It Seems To Me. . .
Despite U.S. placing first in qualifying, Costa Rica might be best CONCACAF team.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, July 31, 2014) -- There are still a few odds and ends from the just completed World Cup in Brazil that I think should be addressed as we move forward to next summer's Copa America and eventually to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"We're number two. We're number two." It just doesn't have the same ring to it than does "We're number one!" which United States fans have been shouting when it comes to the Americans place in CONCACAF. Given the results from the recent World Cup in Brazil, and from the qualifying round leading up to the final selection of teams to represent the Confederation in the World Cup, maybe "We're number 2" may be more accurate.
Costa Rica may now be the best team in CONCACAF, the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
In Brazil the U.S. was in the so-called "Group of Death," along with eventual champion Germany, Portugal and Ghana , which had eliminated the Americans from the two prior World Cups. To its credit, the U.S. beat the odds and most of the predictions by advancing out of Group G at 1-1-1 with four points, tied on points with Portugal and able to advance as the second team our of Group G with a superior goal differential.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, was drawn into a group with Italy, England and Uruguay. It potentially was every bit as difficult as the group the Americans were drawn into.
Now look what the Ticos did. They went undefeated at 2-0-1 with seven points to win the group going away. They gave up but a single goal against three higher ranked teams, defeating Italy 1-0, drawing with England 0-0 and then beating Uruguay 3-1.
In the Round of 16, the U.S. was sent home by Belgium 1-0 while Costa Rica advanced to the quarterfinals in tiebreaking penalty kicks over Greece after drawing 1-1 over 120 minutes. In the quarterfinals, Costa Rica defended bravely for 120 minutes and was eliminated by the enetual runnerup Netherlands in penalty kicks after a scoreless draw. The Dutch moved on saving two of the Tico penalty tries.
Going back to the final round of qualifying between the U.S. and Costa Rica, the U.S. defeated theTicos 1-0 in Denver in a March match that will be long remembered because it was played in a driving blizzard. The field became more and more unplayable as the game wore on. It should have been abandoned and the two teams should replayed it the next day, but the American triumph stood despite Costa Rica's strong protests.
The return match was played in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, in September and the home team won handily, defeating the U.S. 3-1.
Looking at these sets of results and there is no justification to say the U.S. was better than Costa Rica despite finishing first in the final round of qualifying.
U.S. men's coach JŘrgen Klinsmann is almost paranoid on the subject of secrecy. He constantly thinks opponents are trying to get a leg up on his team and he goes to great lengths to guard against opponents learning what the Americans are planning.
Some of this is harmless, such as never giving out his starting lineup the deadline, one hour before the match. Some of it, however, might work to the detriment of his players and to his believability by the media and by fans.
Take two examples from Brazil.
Striker Jozy Altidore strained a hamstring in the opening World Cup match against Ghana. The U.S. never revealed the seriousness of the injury and Klinsmann would only say, "We're going to have him back in this tournament."
Klinsmann had the injured striker jogging around the field with a trainer during the opening 15 minutes of training for the final U.S. match against Belgium (the 15 minutes he was required to open the practice to the media). Then, he added Altidore to the 18-man roster for the match and said he was "ready and available."
Of course, Altidore never budged off the bench and didn't even bother to warm up as if he was going to play. Let's call Klinsmann's description of his condition a fib.
Sunderland, Altidore's club in England, revealed he had suffered a serious "grade two" hamstring sprain and probably would not be ready for the club's league start the middle of August. He is now in training, but light training.
More serious was the situation with Aron Jˇhannsson. He was brought to Brazil as Altidore's backup and when Altidore went down in the first half of the opening match, Johannsson came on and frankly did not do much for the remainder of the game.
From that point on, he sat on the U.S. bench, seemingly never considered for use in the remaining three matches. The only conclusion was that Klinsmann did not think much of Jˇhannsson performance and glued him to the bench. Jˇhannsson's reputation suffered.
After the Cup, Jˇhannsson reported back to his club team AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Almost the day he arrived, the team announced he faced ankle surgery and would miss up to two months of the upcoming season.
" Jˇhannsson will this month have surgery on his ankle," the club said on the team's web site. "The striker suffered for a while with the complaint to the joint. Jˇhannsson is expected to be out of action for six-to-eight weeks" He was operated on in Amsterdam.
This raises a series of questions. One has to assume now that Jˇhannsson's poor showing against Ghana was probably the result of his ankle injury and that is why he did not see any later action. Just as relevant, it raises the question of whether he was nursing the injury during training camp and possibly the Klinsmann took him to Brazil hoping that he could play on it - which, it now seems, he obviously couldn't.
This becomes even more important because one of the primary reasons Klinsmann gave for leaving Landon Donovan home was the availability of Jˇhannsson to back up Altidore. If Klinsmann had any idea he wouldn't be available at 100 percent, then leaving Donovan off the squad makes even less sense.