Costa Rica vs USA: What Went Wrong for Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT?
Riding a 12 game-winning streak, a pre-game injury was an early omen that streak would not continue past this evening's match.
Michael Bradley, who has become the crux of this team in recent months, suffered a freak ankle injury during a shooting drill while warming up for the game.
The injury was deemed too severe for Bradley to play in this qualifying match with a Costa Rica, which was looking for revenge from the "Snow Game".
Geoff Cameron was tapped to replace him, but their two respective styles of play could not be more different.
Bradley has assumed the role of deep-lying creator and has been an essential part of the rejuvenation of Jozy Altidore's national team career. His box-to-box play, tireless work rate, and buzzing presence as a central hub for distribution were major keys to USA's success in the past 12 games.
Cameron is known more for his defensive play when undertaking the midfield role alongside Jermaine Jones. He is a smart defender who tracks opponents well and knows when to tackle efficiently. In my opinion, he is better suited for this position than say, an outside fullback or maybe even the central fullback position.
The problem with that is that he and Jones are too similar. They lack the creativity and effectiveness at spraying the ball around the pitch that Bradley displays almost every game.
It seemed as if Cameron's insertion instead of Mix Diskerud, who has more of an offensive mind to his game, spoke about the way Klinsmann wanted to play this game: defensively.
The problem with that was that they simply weren't very good defensively against Costa Rica's attack.
Both DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco Fiscal looked outmatched on the wings while Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler struggled with Joel Campbell, who played a fantastic match up top for Costa Rica. Jhonny Acosta accounted for a terrific header goal while Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges ran rampant for much of the match with the latter player netting for Costa Rica as well.
One of the worst possible starts occurred for USA as they gave up two goals in the first ten minutes, after some truly brutal play against a hungry Costa Rican side.
The ice bowl game from a few months ago was clearly on their minds and would not have settled for anything less than a victory on home soil.
Yet, there was a chance for the U.S. to equalize after Clint Dempsey cut the deficit in half on a well-won penalty from Fabian Johnson. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica's goalkeeper, might have been a bit lucky to escape without a red card on that challenge.
Dempsey also hit the post in the 57th minute and was unlucky to score there.
With an overmatched defense struggling, the equalizer needed to come swiftly. Unfortunately it did not come at all and Joel Campbell took advantage of that overmatched defense, scoring with 15 minutes left to push the lead back to two and secure the victory for Costa Rica.
To make matters worse, several U.S. players that were one yellow card away from a suspension ended up receiving them in this game.
Cameron obtained his earlier in the game on a necessary challenge to stop a dangerous counter.
Besler's yellow, on the other hand, seemed very harsh on replays, with very little to no contact. There are reports that the U.S. will challenge CONCACAF to overturn it.
The worst yellow was undoubtedly Altidore's with a late shove to a Costa Rican player after the ball had gone by the two players.
There was clear frustration on the U.S. players' faces and it showed as they were beaten by a better and more motivated Costa Rica side.
You may question Klinsmann's decision to even play Altidore, as I first did, but down one goal and gaining momentum on offense, the strategically smart thing to do is to put in your best remaining attacker and go for the draw or potential win.
The substitution was tactically smart, but that play was unquestionably bad and unnecessary.
The late inclusion of Aron Johannsson into the game was puzzling as well.
Many thought he would start the game, as he has been on a tear of late for AZ Alkmaar. His flashes of great potential and ability in the friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina should have earned him a start or at least major minutes in this game.
My only real quibble with Klinsmann's lineup and substitutions is the use of Landon Donovan in Clint Dempsey's role and moving Dempsey up as the lone striker. While Donovan has been playing well of late, throwing him straight back into the fire, while rocking the boat when it comes to players' positions may have been a misstep, it was only for this game.
Donovan will be crucial to the U.S. team's success in the rest of the qualifying games, so this might have been a necessary setback. A small step back to take a giant leap forward, perhaps.
For the next game against Mexico, now of even greater importance due to their loss last night, the suspension of Besler, Cameron, and Altidore clouds the lineup picture a bit.
It would be great to see players like Johannsson and John Anthony Brooks get a real shot to earn their stripes in a U.S. uniform.
It seems like Orozco Fiscal may not be ready for a first team gig at this point, especially not at outside fullback. However, he and Clarence Goodson may get a look alongside Omar Gonzalez next game, who should start as a central defender.
Klinsmann has many questions to answer after this puzzling and slightly embarrassing defeat.
His answers and the performance we see against Mexico will show just how deep this team is in terms of talent, and we will know whether they can bounce back against a storied rival, especially one with problems of its own at the moment.
For Mexico, the game is a must-win. The U.S. and Klinsmann need to treat this match the same way to get a good result.
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