U.S. 'snow-verturns' Costa Rica

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

Tuesday's World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Costa Rica was all about adapting to the wintry conditions and on the night, the Americans dealt with the steady snowfall just well enough to claim a critical 1-0 victory over the Ticos.

Clint Dempsey bagged the all-important goal in the 16th minute, pouncing on Jozy Altidore's deflected shot to sidefoot it past Costa Rica goalkeeper Keilor Navas. The goal allowed the U.S. to garner its first victory in this final round of World Cup qualifying but more importantly, gave the Americans some priceless momentum ahead of Tuesday's titanic clash against Mexico in the Estadio Azteca.

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While this match was no advertisement for the Beautiful Game, it was a lesson in how simplifying one's approach under difficult conditions (and not just the weather) can pay off. This proved to be the difference on the night as the U.S. actually looked more composed on the ball than it did in last month's 2-1 loss to Honduras.

Costa Rica slowly crept into the match starting around the 35th minute as the Ticos started to win more second balls. But by that time the U.S. was already ahead and its makeshift defense, whose composition had caused plenty of consternation ahead of the match, held firm. Not even a brief suspension of play in the 55th minute while the officials debated a postponement could alter the team's collective focus.

Given all that had happened in the last week -- in particular, a Sporting News article reporting player dissatisfaction with Klinsmann's methods and tactics -- the victory was about as sweet as they come, with the U.S. revealing its significant reservoirs of character. Now, the Americans can head into the Mexico match with a measure of confidence.

The conditions in Mexico City, including what figures to be a raucous crowd, will no doubt pose a significant challenge. But fresh off a victory where playing effective soccer proved to be a boon for the U.S., the Americans have a ready-made lesson that they can apply on Tuesday night.

Player grades: (0-10; 10=best)
G: Brad Guzan, 6.5 -- Solid in all respects in the first half but sent U.S. hearts a-fluttering by fanning on a cross early in the second. There were no complaints about his handling, especially under the difficult conditions.

D: DaMarcus Beasley, 7 -- Not bad for a guy playing his first World Cup qualifier in over three years. Beasley defended capably, including a vital recovery run late in the first half. He got forward to good effect as well.

D: Clarence Goodson, 8 -- An immense performance in all phases whether it was in the air, on the ground, or with the ball at his feet. Completely justified the faith put in him by Klinsmann.

D: Omar Gonzalez, 7 -- Looked a little tentative in playing the ball forward but showed an immense improvement overall compared to last month's game against Honduras. He provided a vital block of a Bryan Ruiz shot in the first half and he was his usual dominant self in the air throughout.

D: Geoff Cameron, 3.5 -- The weakest link by far. He defended decently enough at times but took far too many risks when in possession, also conceding some dangerous fouls close to goal.

M: Jermaine Jones, 5 -- When he simplified his game, he was solid. When he didn't, his passes failed to find their mark. Should have been booked -- or worse -- for a silly elbow to Ruiz's face midway through the second half.

M: Michael Bradley, 7 -- Settled into a dedicated holding role early and helped the U.S. attack find a semblance of rhythm -- not exactly easy in the snow.

M: Graham Zusi, 5 -- Seemed to struggle to make a consistent impact on the game but perked up in the second half when his crosses began to find their intended target.

M: Clint Dempsey, 7 -- Did what a captain does and stepped up when it mattered. His optimistic run on Altidore's deflected shot led to the goal while he was also a steady threat playing in an attacking midfield role.

M: Herculez Gomez, 6.5 -- Put in a solid shift on the left wing, keeping possession well. Also provided some crucial defensive help to Beasley.

F: Jozy Altidore, 6.5 -- Played the target man role well, using his physical prowess to great effect. His aggressive mindset also helped create the goal, a neat contract to his deft hold-up play. Would have been more effective if he had gotten even a sliver of help from the referee.

Subs:
M: Eddie Johnson, 5 -- Had a few decent touches in the attacking half only to be stymied by the conditions.

M: Maurice Edu, 6 -- Provided some badly needed fresh legs for the U.S. midfield late on.

M: Kyle Beckerman, NR -- Brief cameo for the Real Salt Lake midfielder.

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