USMNT: With Matt Besler out, what happens to the back line vs. Mexico?
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jurgen Klinsmann knew suspensions could be in cards against Costa Rica. He said as much on Sunday when he disputed two of the cautions issued by Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez in San José – decisions that will keep Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler out vs. Mexico.
On Monday, video evidence backed up the US head coach’s assertion that his conundrum in central defense was the result of an inspired acting job by Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell, who went to ground theatrically after what appeared to be an innocuous interaction with Besler.
“It kind of just confirmed my fears before the game with the yellow card issue,” Klinsmann told reporters in his final press conference before facing El Tri on Tuesday (8 pm ET; ESPN, UniMas). “I look at Jozy’s yellow card and it’s unnecessary from both ends, from the referee and Jozy. In the 92nd minute, you don’t give a yellow card for a little push. And Matt Besler’s was based on a fake from [Campbell] that the linesman actually [fell for].”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard had a front-row seat for the play that had indignant USMNT fans up in arms on Monday.
He said he thought “it was comical at the time” when Campbell crumpled under minimal or nonexistent contact after walking behind Besler, implying his foot had been stepped on before rolling around on the ground and looking to Rodriguez for justice.
It appeared Rodriguez initially called for the Costa Rican medical staff before going to his earpiece to confer with his assistant, after which he immediately went to his front pocket much to the disbelief of Besler, who returned to Kansas City and was replaced by Clarence Goodson on the US roster for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match vs. El Tri.
Fortunately, Goodson is even more experienced than Besler at the international level and is familiar with his prospective teammates on the backline, having lined up alongside DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco Fiscal during this summer’s Gold Cup and playing alongside fellow center back Omar Gonzalez against Costa Rica in March’s Snow Game.
And as far as Howard is concerned, there shouldn’t be any problems on his end adjusting to a new man in the center of defense.
“The guys who are going to replace Matt I’m very comfortable with, I’ve played with before. That won’t be an issue,” he said. “But there’s not a lot of time to train, so there’s cohesion that we have to work on and that just comes down to trust and digging into the memory bank really.”
If Klinsmann were to make any other change to the US backline, it would almost certainly come at right back, where Orozco Fiscal stepped in for the injured Brad Evans and had a mixed performance, especially on the defensive side of the ball, according to many observers.
Klinsmann doesn’t share that evaluation, however, saying Orozco had “no fault” on any of the three goals allowed vs. Costa Rica and it seems unlikely he’ll drop the Puebla-based defender for Michael Parkhurst, Evans’ replacement on the roster.
No matter what direction Klinsmann goes in, it’s clear improvement is necessary from the US after allowing six goals in their past two games. As expected, the consensus in camp is that they’ve got the players to do it against Mexico despite a key absence.
“Now it’s a problem to Jurgen who he’s going to pick for these types of games,” Beasley said. “That’s what you want. Since I’ve been around, I’ve never been a part of the program when there’s this much depth in our team.”