LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- The United States won for just the second time since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as coach, with Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore scoring in a two-minute span late in the first half to lead the Americans past Slovenia 3-2 on a foggy Tuesday night in Ljubljana.
The former German star and coach switched to a more attack-oriented 4-4-2 against the Green Dragons, who played another exciting match against the U.S. following their controversial 2-2 tie in the first round of last year's World Cup.
"It looked much better," Klinsmann said. "It's a process, and that process, besides results, is going really well."
The Americans, who have dropped to 34th in FIFA's world rankings, finished a disappointing year 6-8-3, their worst record since going 7-9-11 in 1994. But this was their first victory in Europe 3½ years, having gone 0-5 since winning at Poland in March 2008.
"It's always good to come over and win on European soil," Dempsey said.
On a night when the fog prevented players from seeing clearly beyond 10 or 20 yards, Buddle put the U.S. ahead in the ninth minute off a pass from Dempsey after a defensive mixup.
Matavz tied the score in the 26th as an American offside trap failed. Dempsey scored with a header in the 41st and Altidore made it 3-1 when he converted a penalty kick two minutes later, giving the U.S. its highest-scoring first half since June 2008 against Barbados.
With his first-half score against Slovenia, Clint Dempsey leads the U.S. team with five goals this year, including two of the team's five since Jurgen Klinsmann took over.
Player Goals Int'l appearances Landon Donovan 46 138 Eric Wynalda 34 106 Brian McBride 30 95 Clint Dempsey 24 82 Joe Max-Moore 24 100
But Slovenia, ranked 27th in the world, responded with a furious rally after halftime, and Matavz cut the deficit in the 61st, just after Bostjan Cesar's corner kick had bounced off the crossbar.
U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra became the 12th American to make 100 international appearances.
"It was a special night," Klinsmann said. "The team was pumped up all day, and they wanted to do well for him."
Buddle and Altidore started up front as Klinsmann went to a two-forward formation. Michael Bradley -- son of the former coach -- and Buddle got their first starts since Klinsmann's debut in August.
"It was kind of coming over the last couple of months," Klinsmann said. "We've been working on that."
Fabian Johnson, who started for Germany in the 2009 European under-21 final, began in midfield, four days after making his American debut as a second-half substitute in a 1-0 loss to France.
Johnson nearly put the U.S. ahead in the first minute, with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic just tipping his volley over the crossbar.
Buddle scored his third goal in 10 appearances, and his first since June 2010 against Australia, after Handanovic's attempted clearance was stripped by Dempsey from Darijan Matic. Dempsey tipped the ball to Buddle, who scored from 25 yards.
Two minutes later, an open Altidore sent one over the crossbar from Johnson's cross.
With the defense playing a high line, Zlatan Ljubijankic split the center backs and Matavz broke in alone, scoring from about 15 yards over Howard's outstretched right hand.
Dempsey broke the deadlock with a header from about eight yards off Bradley's corner kick. With his 24th international goal, Dempsey tied Joe-Max Moore for fourth place on the U.S. scoring list, trailing only Landon Donovan (46), Eric Wynalda (34) and Brian McBride (30).
Miso Brecko tripped up Johnson in the penalty area, and Altidore converted the penalty kick for his first goal under Klinsmann and 13th overall.
Slovenia had a chance to tie in second-half injury time, but Valter Birsa -- who scored the opening goal when the teams met in South Africa last year -- put a 25-yard free kick over the crossbar.
"We'd liked to have finished the game a little bit stronger than we did," Dempsey said. "But we're happy with the win."
Notes:The U.S. is planning exhibitions at Panama on Jan. 25 and at Italy on Feb. 29. The second is a FIFA fixture date, meaning most of the player pool should be available.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
MORE SPORTS HEADLINES
- Ribery, Benzema charged with soliciting minor
- Ex-U.S. coach denies Solo's shoving allegation
- Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta UEFA award finalists
- Kompany: Van Persie would boost any team
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM