Last Friday night’s Dos a Uno loss to Mexico in Columbus did more than bring to an end a U.S. MNT streak and ruin a perfectly good chant, the defeat put the Americans in a pretty bad position heading into tonight’s match in Costa Rica.
Why? Well for one, the Ticos are good. How good? Good enough to have advanced to the quarterfinal round of the 2014 World Cup, which is, of course, farther than either the U.S. and Mexico, Costa Rica’s supposed CONCACAF betters.
And then there is Costa Rica’s home record against the U.S. The Americans have never won on Costa Rican soil, compiling a rather ugly 0-8-1 mark in WCQ over the years. (0-8-2 overall in Costa Rica).
But here is one good memory for the Yanks to hang their hats on, and even better for the Americans, it is a recent one. You see, the last time these two sides met in a game that mattered, well any game, was in the Copa America in June.
The Americans clobbered Costa Rica 4-0 in Chicago buoyed by playing the same starting 11 in consecutive matches. After the game Jurgen Klinsmann, the Mad Tinkerer himself credited that consistency.
Starting the same team is “a luxury we never really get.” Klinsmann noted. “In World Cup Qualifiers or in other times of the year, we’re always missing guys, we always kind of have to improvise.”
Klinsmann explained, “you see that they start now to actually smell each other and make runs off each other. This is a learning process, it’s a development process.”
Klinsmann was missing Geoff Cameron from his defense for the Mexico match but his new back three clearly was unable “to actually smell each other” as the coach put it back in Chicago, looking unfamiliar with one another and with their new roles in Columbus, improving dramatically after a formation change at about the half hour mark.
So, what do the Americans need to come home with from San Jose? At least one point. A draw would stabilize things for Klinsmann’s squad, while a win would be considered two bonus points at this stage.
How bad would a loss be for the US? Well, no team has qualified from CONCACAF for the World Cup after dropping the first two games, but a third place finish would still be possible and a fourth place finish and a place in an inter-confederation play-off would still be in reach for the U.S.
What, or who are the keys for the U.S. tonight?
Guzan inherited the number one job from Tim Howard when America’s Goalkeeper took a one-year sabbatical after his 2014 World Cup heroics. Guzan backstopped the U.S. at the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The Gold Cup was a disaster while the Copa was considered a success right up until the U.S. was outclassed by Lionel Messi and co. in a 4-0 shellacking.
Guzan was solid, if not overwhelming in both tourneys but a stint on the bench at Middlesbrough cost Guzan the top spot to Howard, who has been excellent since his move from Everton to Colorado.
Then Howard limped off on Friday night and Guzan was back. The former Aston Villa keeper could not be faulted for Rafa Marquez’ winner, Klinsmann would have said so if he was. (Instead, Klinsmann named John Brooks as the offending party.)
Guzan is as good a backup as a team could hope for and he has stood tall in some very big games. But he has played very little this season and the U.S. can only hope that the veteran will be sharp tonight.
The captain has come in for some scathing criticism for his performance against Mexico with many calling for Klinsmann to drop him. That seems a bit much, Bradley wasn’t great on Friday but like the rest of the team, he improved markedly in the second half after the team adjusted to the formation change.
More interesting is the possibility that Klinsmann could replace Jermaine Jones with Sacha Kljestan. It is a longshot, given how the coach relies on the Germerican vet but the 2016 MLS assist leader seems a better fit with Bradley.
It seems unlikely but by now we know better than to try and predict Klinsmann’s moves.
We also will be watching to see if Klinsmann keeps faith with Tim Chandler at fullback. Chandler has been playing well enough for Frankfurt in the Bundesliga that Klinsmann overlooked Chandler’s routinely desultory performances for the U.S. MNT to pick Chandler over DeAndre Yedlin.
The coach has been curiously critical of Yedlin of late, even pointing out that Yedlin’s club, Newcastle, plays in the English Championship, which is not as good as the Bundesliga. This was Friday after Chandler was poor again for the U.S. Yedlin replaced Chandler and was fine in a short run out tonight but as to who starts tonight? Who knows?
Can the U.S. do it? Yes. Costa Rica is a bit limited with injuries and suspension. Central defender Francisco Calvo will miss out through injury, captain and thorn in the U.S. side Bryan Ruiz picked up a late knock versus Trinidad and Tobago, a 2-0 Ticos win and his status is uncertain. And wingback Christian Gamboa, Costa Rica plays at the back as its base formation, is suspended.
Then there is that June Copa match that has to give the Americans confidence. Costa Rica is coming in hot from that win over T&T but remember that the U.S. cruised to a 4-0 win over the Soca Warriors in WCQ play back in September, so this evidently is not a great Trinidad and Tobago side.
Will the U.S. grab at least one point tonight? Yes. In fact, I think the Americans will end another streak tonight and claim a 2-1 win over the Ticos at the National Stadium in San Jose.