The aftermath of victory
Intangible Lessons Learned in a Crazy Week for U.S.
ASN's Jon Arnold was front and center in Denver for one of the strangest periods in recent United States national team history. He returns from the snow with a few thoughts.
March 25, 2013
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There were several lessons learned in Denver last week when the United States national team capped one of its craziest weeks ever with a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica. Among them:
The match commissioner can call off a match before it starts. After it begins, the referee has the final decision.
Coloradans and American soccer fans in general are particularly hearty.
Steer into the slide when driving on ice.
Something more concrete? That was a bit harder to come by in the slush and snow. Tactics kind of went floating off into the air like the vapor the players breathed out in the second half when the strategy was to thump away anything that had even the potential to become dangerous. It wasn’t pretty soccer, but the celebrations afterward were easy on the eyes for the American soccer community.
The week started in what seemed like a frenzy with a handful of regulars missing the match because of injury. The defense in particular lacked experience, as Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, and Edgar Castillo all were out with injuries. Veteran leadership also seemed in short supply since Tim Howard has a broken back and Carlos Bocanegra wasn’t called in to the team.
That frenzy seemed minor after the release of an article written by the Sporting News’ Brian Straus that documented numerous anonymous sources complaining about the direction of the team under Jurgen Klinsmann and assistant Martin Vasquez. It appeared to reveal a brewing vat of dissent in the locker room getting ready to boil over and cast an ominous shadow on a home qualifying match that was already tabbed as a must-win.
Then there was the match itself—a true sporting spectacle. Snow started falling just prior to the match after the city had produced a nice stretch of comfortable weather in the build up. As you know, it didn’t relent and the match was in danger of being suspended at times with accumulation making it difficult to see the pitch, much less pass the ball.
So what did we learn from the whirlwind week? It comes down to the intangibles. You can’t quantify determination, but you also can’t deny DaMarcus Beasley showed it in abundance Friday, even if he had to sacrifice a tooth or two to trouble Costa Rica on the wings. It’s fair to say Clint Dempsey showed leadership, scoring the match’s lone goal while wearing the captain’s armband and generally terrorizing the Ticos. It sure didn’t look like there were any cohesion problems, and Klinsmann’s tactics worked out while they could. The Americans got more width than they have in any meaningful match under the German and kept possession well.
Speaking of Klinsmann, the hand he was dealt was not a strong one; but the troubled coach kept his cards close to the vest during the week and put out a brilliant starting line-up that earned the entire prize. Now the ante is higher, making the pot that much more lucrative. Going into the den—and din—that is the Azteca and coming out with any sort of result would be a remarkable end to one of the wildest seven days in U.S. soccer history. A point, or three, will have many of the critics who were at their loudest last week cheering Klinsmann's name Tuesday night. He’ll again have to make some adjustments since Jermaine Jones is headed back to Germany with a nasty ankle injury.
With Mexico in a similar situation to the one Klinsmann’s squad faced Friday, it will take a masterful performance from the Stars and Stripes, but after this week it’s hard to be surprised by anything.
Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a writer based in Arizona and is ASN's CONCACAF correspondent.