USMNT Report: Two Vital WCQs During Off-field Turmoil

Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT crew search for points against Costa Rica
by Herb Scribner   |   Friday, March 22, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

It’s been a controversial week for the United States Men’s National Team.

But between the Friendly Fire article and response, as well as the debated roster announcement, the USMNT still has an important World Cup Qualifier coming on Friday when the Americans face Costa Rica.

THE ROAD TO NOW: Last time out, the USMNT received an ugly result with a 2-1 loss to Honduras. Both sides started out with a flurry of shot attempts, but neither found the back of the net. It was Clint Dempsey, who will captain the US side against the Costa Ricans, who scored first to take the 1-0 lead.

In the 40th minute, Honduras answered back when Oscar Garcia nailed a wondrous bicycle kick to knot the score. The USA held possession for the remainder of the match, but a defensive lapse allowed the Ticos’ Jerry Bengston, of the New England Revolution, to take the victory from the Americans.

INJURIES & LINEUP ANNOUNCEMENT: USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced his 23-man training camp roster for the upcoming WCQs against Costa Rica and Mexico this past Monday.

An immediate scan of the squad showed a team battered by injuries, as well as big absences. Carlos Bocanegra, who has captained the team and been a staple American international since 2001, was left off the squad due to lack of playing time in Spanish second division, Klinsmann said on Monday.

Bocanegra isn’t the only defender missing for the upcoming games, as Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson are also out. Stalwart goalkeeper Tim Howard injured his back recently too and will be a stabilizing veteran loss from the side.  

Still, Klinsmann brought in some players who have had success as of late, like Jozy Altidore and the recently-recovered Dempsey. Herculez Gomez, who has scored 9 goals for Santos in the last few competitions, was also called up, along with Houston Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis, who was brought on after the initial announcement. Once USMNT regular DaMarcus Beasley, who now plies his trade in Mexico, was included in the squad, and nears his 100th mark cap.

PRE-GAME CHATTER: In a recently published controversial AOL Sporting News article published on March 19, American players spoke out about Klinsmann and how he’s been running the team. The article also contained older quotes from Germany’s national team captain Phillip Lahm, who worked with Klinsmann during his previous managerial roles with Germany and Bayern Munich.

But on Wednesday, it was Michael Bradley who defended Klinsmann and the team, calling the whistle-blowers actions “shameful” and “embarrassing.” He went on to say if players are speaking out to media rather than at practice and to the squad, things surely won’t improve.

Klinsmann, though, talked to media this past Monday about the upcoming match in Denver and the importance of home games.

“Every home game in the hexagonal is a must-win situation,” he said. “You want to get all the points possible in your home games so, independent of the result in Honduras, it’s a must-win on Friday night here against Costa Rica. We approach it that way.

Also a hot topic for Klinsmann was his decision to leave captain Bocanegra off the roster.

“With Carlos, I have had several very good conversations over the past weeks. The reason he’s not here is because he’s simply not playing,” he said. “Carlos is still in our picture. This is not the end of his National Team career. He understands that right now he’s behind other players. He’s not in the starter picture and he understands that he gives other players a chance to show what they can prove.”

ANALYSIS: An off-field storm has stirred up for the Americans, and I’m not exactly sure if this team has the ability to make it a perfect one or not.

Right now, many eyes are looking to see if Klinsmann’s coaching is successful. Say what you want about Brian Straus’ Sporting News article, but now all eyes are on the USA and its ability to communicate and play well. Couple this with the Americans need to earn points at home, an injury-riddled roster, inexperienced defense, Donovan-less attack -- and we’ve got a sure thriller on our hands. Maybe not the good kind either.

Historically, the USA has handled home games very well, going 41-6-12 on American soil, including a 3-0 span in the semifinal qualifying round. But with a depleted defense – now anchored by Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron, who aren’t veteran US players yet – it’s doubtful whether or not the Yanks can call this a sure win, especially since defensive lapses have been the team’s downfall.

Howard’s absence could be horrendous too, but at least Brad Guzan has been on top form recently at Aston Villa, which doesn’t boast a great defense either. I was hoping we’d see RSL and MLS stalwart Nick Rimando get the start since he’s been so solid the past few years at club level. But in a situation where the USA needs a result, the in-form Guzan will likely get the nod to replace Howard in goal.

Speaking of Real Salt Lake, Alvaro Saborio, a top MLS target forward for RSL and Costa Rica, will be out of action against the US, which is a blessing for the broken defensive backline.

For the US to succeed in this match, its offensive players will have to step up, and that surely means Jozy Altidore needs to attack and find the success he has had in Holland this year with the red, white and blue. Too often he’s played with his back towards goal and hasn’t received proper set up from the midfield. Gomez and Altidore have both been brilliant for their clubs, and the US will need that excellence to translate internationally … and fast.

Dempsey, a very dependable scorer for the Americans the last few years, has only this weekend returned to Spurs from a calf injury, coming on as a halftime substitute. He may be fit to perform, but he surely won’t be a 100%, which could hurt the Yank offense.

Graham Zusi will have another chance to show his worth for the Americans in the midfield. And now that he’s back in form with Sporting KC, I expect he’ll have more opportunities to set up plays in the final third that this side so desperately lacks without Donovan or a true creative player in central or attacking midfield.

Zusi is one of 10 MLS players selected for this squad, which is a lot number and surprising since Klinsmann likes in-form players and MLS just started its season. The lack of MLS players shows another inconsistency in USA squads, since last time out, the Americans lineup was compact with the league’s players.

International influence never hurts, though, and I think the US will benefit from having several European and international players competing on the field since those leagues are in mid-season.

It’s true USA need points versus Costa Rica after the disappointing loss to Honduras and a hard battle against Mexico in Estadio Azteca on the way. A win would not only help the team in the Hexagonal, but also the team morale which seems to be on the forefront of players, media and now fans. With the recent controversy off the pitch, a victory would lift spirits and show the Klinsmann experiment is surely working – for now.

NEXT UP: March 22 – USA vs. Costa Rica, Dick’s Sporting Good Park, Denver. 10 p.m. EST, ESPN, UniMas.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
FC Barcelona
SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.
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