Was that the way that the U.S. wanted to start qualifying? No. Is history remotely in their favor to bounce back on Tuesday in Costa Rica? Not really.
Are the Americans doomed? Not even close.
Yes, losing to Mexico at home, especially to start the Hexagonal, is a blow. But that blow is mostly to the pride, and not necessarily to qualifying hopes for the U.S. Losses happen in the Hex; teams that advance are the ones who figure out how to get over them. The Stars and Stripes have Costa Rica in San Jose, where historically their record is woeful. They have never won there, and lost the last two editions of World Cup Qualifying there by a score of 3-1. Are the U.S. capable of grabbing points here? Absolutely. Does it look great for them to do so? Not really, but how they come out of the loss in Columbus will go a long way to determining their fate in Costa Rica. There are still plenty of stories to be told in this edition of the Hex, and the end of Dos a Cero isn’t a funeral march for the U.S., either.
W (2-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
W (4-3) - Russia - Friendly
W (3-1) - Panama - WCQ
W (1-0) - Haiti - WCQ
W (3-2) - Colombia - Copa America
L (1-2) - Mexico - WCQ
D (1-1) - New Zealand - Friendly
W (2-0) - Cuba - Friendly
W (4-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
W (6-0) - St. Vincent and the Grenadines - WCQ
What to Watch For:
Matter of Motivation - The last time the U.S. traveled to Costa Rica, the Ticos rode a wave of emotion stemming from the infamous “Snow Clasico” in Colorado, where the U.S. took a 1-0 win in a game that, admittedly, should have been postponed due to weather conditions that made a game essentially unplayable. Feeling wronged, Costa Rica trounced the U.S. on their home soil and went on to reach the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup. The Ticos are riding a bit of a high at the moment, as they’ve won their last five games in a row...but the sixth game was a 4-0 loss to the U.S., where they were outplayed, and more importantly, outcoached. The U.S. will have a chip on its shoulder, sure, but I don’t expect the Ticos to be lacking in fire for this one.
Elephant, Meet Room - Let’s get it out of the way: the tactical switch by Jurgen Klinsmann for Mexico was an utter failure. Sure, a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 can help overload the midfield and press opponents who rely on midfield service, but your team also has to know how to play that formation. It’s clear the U.S. did not (surprise. They have never played a 3-4-3 before), and it took the players telling Klinsmann the formation wasn’t working to bring about a switch. Ouch. Klinsmann absolutely has to make sure his players are comfortable with the formation and tactical nuances before he throws out crap like that, and a talented Costa Rican side might tempt him to give his team an exotic tactical edge again, but if the U.S. is to get any points here, they need to know how to play the formation they’ve been given. That seems like obvious advice, but hey.
Keep the Positives - For as much hand-wringing that loss against Mexico caused, there was some legitimately good things to take away from the game. Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood looked great with the shift into the 4-4-2, and Jozy’s holdup game was particularly important for the U.S. The Mexican defense didn’t have an answer for it, because Jozy is probably as strong as almost any defender in the world. He kept his touches under control and let the midfield catch up to him, and notched an assist to boot. Christian Pulisic proved he has the goods even against very good competition on a team that’s not dominant. John Brooks overcame an early yellow to put together a very solid and mature performance, the last corner kick notwithstanding (which was mostly his fault, admittedly), Omar Gonzalez looked like a suitable backup for Geoff Cameron in a 4-4-2, and even Timmy Chandler got considerably better as the game wore on. Yeah, there was a lot not to like about that game. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones didn’t play well. There was a weird formation. DeAndre Yedlin isn’t a winger and Michael Orozco is still playing games. But try to keep the long view here. Mexico finished the 2013 Hex with a record of 2-3-5. They won two games. So yeah, the U.S. needs to improve. But that second half showed they should easily have enough to qualify for Russia, and they aren’t remotely close to running out of time yet.
Sorry, Haters - Jurgen Klinsmann’s job isn’t in danger even if the U.S. lose this game, too.
The only way I see USSF ditching Klinsmann mid-Hex is if he loses the first 5 games or something crazy like that. Otherwise, we have him until Russia and/or the end of the Hex, should we not qualify.
What will injuries and lessons learned do to Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup this time around?
Injuries and fitness are bound to figure into this one. Obviously Howard is gone, and I dropped Jermaine Jones because he didn’t play very well and he played for 90 minutes after Klinsmann explicitly said he wasn’t fit enough to go for 90 minutes. I doubt three days rest including a travel day will help him out there. Plus, I still think Sacha Kljestan is vital to the U.S. posing a real, consistent attacking threat. Wood, Altidore, and Pulisic stay after good performances against Mexico, and Bradley does too, because Klinsmann never drops him. Alejandro Bedoya slots in on the right because we’re playing a normal formation that we’re used to playing and not asking Timmy Chandler to be a winger. DeAndre Yedlin looks like he’s back to being Klinsmann’s speed cheat code on the wings as opposed to a defender, which is what he is. I digress. Brooks and Gonzo stay in the middle, and Fabian Johnson slots over to left back. Besler just didn’t hack it as a true left back against Mexico, and committed many slow fouls that gave Mexico free kicks in dangerous places. If there’s one thing the U.S. doesn’t need, it’s Bryan Ruiz getting potshots from 20 yards out.
So, there you have it. Feel free to weep with me when he doesn’t do any of this and starts Michael Orozco and Graham Zusi instead.