COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Costa Rica had a point. They really did.
The second half of Friday’s World Cup qualifier was not a soccer match; it was a battle of balance against three inches of snow. It was closer to a game of broomball than a game of soccer. The playing conditions in the second half of the US’ 1-0 victory over Costa Rica were not suitable for a proper soccer match, and it was unquestionably difficult for the teams to carry out any semblance of soccer normalcy.
Along with several other media members, I felt a sense of sympathy for the Costa Ricans as I walked towards their locker room.
But I walked away with an entirely different impression.
Post-game, the Costa Ricans seemed to take the approach of an upset child: Kick, yell and scream louder, and maybe somebody will respond.
Their reaction was so uniform, from the players to head coach Jorge Luis Pinto to federation president Eduardo Li, that it almost seemed rehearsed. Scripted. Pre-determined.
The Costa Ricans’ minds didn’t seem to fully be into the game, particularly in the final 45 minutes. After Pinto barked at El Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar during a brief stoppage of play in the 55th minute, with Pinto asking Aguilar to call the match early, Pinto’s team followed his example. Shrugged shoulders, apathetic stares and slumped heads were the rule of thumb on the Costa Rican side of the pitch. They didn’t seem to respond well to the adversity of the playing conditions; rather, they seemed prepared to use it as an excuse, despite the fact that they nearly equalized on multiple occasions.
The Costa Ricans delivered several threatening set pieces and looked dangerous, even having a second half goal called back on a narrow offsides call. The visitors’ physical style of play translated reasonably well to the slick conditions. It wouldn't have been a surprise if they'd found the equalizer - for all the posturing, they did carve out the better chances.
But from Christian Bolanos to Álvaro Saborío to Pinto to Li, the Costa Ricans were united in whining and complaining, coming up with the most inflammatory things to say about the pitch, the refs, and even their opponents (Pinto wrapped up his press conference by throwing a fit about U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati attending the conference).
As disgraceful as the Costa Ricans deemed the playing conditions to be, their wildly over-the-top, childish reaction post-game was equally embarrassing.
Meanwhile, the US, who – granted – were leading almost the entire way following Clint Dempsey’s 16th minute goal, seemed to embrace the adverse conditions. One of the lasting images from Friday’s game will be defender Geoff Cameron helping and pushing along a member of the grounds crew, who was clearing the snow off the halfway touch line.
Afterwards, after personally speaking with Li and several players myself, I left the Costa Rican locker room with a different impression than when I first entered.
The visitors were so busy trying to win a public relations battle that they ultimately lost a game that could’ve been theirs, acting like they were the only ones who were on the field in the snow.
Perhaps it was a difference in mentalities – and not the playing conditions, as the Costa Ricans insist – that truly was the difference-maker on Friday night.
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.