In the week leading up to USA vs Costa Rica, American soccer fans learned two things: 1) The Sporting News still exists, and 2) Fans weren’t the only ones uneasy about the state of the national team. I am on record with my belief that Jurgen Klinsmann is either a visionary or a crazy person. But we should all realize: barring a catastrophic collapse, Klinsmann will be the American coach throughout qualifying. U.S. Soccer owes Klinsmann about $4 million between now and August 2014. He’s staying. It’s the same principle that kept my dad in his seat through an entire Broadway production of Cats; once he sunk $140 on a ticket, no amount of jazz hands or flouncing around in tights was going to get him out of his seat.
Tonight’s lineup: Guzan | Beasley, Gonzalez, Goodson, Cameron | Gomez, Jones, Bradley, Zusi | Dempsey, Altidore. I have watched a lot of Aston Villa this year (I have a high pain threshold), which is why I am OK with Guzan being between the posts and Eric Lichaj being at home in his jammies. I also think the decision to leave Bocanegra home is defensible. But I have two big problems with this roster: Chris Pontius and Sean Franklin should be on it. Franklin is a good fullback option and anyone who thinks Brek Shea is better than Chris Pontius is watching different games than I am.
Here’s kickoff from the Ice Planet Hoth (almost went with “the wall that guards the Seven Kingdoms”… pick whichever nerd reference you prefer). Are they really going to play this match? They just started and the field is already whiter than a Tea Party meeting in Maine.
10’ – The U.S. has started well, but it’s clear that the snow will have a huge effect on this match. That probably helps Costa Rica; unusual conditions usually help the underdog. Look at it this way: suppose Stephen Hawking and I both take IQ tests. If it’s a fair test, he will score higher. Now, suppose we each downed a bottle of absinthe before the test. Under those unusual conditions, I might end up with the higher score.
15’ – Goal USA! Dempsey cleans up a deflected shot by Altidore! Great start! Only a jerk would bring up the fact that we took 1-0 leads in our losses to Honduras and Jamaica!
20’ – A weird bounce plus a slip by Beasley leads to a chance for Costa Rica, but it’s snuffed out. Odds of a fluke goal have never been higher.
24’ – Jermaine Jones is down on the field. Is he staying down so that the grounds crew can finish clearing the lines?
26’ – The ball clearly goes out of play, but it’s not immediately called. The blizzard is making the referees even more blind than usual.
30’ – The snow has a weird effect on Jermaine Jones’ baby afro: it lands on the tips first, but as the match goes on it works its way deeper into the ‘do. His hair was already Seacresting at kickoff and right now it’s at Half John Slattery. When he reaches full Frederick Douglass, the match is called.
41’ – Penalty non-calls…plural! First Dempsey is tripped, then Zusi is taken down one second later! Terrible non-calls. Can that be blamed on the snow? Is it because the U.S. are debuting their all white snow-camouflage jerseys tonight?
42’ – Check the referee’s phone records – any calls from Singapore on there?
44’ – Costa Rica with a chance, but Gonzalez slides in and makes the block. He literally slid in. On a toboggan.
45’ – The U.S. are playing well, but let’s take a minute to talk about how poorly Costa Rica are playing. They’re awful. Say what you will about MLS, but those teams play defense. Costa Rica are not.
Halftime: 1-0 USA. That early goal was huge; it will probably get more difficult to score as conditions get worse. I also think that because rescheduling this match would be a nightmare, they’re going to push forward no matter how many fingers are lost to frostbite.
46’ – The grounds crew worked straight through halftime, but the field still looks like the surface of Tony Montana’s desk. There’s not going to be any real soccer played in these conditions; it’s just a question of who wants it more.
49’ – No matter what happens tonight, we won’t really have any data to assess the team’s progress under Klinsmann. What’s happening right now isn’t soccer.
50’ – I’m thinking about who we have on the bench, but not because I’m wondering who might get subbed in; I’m wondering who will be eaten first if conditions get worse.
51’ – Goodson bravely sticks his head out to block a free kick. Gutsy play. I’d like to see Jim Rome stick his head in front of a soccer ball moving 65 mph on a freezing cold day. Seriously: can we please make that happen?
55’ – The referee has stopped the match! What blizzard? It’s a couple of flakes! Apparently the Match Commissioner (what’s a Match Commissioner?) has called for the match to be stopped. The referee is consulting with the players. Good – that’s how we make decisions in this country: we VOTE! Except that only Ohio and Florida count. Jozy (Boca Raton) and Zusi (Orlando) will be making our decision.
57’ – Dempsey with a nice volley, but it’s saved! Dempsey is wearing short sleeves, because what good are tats if you cover them up?
60’ – Isn’t now the perfect time for a tactical change? I say bring in Boyd and just hoof long balls up top.
67’ – Jones could have seen yellow or red for a push on Ruiz (not a card in my opinion, but that’s a risky play). I’m surprised Jones’ reputation didn’t precede him.
69’ – A Costa Rican goal is called back on what has to be the offside call of the year! Seriously: on a set piece, in the snow, with the ball in the back of the net? Well done, linesman.
80’ – The U.S. are really gutting this one out. They’re fighting for balls, staying compact on defense, being smart with the ball, and Guzan is making saves. Great effort under terrible conditions.
89’ – We continue to block Costa Rica’s free kicks, and Guzan is still making saves. In these conditions, any save is a great save.
Full time: 1-0 USA! A result we really needed in a match we’ll never forget. Gutsy, gutsy performance from our guys. You have to be impressed with the effort and commitment.
Guzan: 6.5. Misplayed one corner kick, but was otherwise solid. Smartly booted the ball downfield whenever it was played to him.
Beasley: 7. Beasley was great. Arrested Development is making new episodes. It’s 2003 all over again.
Goodson: 8. Had about as good of a game as a central defender can have without scoring a goal. Was all over the field and didn’t make mistakes.
Gonzalez: 7. This wasn’t like the Canada match, in which Gonzalez helped keep a clean sheet but didn’t have anything to do. Gonzo won a lot of important balls both on the ground and in the air.
Cameron: 3.5. The guy none of us worried about had the worst match of anyone on the team. On a night straight from the Ice Age, he looked glacially slow.
Gomez: 6. I’m not in love with putting Gomez on the wing, where his ability to strike balls and get behind the defense is reduced, but his work rate is a huge asset.
Jones: 6. The Sporting News article questioned some of the Ger-mericans’ commitment to the team. Jones played 83 tough minutes in the snow on a bad ankle. I don’t think we should question his commitment.
Bradley: 6.5. Was more active in the first half when you could actually play through the midfield.
Zusi: 6. Good work rate, generated some offense. Adding Zusi to the team is one thing Klinsmann has gotten right.
Dempsey: 7.5. He’s barely played in a month, but he really showed up tonight. Maybe Klinsmann’s distant-and-unapproving-father routine is working.
Altidore: 7.5. No, he didn’t score. No, that doesn’t matter; he was excellent tonight.
Johnson: 4. Very disappointed with his work rate. You’re a sub; run around like a madman.
Edu: 4. Tried to actually pass the ball around. Bad idea.
Beckermann: No rating, though his dreads provided sort of a faux fur covering that was perfect for the occasion.