The USA gained a priceless three points Friday night against Costa Rica in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in absurd and unprecedented conditions. The result may calm Klinsmann's critics, but can hardly dispel any real doubts about the team's performances.
The first half saw about all the football that was to be played in Commerce City, Colo., as a thickening blanket of snow made passing and dribbling—two important tactics in the modern game of football—a virtual impossibility as the night wore on.
With the win, the USA moves into second place in the CONCACAF table, but the victory does little to shed light on the team's progress or potential following a disastrous opening to the Hexagonal stage in Honduras.
How can you judge a football team from a snowball fight?
Yes, the U.S. came out the better team and made the best of the conditions early on. In particular the central midfield three of Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley were connecting passes smartly and outfoxing their Costa Rican counterparts. It was no surprise to see Dempsey create and then finish off the move that marked the night's only strike.
The USA should have had a penalty just before the half when Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas completely missed his punch on a hopeful ball into the box and Dempsey was there to pounce before being tripped by Roy Miller.
From there, the conditions increasingly turned the game into a farcical exchange of hopeful long balls bouncing from end to end, with little to no coherent build-up play to be found. I don't know if anyone keeps close statistics on passes completed in CONCACAF qualifiers, but they wouldn't have made for flattering reading on the night.
I'm also not sure what exactly was going through the referee's mind when he decided on an abandon-the-match-but-wait-maybe-ask-the-players-instead strategy after 55 minutes of play. Because the players are the ones who should make that decision. Right.
So, what did we learn about Team USA from the performance? Well, not much.
We learned that Geoff Cameron has no business playing right-back, as he very nearly cost the three points on multiple occasions. His giveaways in the first half led to Costa Rica's most promising counterattacks, while his repeated fouls in the second half gifted them some of their only real scoring opportunities, given that they weren't exactly going to pass their way through the defense. What was he thinking?
Tactically speaking, the game was a total mess. When neither team can pass the ball, tactics rather go out the window, and match becomes a dogfight. The result is of no relevance for predicting the USA's future performances, as one can only assume they will be actual football matches.
Taylor Twellman—ESPN's color commentator on the night—can wax poetic about adversity and character all he wants, but the Costa Ricans—down a goal as the conditions gradually became unplayable—were the ones facing real adversity. And they very nearly fought back, applying much more pressure than the USA in the second half, and finding themselves only a razor-thin offside decision away from an equalizer on 70 minutes.
I don't mean to detract from the USA's performance entirely. They did what needed to be done when the conditions permitted and got the three points. But anyone who thinks the second half was any sort of window into the team's character or soundness is fooling himself.
Defending a lead in a thick blanket of snow is not a terribly difficult task, and hardly a laudable one. The real tests of this team—and of Jurgen Klinsmann's stewardship—lie ahead, starting on Tuesday in Mexico City.
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