The United States men's national team needs a victory against Costa Rica after losing its first fixture in the Hexagonal to Honduras, and there are several concerning developments leading up to the match.
Starting off this round of World Cup Qualifiers with two straight losses will leave the Americans with little room for error going forward. The team would also take a run of poor form into the worst situation possible: a showdown with Mexico at Azteca.
If the Americans lose their first three games, any optimism that came with Jurgen Klinsmann’s arrival will be completely gone, and the future of the U.S. men’s national team would be worryingly uncertain.
But all this can be avoided with a victory tonight at 10 p.m. ET. Here is what the United States must do to defeat Costa Rica.
Overcoming Injuries on Defense
There will be several new faces along the back line in this game, and these players will need to step up and contain a talented Costa Rican attack.
As Reuters’ Simon Evans notes, Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson are all unavailable due to injury. Omar Gonzalez, Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow will take their place.
In addition, Tim Howard will miss the match due to a back injury, with Aston Villa's Brad Guzan set to fill in at goalkeeper.
This is a concerning development, as the Costa Ricans have talent up front. Bryan Ruiz is a creative player, Joel Campbell is a rising star and Alvaro Saborio is a seasoned veteran who knows many of the U.S. players due to playing in the MLS.
The patchwork back line will need to step up and deliver a fine performance in order for the Americans to win.
Responding to Controversy
The American players quite literally added insult to injury when unnamed members of the team shared critical remarks about Klinsmann to The Sporting News’ Brian Straus.
Since the report came out, leaders on the team came out and condemned the players who gave Straus comments. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were two of the longtime national team members who were disappointed in their teammates, according to MLSSoccer.com’s Nick Firchau.
This gives the impression that the U.S. is imploding, but it also offers an opportunity for the team to respond in a big way.
The team should not ignore this story, and instead should use it as fuel. The Americans’ goal in this game should be to prove every one of their doubters wrong.
Feed Jozy Altidore
Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have been fantastic for their country during their careers, but the United States has never had a dominant centre-forward, and these players are more comfortable in wide or distributing roles.
But Altidore has all the physical gifts to spearhead the American attack, and he has finally started to live up to his talent this season for AZ Alkmaar. The 23-year-old has 18 league goals thus far.
If his form for his club translates to the international stage, the United States will have a truly formidable squad.
For him prove that he can be dangerous while playing for his national team, his teammates will need to look for him early and often in this contest. If Altidore can get on the scoresheet, the Americans will have an excellent chance to win this match.