U.S. fights through storm, downs Costa Rica for first points of qualifying’s final round
It would have been a typical Jurgen Klinsmann era home game if it wasn’t for the weather, but with the game played in the middle of a storm that would make an Eskimo cower, there was nothing typical about the States’ 1-0 win over Costa Rica. Each pause of play saw a snow shovel-wielding battalion attacking the field’s lines, giving officials and players a few moments of clarity before the weather again won out. Ten minutes into the second half, Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar stopped the match to consider whether the game should go.
But after two hours of wondering whether the match would be suspended, Aguilar’s whistle finally blew on the U.S.'s first win of CONCACAF’s final round. Ending a week of controversy that saw head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods’ openly questioned, the United States sit second in the qualifying table and are one of only two teams to have won Hex matches through two rounds.
Were it not for the inflexible nature of soccer’s international calendar, the match would have been rescheduled, but once the game started, there was no reason to stop. For all the complaints of visibility issues from television commentators and the assembled press, field-level shots showed inches of accumulated snow were the real problem. At halftime, Klinsmann said his team’s technical style would have to be abandoned, with the ability to win second balls his chief concern.
By that point the U.S. had their lead, with Clint Dempsey converting a 16th minute rebound after his deft turn had started the U.S.'s goal scoring movement. Celebrating his first full game as captain, Dempsey took a short pass from the right flank, turned toward the penalty area and found Jozy Altidore. A Michael Bradley run collapsed the Costa Rican defense, giving Altidore room to get his shot on goal. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s dive to block the shot left him out of position when the blocked shot fell to the middle of the box, where Dempsey waited to guide it home.
“Clint’s always got that sniff,” Altidore said of the goal. "[H]e’s always following plays up.”
It was Dempsey’s seventh goal of the qualifying cycle, one that puts him within two of Eric Wynalda for second on the team’s all-time goal scoring list. Up against a five-man Costa Rican defense set up to play for a point, Dempsey, Altidore, and Herculez Gomez led an attack that would have produced more goals under different conditions.
Around the goal and the weather, the U.S.'s performance mirrored their September win over Jamaica. Back in September the U.S. leveraged their possession and control to get make Herculez Gomez’s goal hold up, downing the Reggae Boyz 1-0 having previously lost in Kingston. In Columbus, the goal came early in the second half, but after scoring near the quarter-hour mark in Commerce City, the U.S. was able to rack up 57 percent of Friday’s possession.
Costa Rica struggled to win the ball, let alone build toward the States’ goal. At night’s end, they had put fuve shots on Brad Guzan, who never gave fans a reason to miss the injured Tim Howard. His saves were four more than the U.S. asked from Navas, but chasing the match for 74 minutes, the Ticos needed to do more.
“The key was getting the goal early,” Dempsey said after that match, “that made it difficult [for Costa Rica] in these conditions.”
But the result was more about the U.S.'s successes than Costa Rican failures. Dempsey and Altidore had strong nights. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones controlled the middle. DeMarcus Beasley proved an inspired selection at left back. For all the controversy that surrounded him throughout the week, Jurgen Klinsmann got his team right on Friday.
Ultimately, Klinsmann’s approach won out. Using the same formula that’s bled out home qualifiers against Jamaica and Guatemala, the U.S. protected a patchwork and uneasy defense by dominating the ball.
In the process, they got their first points of CONCACAF’s final round. They started to defuse the drama surrounding the team, and they won momentum ahead of Tuesday’s huge match in Mexico.
And all they to do was fight through a little snow.