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Things looked all too familiar in USMNT loss to Costa Rica


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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica– We heard how things would be different. How Friday night’s World Cup qualifier vs. Costa Rica would look different than any road qualifier we had seen the U.S. Men’s National Team play before.

What we saw instead of different was a scene that was painfully familiar. The U.S. team that put together a 12-match winning streak, and came here with so much confidence, played more like the American teams of hexagonal rounds past. Overwhelmed and buried early, even if an improved second half provided more consolation than some past blowouts.

The reality is the U.S. couldn’t impose themselves on the Ticos, not with a stadium full of fans who had spent the past six months stewing over the perceived injustice of March’s snow-covered World Cup qualifier in Colorado urging them on. And not with the pre-game loss of Michael Bradley to an ankle injury costing the U.S. team its most poised player.

Losing Bradley hurt, make no mistake, but to pin the defeat on that twist of a fated ankle is too easy and a cop-out. Yes, we were reminded that Bradley is the most irreplaceable player on the U.S. team, but Friday night’s loss wasn’t about Bradley’s ankle injury. It was about much more.

It was about Jurgen Klinsmann’s lengthy streak of smart lineup moves coming to an end in the wake of Michael Orozco’s forgettable turn at right back. It was about a defense that simply couldn’t cope with the speed and skill of the Tico tandem of Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell. It was also about some normally reliable veterans turning in subpar performances.

In fact, there weren’t many positives you could point to. Yes, the U.S. team did play better from about the 35th minute to the 75th minute, and early in the second half it did feel like they might just find a way to come all the way back. A strong Costa Rica finish put an end to those hopes though, and made it much more difficult to shine a light on any sort of moral victories.

No, the U.S. aren’t suddenly a terrible team because they lost a road qualifier to a good Costa Rica side that is now topping the Hex standings. What they are is a team that have made things much tougher for themselves by not only delivering a flat performance, but also picking up a trio of yellow cards that will leave the U.S. even more short-handed on Tuesday against Mexico.

Now, the Americans face a struggling and desperate Mexico side that knows winning Tuesday is a must, and they must do so without Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and possibly Michael Bradley. That is four starters from the team that tied Mexico in March.

Those absences will create opportunities for other players to step up. Players like Aron Johannsson, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud and Michael Parkhurst. It will also be an opportunity for Klinsmann to recapture his magic touch when it comes to selecting lineups and personnel deployment.

On Friday, it was tough to look at the production if his attacking quartet and say he made the right calls. He chose to deploy Dempsey as the lead forward in a 4-2-3-1 rather than Eddie Johnson, and chose to deploy Graham Zusi on the right wing rather than Landon Donovan or Alejandro Bedoya. The result was Dempsey struggling to connect with the midfield, while Zusi was largely invisible on the right wing, save for his great pass to help Fabian Johnson draw a penalty kick.

Then there was the decision to start Orozco at right back. He chose Orozco over Cameron, who is starting regularly at right back at English Premier League side Stoke City, and Michael Parkhurst, who started and played very well at right back in the Gold Cup. He chose Orozco despite the fact Orozco had never played right back for the national team before.

Now Klinsmann’s right back quandary grows worse. Cameron’s yellow card suspension leaves the U.S. coach with the options of either trotting Orozco out again, or starting Parkhurst despite the fact Parkhurst hasn’t been playing for his club team.

Klinsmann might rue his bad luck at right back, but it’s a mess of his own making. His failure to incorporate Eric Lichaj remains perplexing, and he has yet to offer an explanation for why Timmy Chandler has been sent to the national team wilderness Landon Donovan was previously sent to.

If anything, the fact Klinsmann’s maneuvers didn’t work was more surprising because of just how well his moves had panned out over the past three months, and in some ways you almost came away from Friday feeling like Klinsmann’s recent success had emboldened him to try new things, and take some risks. But like a Blackjack player riding a hot streak only to run out of luck by making riskier and riskier plays, Klinsmann saw his moves miss the mark and end the hot streak that had him looking like he could do no wrong.

The biggest consolation to come from Friday’s loss, the U.S. team’s eighth straight qualifying loss in Costa Rica, is the fact that the evening’s other CONCACAF qualifying results went about as well as the Americans could have hoped for. Panama dropped points at home to last-place Jamaica while Honduras stunned Mexico with a 2-1 victory at Estadio Azteca.

That small consolation won’t ease the pain of yet another disappointing trip to Central America in the Hex, and yet another loss in Costa Rica. The good thing for the U.S. team is the fact they don’t have much time to dwell on the loss. They have four days to shake it off and prepare for a match against Mexico that not only could book their place in the 2014 World Cup, but strike a major blow to arch-rival Mexico’s World Cup hopes.

In order for that to happen, both Klinsmann and his players will need to be much better than they were on Friday, when they delivered a disappointing effort and squandered a chance to make history, and secure their place at the 2014 World Cup.


  1. Heh heh, love it. We have a rough game in a tough venue against an incredibly motivated team and really hostile crowd, and suddenly the sky is falling. Look folks, it’s not as if we’re in El Tri’s shoes. Hold serve at home, tie on the road if you can, that gets you through in CONCACAF. We’re doing pretty well according to that criteria. (Now, if we lose to El Tri next week, and it’s a mess given our suspensions, well, then we’ll have something to talk about.)

  2. post-game reflections:

    1. beasley is not a starter…iffy if he should he even be on the roster…horrible first touch.
    fabian johnson should start at lb
    2. orozco wasn’t nearly as bad as people are making him out to be…he wasn’t responsible for any of the 3 goals. all the attacks were coming down his side because the midfield was getting sliced up…1 defender cant stop 3 attackers.
    3. jones played awful…i’d phase him out if i was coach….hes a decent backup d-mid
    4. zusi is too slow to play wing and is not wc caliber…maybe he can play cm..he did make a few good passes after losing the ball 10 times…nothing more than a backup
    5. dempsey is out of shape and doesn’t fit with the style of the rest of the team…he has no position and is not a striker…too slow for winger…id consider making him a super sub
    6. howard shouldn’t be the unquestioned starter. he gives up a lot of soft goals and has for years. he still might be the best gk for usa but shouldn’t be untouchable.
    7. eddie johnson is not a midfielder….he is a forward who scores on through balls…he will never ever look good against a bunkering team especially from midfield. i would only play him at forward in games where there is space to run or …in that type of game he is a great option.
    8. if youre gonna play an out of shape dempsey u might as well play adu at cm.
    9. gonzo +besler will get lit up in a wc unless they somehow get better beforehand.

    my current lineup with everyone healthy

    altidore – aj
    dempsey? adu donovan
    f.johnson brooks besler ?

  3. look it up, it’s even in the Bible….

    you never give up an early goal, in the first 20 minutes or in the last 5 minutes of the1st and 2nd halves.

    the MNT gave up TWO goals in the first 10 minutes!!! we’ve seen this movie before, it used to be directed by coach Bob Bradley.

  4. There is an old saying that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. It is something JK should pay attention to. He must stop moving players from the backline to midfield (Cameron and FJ) when he has no comparable replacements. With Evans and Dolo injured and Chandler not doing well I don’t think those movements are very wise.

  5. An article titled Things Looking All Too Familiar and no mention of Beasley? Seriously? We must have been watching a different game. Can’t people just admit that we played bad. Even if we had Messi, we wouldn’t have won.

    • Last I checked it was the players who JK put out there that played poorly. Your choice blame the players for not performing, or blame JK for his assignments. But we, the fans, had no bearing on the outcome.

  6. Time to move on from Deuce as the captain. He was an appropriate solution at the time of the rift in the locker room. But it should have been a short term gig to stabilize the team. The problem is the captain will be starting every game and I think we need to have the flexibility to sit Deuce if not fit or out of form, which he was for the CR game. Or ideally bring him off the bench late in the game. We didn’t lose the game because of Deuce, JK’s line up was suspect and we played poorly, but I didn’t see a lot of attributes from Deuce that make a player worthy of being a true leader. It is evident that MB has all the attributes and JK needs to make the switch sooner rather than later…definitely prior to the WC. It would be a huge mistake if MB is not the captain at the WC.

  7. I was surprised before the game how many people were calling for Dempsey and Donovan to start up top, but I was even more surprised when klinsmann put that line up out there. To me it always seemed doomed to fail and sadly I was right. I’m going to give Dempsey the benefit of the doubt due to the midfield play and all he has done for us, but if he plays that poorly against Mexico I think his spot in the line up has to be questioned.

    • This is right on. I don’t know what Dempsey’s role should be in this system, but it’s definitely not as a striker. Dempsey is still a dangerous attacking midfielder, but he likes to shoot from distance and play an incisive pass but he doesn’t do either well on the break, and he doesn’t have the strength (especially in the air) to play up front alone, or the sense as to positioning or runs to be part of a duo in attack.

      It didn’t work at Tottenham, and it certainly doesn’t work for USMNT….

  8. Best thing that could of happened to the US in a way, a snap back to reality. The only thing that really sucked was Altidore’s stupid play to get himself a yellow and put himself out of the Mexico game!

    • Exactly, guy scores in World Cup on a penalty under the big lights yet Dempsey steps up with his typical lame penalty hit a little to right of keeper

  9. Master class by CR on how to beat the US. First, pick on the defensive wings, who are inexperienced and not particularly good defenders. Attack Orozco and cross DMB’s way (beating him on the near post on the corner and on the cross). Avoid the middle of the field going forward, where there is more experience and some bite (even without Bradley), but crowd the middle when quickly on defense because there is precious little ability to distribute. Stay compact in the middle of defensive third, forcing low percentage long distance shots and crosses and link up play. Beat the US’s high pressure by lobbing balls that force slower central defenders to run down attackers. Don’t foul much in the defensive third or give up corners. This isn’t about being away from home or a hostile crowd that isn’t on the field. CR executed a smart game plan that took advantage of US’s more glaring weaknesses. Any good team can do the same.

  10. Our two best players names are Bradley and Altidore. Not Dempsey and Donovan. At this point, I believe Bedoya should be ahead of Zusi. Gonzo has been disappointing.

    • I am not sure Bradley and Altidore are better players, but they do bring things to the team that no substitute can come close to. Donavon is fast and can setup other people, but there are other fast players and others who can serve good balls. Dempsey is tough and has shown the ability to find the net against strong teams, still he does tend to disappear and other players have shown they can score.
      No other player in the USA pool has the combination of defensive toughness, ability to posses the ball, provide good service and perhaps most importantly read the game and do what is required. Altidore is simply the most physical and talented forward. No other forward in the pool can manhandle defenders, and score frequently when provided with some service.
      I thought the biggest disappointment was Jones. He gave away the ball 3 times in the first 15 minutes as the US was transitioning from defense to attack and that put the defense in poor positions to defend from, one that led to the corner CR scored on, and two times that lead to shots one that Howard had to save. I can’t recall for sure, but one of Jones giveaways may have led to the 2nd goal, but that might have been Zusi’s giveaway. Furthermore, he tried to make several long services, longer and requiring more accuracy than he seems to possess, so the results were predictably easy defensive plays for CR, or a goal kick.

  11. For me, the lineup also hinted that JK is uncomfortable making a decision between Zusi and Donovan, and that this drove him to play a not-too-fit Dempsey out of position. Not only did we not have a coherent passing setup between Cameron and Jones, we also didn’t have a holdup man who would have allowed our attacking players to work with.

    Put Donovan on the wing, where he made good things happen against Costa Rica, and for god sake, to pair him up with Orozco as his RB. Frankly, I’m not even sure Dempsey did enough in this game to make his inclusion in the starting eleven a given- it’s one thing to be out of form, it’s another thing to be out of shape.

  12. I just want to note that on the second goal, Howard could have come out of his box to make a clearance on the second goal. Campbell didn’t get his first touch on the ball until a little outside of the 18, and about 6 seconds after it was initially cleared. Though it’s never an easy goalkeeping decision to make, Howard almost definitely would have gotten to that ball had he come out right away.


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