USMNT Report: US Succeeds in Snowy Showdown

Despite ugly play and fierce conditions, the Americans pulled out a win against Costa Rica
by Herb Scribner   |   Saturday, March 23, 2013

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

The beautiful game was put on hold Saturday night, as the United States Men’s National Team – stuck in a thick and unforgiving Rocky Mountain blizzard – played a unique game of soccer.

But the USMNT, dressed in white jerseys that were more or less camouflage, after all the off-field turmoil and questions, came out with a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica.

COSTA RICA HIGHLIGHTS: Neither team started out particularly well amid the snow. As viewers tried to find the near-invisible yellow ball, the Americans tried to maintain possession as much as possible.

In the 16th minute, forward Jozy Altidore conjured enough space to slot a shot towards goal, and Clint Dempsey shoveled up the rebound and sent it home to grab the early 1-0 lead.

From there, back and forth, ping-pong soccer ensued for both sides as snow continued to pile down in Denver. In the 55th minute, the match was stopped as referees consulted with players, who were clearing away the snow to create space on free kicks and digging out patches of snow from their boots, to determine if the contest should continue. After the field crew cleared away snow and gave visibility to the lines, everyone retook the field and play resumed.

Costa Rica picked up the pace after the break and played confidently, holding possession and taking chances against the Americans. The Yanks were lucky to maintain La Sele at points and were saved by defensive deflections and unlucky Costa Rican opportunities. Both teams struggled to really keep the ball still given the environment that Dick’s Sporting Goods Park became, as players were either too fast or too slow for the sometimes tumbling, sometimes suddenly-stopping, yellow-and-purple ball.

But the USA remained strong in those final moments, which included 5 minutes of added time, and halted all late attempts by the Ticos to earn the shutout.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: Manager Jurgen Klinsmann was thrilled to get 3 points out of the game, even if it wasn’t the prettiest match.

“Obviously it was a nice snow battle,” he said. “I think the most important part of that is you have your 3 points. … I wish these conditions would have stayed as they were in the beginning of the game.”

Klinsmann, who has competed in snow-filled matches before, offered his stance on how the weather played a factor.

“Overall, I mean great character shown by all the players in how they fought and just gave everything they had really,” he said. “Those conditions make things very difficult on an attacking level and a game level as well. You just have to adjust to the snow … and move on. … You try as much as you can to push the ball into your opponents half.”

“I told the referee, ‘We are not stopping that game, it’s only the lines,” he said. “It’s for both teams really difficult to play all the way through.”

And with the Mexico clash at Estadio Azteca ahead, Klinsmann was thankful to get these points at home.

“You’ve got to get your points at home,” he said. “We’ve got to get our points at home. We have obviously a lot of respect for Mexico – that respect is always there because it is a very big soccer nation. It was crucial to get those three points to start that doubleheader in a positive way. … They are as desperate as we are. We want to get a result in Mexico. … We had our snow battle here, and both teams will try to recover. … The very positive side is how they battled through and the desire to win is enormous, the willingness to go through it and win those 3 points.”

ANALYSIS: This was by no means a pretty game. Snow concealed the green pitch below and forced a very different brand of the world’s game for the Denver audience.

Altidore was a positive for the USA in the first half, as he played tremendously well off the ball by making runs for Dempsey and Graham Zusi. He also found some free space to take a shot that led to the captain’s eventual goal, showing that the AZ player is slowly improving. Many will remember Altidore always having his back towards goal and appearing lazy on the pitch, which rarely happened on Saturday night. He’s been successful in Holland, and that’s starting to show for his national team.

You have to give credit to Dempsey, too, as he played more than 90 minutes in the frigid conditions after just coming back from a calf injury. The sideways snow and howling wind did little to effect his game.

Zusi provided good service into the box from the wing at points. Both he and Gomez made top notch runs with the ball on the dumbfounded Ticos defense, but no real chances came from these opportunities. Still, the offense’s ability to hold the ball definitely kept the US feeling confident and assured. Klinsmann’s suggestion to keep the ball in the final third held true as the US continued to pressure and force more goals.

Clarence Goodson and Omar Gonzalez were big bodies in the backline and held off the Costa Ricans in the middle of the box. Goodson settled and, along with DaMarcus Beasley, who covered the entire pitch and performed well, exerted leadership qualities for this team. Although many feared how the defense would play in this game, Goodson, Gonzalez, Beasley and Geoff Cameron worked together to stop the Ticos. I was surprised the backline didn’t let up too many mistakes given the frosty conditions and the lack of chemistry of this group.

One major question going into the game was how goalkeeper Brad Guzan would do, since he’d be replacing usual-starter and veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard. It’s tough to give a real assessment for Guzan, mostly because this was such an awkward and different game than normal. But Guzan had a commanding presence between the posts, as he made 5 saves in his fourth career shutout.

It could be argued the US didn’t really prove itself against Costa Rica, and that the Ticos certainly played just as successfully as the Americans. But a win is a win. And for a team that’s been under as much pressure and scrutiny as the US has this past week, these 3 points could not have come at a more crucial point. It’ll surely boost the morale of the red, white and blue, and give the Yanks confidence as they head to Mexico.

Now, the Americans sit at 2nd place in the CONCACAF WCQ standings, having started the day in last. A true test awaits them on Tuesday when they head to Estadio Azteca for a clash with El Tri, which tied Honduras 2-2 on Friday despite leading by 2 goals in the match. Weather and dismal conditions won’t be offered for the US, which certainly knows what to expect in Mexico City.

But for now, the US can rest easy – at least for the night – in Colorado knowing that it escaped with 3 points that could not have come at a better time.

NEXT UP: March 26 – USA vs. Mexico, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico. 10:30 p.m. EST, ESPN, Univision.

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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