MEXICO CITY — Controversy, injuries, late scratches and a blizzard mixed in for good measure.
The US national team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had enough to do just to put out a cohesive lineup on the field against Mexico on Tuesday night. And after the 0-0 draw, only the second World Cup qualifying point ever earned by the US away to Mexico, the German manager was lavishing his team in praise.
"We're very pleased with the result," Klinsmann said in his postgame press conference. "Mexico gave everything they had. Put us under a lot a lot of pressure and the way the team was organized, was connected, was committed, it was an unbelievable team effort and they deserve a huge, huge compliment.
"We had so many challenges over the last 10 days in terms of injuries, in terms of players not available," he continued. "People filled in after the Costa Rica game where they were completely exhausted in the snow blizzard game. Another two players out [in Jermaine Jones and Clarence Goodson]. … This group is ready for those challenges and they deserve a huge compliment."
During the Estadio Azteca walkthrough on Monday, Klinsmann says it became clear that the hamstring issue that Goodson was experiencing from the Costa Rica match would prevent him from playing. The central defender took himself out of the running for a starting spot and Klinsmann immediately turned to Sporting KC defender Matt Besler to fill in alongside LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez.
"I think we got to give credit a little bit to our January camp," Klinsmann said. "That gave us a chance actually to have Omar and Matt working day by day, basically side by side. There was already a very good understanding from them because they trained a month long together. So we were very calm and knew that once it happened with Clarence, that he couldn't go, that this is the next move. It's a logical move and a move with a lot of trust and belief in Matt."
Besler and Gonzalez enjoyed a strong match, snuffing out countless attacks by the Mexicans. Left back DaMarcus Beasley was also singled out for praise by Klinsmann – "another outstanding performance" – as well as goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who showed poise and personality filling in for No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Howard and registering another clean sheet.
"Brad's performance was huge. He stepped it up," Klinsmann said. "He was very vocal, great communication and gave them a lot of confidence throughout that the whole last 10 days. He understood the situation and he made the best out of it and made it clear that if anything comes up with Tim right now, 'I'm more than a No. 2.' That's what his signal was and he was fantastic."
In the meantime, Klinsmann is still undefeated all-time against the USA's biggest rivals in seven matches as a coach and player with a result that looks to have given the USMNT some of the swagger it had lost in Honduras back in February.
"We're on the right track here," Klinsmann concluded his press conference. "It's important that the players realize that in order to get to another level it's only getting there by doing more work and hopefully we lead by example in terms of working hard."