USA can’t afford Jrgen Klinsmann’s harmful tinkering against Costa Rica

The US are already lagging behind their rivals in World Cup qualifying. Their defenders in particular will need to improve at a venue where they are winless

If there was any consolation for USA after the 2-1 defeat to Mexico on Friday night ended the 15-year sequence of 2-0 wins in Columbus, it might have been that no record lasts forever. And as the team move on to their next World Cup qualifier in San Jose on Tuesday night, they could really do with doing what no US team has ever done in 10 games win in Costa Rica.

To anyone who finds that 0-8-2 record in Costa Rica puzzling, given that the US beat Costa Rica 4-0 in the Copa America just a few months ago, thats the beauty of Concacaf qualifiers. The regions qualifiers take place in a wide range of environments, from the cold of Columbus to the tropical heat of the Caribbean. So even for the traditionally dominant sides such as Mexico and the USA, the general rule of thumb is, win your home games, draw your away games, and anything else is a bonus.

The problem for the US is that theyve fallen behind in that simple formula after just one game, while Costa Rica are ahead of schedule. Los Ticos won on the road against Trinidad & Tobago on Friday, just before the US ended their run of Dos a Cero victories with the 2-1 loss to Mexico. In fact, all three road teams won in Fridays qualifiers, with Panama getting a surprise win in Honduras.

Of course, the USA have been here before. They played in Honduras in the opening game of the Hex stage for the 2014 World Cup, and lost 2-1. Then came the infamous Sporting News story that featured anonymous US players briefing against Jrgen Klinsmanns methods, followed by an even more infamous game against Costa Rica, played in blizzard conditions in Colorado.

The US won 1-0 on that occasion, though whats little remembered now was that they also caught a break with both other games in the group ending in a draw. So putting themselves behind the eight ball in the opening game didnt have any lasting effect on chasing the pacesetters. But under the current circumstances, a loss in Costa Rica would leave them six points off the leaders after just two games, while Mexico, on the road in Panama at the same time, could also be on maximum points and facing six out of eight home games, by Wednesday morning.

And the timing is difficult too the Hex started after the winter break in the year before the World Cup last time round, but commenced much earlier this time. Any team who gets a bad start gets the winter to stew on it. So, early as it is, if the US arent to be chasing for the rest of qualification they need at least a draw on Tuesday.

Costa Rica

Costa
Costa Rica are coming off a win against Trinidad & Tobago in World Cup qualifying. Photograph: Andrea de Silva/Reuters

Can the US get a draw? Well, one or two factors may mitigate Costa Ricas home advantage a little. When the two teams last met at this stage in 2013, a furious Costa Rican federation did everything to make sure that the US experienced difficulties to at least the same degree as theyd experienced in being made to play in the farcical snow conditions in Colorado. As the Guardians preamble for that game went:

The USA knew they werent going to get a warm welcome in Costa Rica for the return, and so far that welcome has included being sent through the regular immigration and customs lines; running the gauntlet of a crowd shouting abuse; eggs being thrown at the team bus; being forced to practice at a dairy farm after three facilities turned them down; not being provided with balls to practice; a threatened traffic slowdown en route to the game by Costa Rican taxi drivers; and most bizarrely a cow with an airhorn interrupting Jrgen Klinsmanns interviews. Basically, its a Concacaf road game, only more so.

A driven Costa Rica scored in the opening few minutes and went on to win 3-1, to end a then 12-game unbeaten streak for the USA.

So if theres consolation for the USA and a modest warning for Costa Rica, its that theres not the same intensity around this game as there was in 2013, and Costa Rica have also had to replace a couple of players through injury and suspension since Friday.

Theres still a question of what Costa Rica team will show up. After the fairytale run to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2014, coach Jorge Luis Pinto departed abruptly, and while his ultimate long term replacement Oscar Ramirez has steadied the team considerably, the current team to not feel like a continuum of that group.

That said, there are personnel holdovers from 2014. Joel Campbell got the third goal the last time these sides met, and is in the roster again, and Bryan Ruiz remains a perennial goalscoring danger. And of course theres Keylor Navas in goal maybe not the Navas of 2014, but still a great goalkeeper.

But perhaps the key to the game will be in midfield and particularly what gaps Christian Bolanos can exploit if the USA play like they did in the opening 30 minutes on Friday. Bolanos got one of Costa Ricas goals in Trinidad on Friday, and his MLS experience mean he will be familiar with many of the US team.

USA

So on Friday night, amid the febrile atmosphere of a game against Mexico, and in a seismic election week no less, Klinsmann decided to experiment with a 3-5-2 against master tinkerer Juan Carlos Osorio. Osorio adjusted his own teams formation within seconds of kickoff, and by the time the first half-hour was up, the Mexicans had scored once and hit the woodwork twice, as their attackers ran cheerfully into spaces left by US players working out the formation on the fly.

From there, the USA had their best period of the game by reverting to 4-4-2, and youd have to think Klinsmann will go back to that for Tuesdays game (Costa Rica will probably start in a 5-4-1 with Marcos Urea up front). Bobby Wood scored after being pushed into a more advanced position on Friday, and he and Jozy Altidore should lead the line, while Christian Pulisic looked no more or less effective when pushed out wide.

The big issues for Klinsmann were in defense on Friday. The three center-backs who started the game were pulled all over the place, while on the outside Fabian Johnson and Timothy Chandler had limited impact other than giving up space. Eventually Chandler made way for DeAndre Yedlin, and youd imagine Yedlin might start on Tuesday.

One player who wont be starting on Tuesday is Tim Howard, who picked up a season-ending abductor injury against Mexico. So Brad Guzan, currently frozen out at Middlesbrough, will get another chance in goal.

Klinsmann cannot afford another poor start, and his team probably need to keep sight of the fact that under the circumstances, not losing further ground to a likely rival in the final standings is preferable to being picked off for a loss while over-committing. It might be very telling who he chooses to use as a substitute though, if the game is tight heading into the closing stages. If you see Sacha Kljestan coming in, to try and pass behind the defense or drift into pockets of space in front of them, youll know that Klinsmann believes his team control their own destiny and just need some finesse. If you see Alan Gordon warming up, know that Klinsmann just needs a goal, any goal.

So its early in the Hex, but the major themes for the group, and the tenor for the USAs campaign in particular, could be set by Tuesday night.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/nov/15/usa-costa-rica-world-cup-qualifier-team-news-jurgen-klinsmann