U.S. Men's National Team
5 Things the U.S. Needs to Do to Defeat Costa Rica
November 14, 2016
JURGEN KLINSMANN'S U.S. men's national team will have its back against the wall Tuesday night when it faces Costa Rica in San Jose—a place it has never won. Against Mexico, the U.S. showed some promise in the second half but lost the game thanks to a strange tactical decision to start the game and a late mental lapse in the final moments.
Fortunately, the lessons learned against Mexico are abundantly clear. Securing a result on the road against Costa Rica won't be easy, but here is what the Yanks need to do to pull it off.
1. Use a Familiar formation
The 3-4-3 utilized against Mexico was a disaster—the U.S. could have been down 3-0 in the opening 25 minutes.
The 4-4-2 makes sense for most American players, and Klinsmann should stick with it. Yes, there has been a lot of talk in recent years about players stepping outside their comfort zones, but there is also a value for players to be comfortable. If the 4-4-2 is the most comfortable and natural for the U.S., Klinsmann should use it in must-win games.
(In some instances the 4-2-3-1 also makes sense but this iteration of the U.S. men's national team needs Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood on the field together. Both played well against El Tri and both will be needed against the Ticos.)
The 4-4-2 dictates certain roster decisions: Wood and Altidore are likely to start up top, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones will almost certainly start in central midfield, John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez will probably anchor the backline, Brad Guzan will be in goal, and Timothy Chandler will likely get the nod at right back. (Klinsmann said Chandler was ahead of DeAndre Yedlin on Friday.)
But Klinsmann still has several important decisions to make: Will Christian Pulisic play left wing or have a “free-ranging” role like he did on Friday? Will Fabian Johnson stay in the midfield or revert to left back? If Johnson is in the midfield, who plays left back—Michael Orozco or Matt Besler? Who plays right midfield if Johnson is at left back—Alejandro Bedoya or Sacha Kljestan ? Or does Klinsmann perhaps make the surprise move to go with a youngster like Lynden Gooch or Julian Green?
2. Support Bradley and Jones
Bradley and Jones have been a central midfield pairing since before Klinsmann's reign. But the German manager has utilized the pair heavily in his five years as the U.S. coach, and the pair rarely perform well in the same contest.
The question is what gives these players the best chance to succeed? Before age caught up with him, Kyle Beckerman often tied the midfield together nicely as he sat back and played in a very disciplined manner, connecting a huge percentage of his passes and doing the dirty work in front of the backline—which allowed Bradley and Jones to each have a lot of freedom.
This is not the case anymore and no one on this team can perform the Beckerman role. To fit into a 4-4-2, Bradley and Jones are going to be more restrained and neither can operate with the freedom they prefer. To be blunt, one of them will have to sit back and defend. Outside midfielders will also need to pinch into the middle and provide support. Whether that is Bedoya, Kljestan, or Pulisic (who all prefer to play centrally anyway), there is the need for support in the middle.
Unfortunately for Klinsmann, getting the most out of his central midfield is more challenging than ever. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds in San Jose.
3. Do Better on Set Pieces
In close games, set pieces often play a huge role. It's easy to imagine another set piece playing a role in the outcome against Costa Rica. The U.S. lost to Mexico not only on a blown assignment marking Rafa Marquez but also on its failure to be dangerous on corner kicks and free kicks. There was one nice ball in the first half where Bradley swung a free kick to the far post for Altidore who headed it back across the goal, but the U.S. team needs more.
Omar Gonzalez had his ups and downs against Mexico, but he will need to be more of a presence if he gets the start against Costa Rica—both defensively and offensively. He is the best aerial player on this roster and that is a weapon the U.S. team can ill-afford to waste.
4. Get Great Goalkeeping
Tim Howard is not making the trip to San Jose after suffering an adductor injury in the first half against Mexico. This will be another opportunity for Brad Guzan to deliver a signature win for the Americans.
The U.S. has never won in Costa Rica and many of the losses have been ugly. Costa Rica is the favorite against the U.S. team tomorrow night and Guzan will almost surely have to make multiple big-time saves if the U.S. wants to walk out of Costa Rica with a win or even a tie.
Expectations are tempered with Guzan riding the bench at Middlesbrough, but he still has all the potential to deliver a great performance.
5. Be Ruthless in the Final Third
One of the bigger disappointments for the U.S. team in the loss to Mexico was the delivery of the final ball in the final third. There were many times when U.S. players got into dangerous positions but the through-ball or the cross was severely lacking. Johnson, Bradley, Jones, and Chandler all misfired in crucial moments.
All of these players are capable of executing final balls better than they showed against Mexico and a better performance from them could lead to an upset win on Tuesday night. But early in the match it will be interesting to see how the U.S. team is able to hit key passes deep into the attack.