midfield circle and cutting 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.

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.

At 18th, Ukraine is the highest-ranking nation that failed to qualify for the 32-team World Cup. It was eliminated by France last November in a two-leg playoff, winning the opener 2-0 in Kiev but losing 3-0 in Paris.

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