By Alex Baker
After suffering a disappointing loss to Colombia in its Copa America opener on Friday night, the United States Men’s National Team heads into Tuesday’s clash with fellow CONCACAF side Costa Rica badly in need of a result.
In the wake of Friday’s thrashing, USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann raised eyebrows with his post-match assertion that apart from the two unanswered goals scored by Colombia, the two teams were “even.”
While by the light of day, the U.S.’s performance in a game against the side ranked third in the world, a 2-0 loss doesn’t necessarily mean the sky is falling . . . yet.
The bitterness surrounding the loss to Colombia is perhaps more due to the careless manner in which the U.S. gave up two goals – one on a corner, the other on a questionable call for handball. And the fact that Colombia seemed to be playing in second gear and still cruised to a fairly comfortable win.
USMNT striker Clint Dempsey called Tuesday’s game a “must-win” for the U.S., although a tie with the Ticos could still put the Yanks on a path to advance to the knockout stages; provided they could muster a win against Paraguay in their final group stage match.
Heading into Tuesday’s clash at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the U.S. can take some encouragement from the fact that Costa Rica was also disappointing in its opener, despite managing a scoreless draw with Paraguay on Saturday.
Also in the U.S.’s favor is that it will face a somewhat depleted Costa Rican team, with first-choice keeper Keylor Navas ruled out of the tournament due to injury, and starting center back Kendall Watson suspended after receiving a red card against Paraguay.
Klinsmann, on the other hand, will have the benefit of having his entire squad available to choose from. And unlike Friday night, when Colombia supporters were in the majority, the U.S. is also likely to benefit from the backing of a pro-American crowd in Chicago, where there are not known to be large numbers of Costa Rican ex-pats.
But home-field advantage aside, the U.S. will need to be sharper in the attack and less careless in defense against Costa Rica, which has come out on top the last two times the teams met. Part of the solution may lie in Klinsmann shuffling his team selection.
One possible option could involve dropping Dempsey to the bench in the role of impact sub and starting a true striker like Bobby Wood at center forward. There have also been calls for Klinsmann to start Darlington Nagbe, the Portland Timbers playmaker who has thus far impressed in the limited number of appearances he’s made in a U.S. jersey.
While a draw would at least keep Klinsmann’s team alive to fight another day, a win could put them in pole position to follow Colombia out of the group. A loss on the other hand, would also certainly see the USMNT suffer the embarrassing ignominy of failing to make it out of the opening round of a tournament being played on its own soil.
Photos courtesy of ISI, Casey Valentine, John Todd, and John Dorton.