Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from US vs. Costa Rica in the snow
Game 1 of the Hexagonal for the US, who were 1-0 winners over Costa Rica on Friday evening, was 100 degrees in blistering tropical sun. Game 2 was 30 degrees in a snowstorm. Game 3 will be on Tuesday, at 7400 feet of altitude in one of the smoggiest cities in the world.
I don't think there's any conceivable way to prepare for this, for any team in existence. And I'm not sure that there's any competition in sports quite like CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Game four, by the way, will be in the heat and humidity of the Caribbean summer. Right at the start of hurricane season.
1. US fans should be both happy and relieved at the result
This week has been very likely the hardest of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure at the helm of the Yanks (so far, anyway). I've been critical of him for many of his tactical and personnel decisions, and still will be if he earns it.
But in Denver, his team was willing to "play ugly," and play hard, and give up any pretense of playing the game as Klinsmann describes it in his press conferences about creative soccer. It was the right move, and one that speaks to a collective identity that still exists for a team that always needs to be better than the sum of their parts would suggest.
In the words of ESPN's Taylor Twellman, "Adversity reveals character." And the US, who've punted so many leads under Klinsmann in qualifying already, showed some against the Ticos.
They'll need more of it in Mexico City on Tuesday.
2. There's not a lot of tactical analysis that can come out of this one
Instead, I'll focus on two personnel choices — one that perhaps leads to a tactical shift, and one that suggests, if not a holding pattern, then at least a workable stopgap for one of the problem areas for the Yanks.
First, Klinsmann finally went with two defensive-minded midfielders instead of three. This is something that much of the fanbase has been calling for since the beginning of the last round of qualifying, and played out to good effect.
Second, DaMarcus Beasley put in very, very professional 90 minutes at left back. Granted, it's just his third appearance there in meaningful competitions for the US (the previous two were both in 2009 World Cup qualifiers, one being a resounding 3-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, the other an awful 3-1 loss at Costa Rica), but his work there at least suggests that this can stop being something of an open wound for Klinsmann's team.
Beasley, by the way, is the fifth starting left back in eight qualifiers for Klinsmann.
Jermaine Jones was both excellent and a liability
Jones, for about 60 minutes, was arguably the best player on the field. He ranged from sideline to sideline, didn't give the ball away, and with Michael Bradley — who was impeccable — holding and (for once) plenty of attackers ahead of them both, Jones didn't have to (or try to) do too much.
Then he threw a totally unnecessary elbow when shielding the ball from Bryan Ruiz.
Ruiz made a meal of it, and it certainly wasn't the most vicious thing Jones has ever done on the field. But at least half the time, that's a red in CONCACAF. And I'm shocked that it wasn't on Friday.
Klinsmann, who's generally considered Jones to be among his most indispensible players, took him off for Maurice Edu soon after. It's the second game in a row that Jones has come off before the final whistle, and is, quite possibly, an indicator that the coach is starting to see some of the warning signs in Jones' demeanor that have had fans and pundits on the edge of their collective seats since ... well, forever.
3. The US, by the way, are now second place in the Hexagonal. And they're the only team that have had a home game but haven't dropped home points.
There's just nothing like CONCACAF.