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Climate Change: Thoughts on USA 1 – 0 CRC

duece and herc

snow herc

 

There are stories in US soccer lore of the Guerra Fria, the series of sub-freezing qualifiers the United states played against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, culminating in early 2009 with a match that managed to throw in hurricane force winds, snow and hail.  With every retelling the weather gets worse, the crowd larger, the failure of the Mexican side more epic.  Last night’s match against Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colorado will likely attain the same legendary status in years to come, but won’t need any of the embellishment.

Already dubbed “The Battle for Hoth,” the match itself almost defies analysis; a gritty performance by an injury-depleted American side led by a coach who had the only hot seat for miles around, where a lucky bounce off a Costa Rican defender found Clint Dempsey who slotted it home for the only tally of the night.

The win, along with draws between Mexico & Honduras, and Panama & Jamaica, catapulted the Yanks to second place in the Hex, and dropped the Ticos to last, one point below a suddenly vulnerable group of Gurreros Aztecas.

Given the conditions its almost impossible to do player ratings, but here are a few observations from the match and its aftermath.

I don’t know whether the weather will change.  Don’t let anyone ever say that qualifying out of CONCACAF is easy.  The blizzard that turned Friday’s match into the final episode of St Elsewhere may have been only the latest in a series of natural disasters to afflict CONCACAF qualifying, which includes matches in 107 degree heat, matches in the most polluted air on earth, and matches in Seattle, but even former players as experienced as Alexi Lalas and Jimmy Conrad couldn’t remember ever seeing a match played to completion in so challenging an environment.

Logic Puzzle.  Think on this for a moment.  The starting American backline featured Clarence Goodson, with 27 national team caps coming into the night, Demarcus Beasley, 97,  Geoff Cameron, 8 and Omar Gonzalez, 3.  Each of them had started alongside each of the others once, but no three of them had ever started alongside each other.  This is, to the best of my research, the only time in the one hundred year history of US soccer this has happened.  Also, they played pretty well, all things considered.  Goodson called an intelligent defense, with much vocal assistance from Brad Guzan.  Demarcus Beasley, for his part, did well to play within himself, matching the moment with smart decisions and even a few key forays up the left flank after an early collision with Gonzalez cost him a tooth.  Run DMB’s performance may not have erased memories of his last disastrous outing in outside defense during the 2009 hex against  Honduras, but the US would not have won in the snow without him.

Captain Courageous.  Clint Dempsey is still injured.  Clint Dempsey is not match fit.  Clint Dempsey should not have been given the armband.  This was the song heard over and over prior to kickoff Friday night.  In response, all the man from N17 via Nagadoches did was score the game winner and gut out a 94 minute performance in snow up to his ankles, after having played all of 45 minutes in the last month.  On a team lacking several of its key personalities, he injected the necessary grit to grind out a win in unimaginable conditions.  So good for Clint.

Toaster Strudel for everyone.  The controversy entering this match swirled around Jurgen Klinsmann more densely than the snowflakes around Commerce City.  Allegations that he favored German American players, that he had no tactical acumen, that his chief assistant made Baldrick look like Stephen Hawking, that he had lost the team.  Friday night’s result may not have put paid to all the charges, but it does give the German some breathing space.  There’s an argument to be made, as Alexi Lalas said Saturday afternoon, that the outside pressure may have actually improved the performance of the team, giving them an us against the world mentality and singularity of purpose that might have been lacking in the full first eleven.

Respect, and a lack thereof.  Friday night saw two remarkable examples of fortitude in the face of adversity.  The first was the grounds crew at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, one of whom was apparently a Philadelphian, whose performance outshone anything else on the field  and who managed to keep the match going despite some the worst conditions ever seen in a professional soccer match.

snow crew

The other was demonstrated by the Costa Rican team.  We in the American soccer media have often used the convenient straw man of the dirty, diving Latin player, unable to cope with the cold, constantly looking for advantage with the referee rather than on the pitch.  There is, in fact, statistical research that bears out the basic truth of this assumption.  The Costa Rican team, however, did themselves proud Friday night.  given the opportunity to press for a suspension or abandonment of the game in the 55th minute, when the referee paused play to allow for snow removal, the Ticos on the field instead urged that the match be continued, despite the fact they were down on the scoreboard.  Their honesty and dedication to completing the game was shamed by their federations insistence on petitioning FIFA to replay the game based on the weather.  It is unlikely that anything will come of the petition, but it undercuts the decision made by the Ticos as sportsmen.

The US will now head south of the border, down Mexico way, for a rumble in the asphalt jungle with El Tri.  Stick with Philly Sports live for continuing coverage of USMNT on the road to Rio.

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