In driving snow, Dempsey sends Americans past Costa Rica for much needed qualifying win.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, March 22, 2013) -- United States men’s coach Jürgen Klinsmann called tonight’s CONCACAF World Cup final-round qualifier against Costa Rica a “must-win” match and his team came through for him with a 1-0 victory in front of 19,327 who braved a blizzard at sold-out Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey’s rebound goal in the 16th minute proved to be the difference.
With Mexico blowing a two-goal lead and drawing 2-2 at Honduras and Jamaica hosting a 1-1 tie with Panama, the supposedly troubled Americans (1-1-0, 3 points) sit in second place with two of 10 rounds completed in CONCACAF’s final hexagonal. Honduras is first at 1-0-1 with four points. Mexico, Panama and Jamaica all are 0-0-2 with two points, while Costa Rica (0-1-1) trails with one point.
Since opening the final round with a 2-1 loss at Honduras, the U.S. following has experienced considerable angst, escalated this week with a story in The Sporting News, revealing supposed deep dissension within the American camp. Additionally, eight players expected to be named to this roster were not available because of injury or illness.
“Negativity from who?” U.S. keeper Brad Guzan, a replacement for injured Tim Howard, asked after the match. “Whatever goes on the outside, you know inside of our team these group of guys have all the confidence in each other and belief that we can go out there and do our job. We have the support of the coaching staff. I thought today really showed that. The guys rolled up their sleeve, got after it and in difficult conditions where we got three (standings) points.”
By gutting out a triumph tonight against a capable opponent in miserable conditions perhaps will relieve some or much of the pressure as the U.S. travels to face Mexico Tuesday night at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The U.S. has never won a qualifier at Azteca, but prevailed there 1-0 in an August 15 friendly, its first win on Mexican soil.
“I think the most important part is we have three points and it prepares us for Mexico,” Klinsmann said.
It is unlikely no World Cup qualifier anywhere has been played in such appalling conditions. It snowed heavily throughout the match and, combined with the wind, created almost whiteout conditions. In any league in the world, given the amount of snow that fell, and the wind, the match would never have started or would have been abandoned early.
“You adjust to the conditions, meaning you try as much as you can to push the ball forward into the opponent's half,” Klinsmann said. “You can’t pass through the channels, you can’t pass one and two touches to midfield. That’s not the game you can play anymore. We told them at halftime, ‘Be smart, don’t pass back-line balls, don’t pass it inside, and go from there.'
"It’s a simple adjustment to the rather severe conditions. It’s for both teams really difficult to play all the way through. We can’t even discuss whose disadvantage it is at the end of the day."
At one point about 10 minutes into the second half, referee Joel Aguilar stopped play and it looked like a decision had been made to abandon the match. But Aguilar conferred with the players -- all of whom seemed to want to continue -- then asked the grounds crew to clear the lines, and the match continued to its conclusion, including five minutes of stoppage time.
“We’re worried about the safety of the players and being able to see the ball, and the referee and match commissioner made the decision that the game could continue, and I think it was the right decision,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said.
Dempsey was very active early. In the 15th minute, he hit a hard shot from 40 yards that went just wide. A minute later, striker Jozy Altidore hit a hard shot from 19 yards. It deflected off Costa Rica forward Roy Miller in front of the left post and caromed into the middle where Dempsey easily put it away from three yards.
Dempsey also initiated the winning sequence. “I just got the ball on a turn and played Jozy out wide (left),” he said “Then, he was able to set himself up to get a good shot off. There was a little bit of a lucky deflection and I just happened to be following the play. If I would’ve missed that one, I would’ve been crying all night.”
Dempsey, who had been sidelined with a calf injury, has both U.S. goals in the final round and tied Landon Donovan for the most ever by an American in World Cup qualifying with 12. His seven goals in this World Cup cycle lead CONCACAF, one ahead of Costa Rica midfielder Alvaro Saborio
Costa Rica did get one ball past Guzan, but defender Michael Umaña’s header across the goal-mouth, off the left post and in was correctly ruled offside. It was snowing so hard, the U.S. was fortunate the assistant referee could see the infraction.
In a strange sequence just before halftime, Costa Rica keeper Keilor Nevas came roaring out of his net to push away a ball, but it appeared he was outside of the penalty area when he touched it. However, the 18-yard-line was completely snow-covered, so it was impossible for Nevas to know where the line was. There shouldn’t have been any trouble for Aguilar to see Dempsey was blatantly tripped by Miller as he carried the loose ball into the box, but the referee failed to award a penalty kick.
Costa Rica was active near the end of the first half and again for stretches after intermission. The U.S.’s makeshift back-line, however, was up to the task almost every time and when the visitors did manage to get off a shot, it was handled by Guzan.
The U.S. started with a conventional 4-2-3-1 formation with Altidore on top. Costa Rica countered with an odd formation, including five defenders and four midfielders. As the match continued in almost comical conditions at times, the formations on both sides broke down and it seemed it was every man for himself. The miserable conditions probably deprived the hearty, pro-American crowd of an interesting match.
Absent tonight because of injury were Howard, defenders Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Edgar Castillo and Jonathan Spector, and midfielder José Torres. Midfielder Danny Williams was absent with a stomach ailment, while defenders Carlos Bocanegra, the long-time captain, and Michael Parkhurst were not called in because of lack of of playing time with their club teams.
Dempsey assumed the captain’s armband for the first time. “You just got to make sure your being smart out there, making sure your putting out a good shift and leading by example,” he said. “Maybe when you lose the ball, you’re chasing down lost causes. It’s in the back of your head a little bit more, to give a little bit of that extra effort.”
The absent players remain unavailable for Tuesday’s visit to Azteca where Mexico will seek to redeem itself before its passionate, yet fickle fans for a disappointing start to the final round of qualifying, faling to score in the opening 0-0 home draw with Jamaica and collapsing in the last 13 minutes to concede two goals to Honduras tonight.
Note: SoccerTimes normally rates each player’s performance, but will not do so for this game. With the heavy snow, it was difficult to follow the ball and dependably identify players, making proper ratings impossible.
The U.S. lineup: Brad Guzan, Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, DaMarcus Beasley, Graham Zusi (Eddie Johnson 75), Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones (Maurice Edu 82), Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez Kyle Beckerman (94+), Jozy Altidore.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player Of The Match: Clint Dempsey.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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