The U.S. men's national team needs to shake off their loss to Mexico quickly, because World Cup qualifying continues Tuesday in Costa Rica. The USMNT has never won in Costa Rica, but after a tough loss to Mexico at home on Friday, coach Jurgen Klinsmann will feel pressure to get some sort of result. A loss could be a disaster and, all things considered, a draw would be a success – but here's what Klinsmann needs to think about if the USMNT is going to try to win.
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Use a formation the players know
The biggest problem with the USMNT's effort against Mexico on Friday is that the USMNT players clearly didn't know what they were doing. Klinsmann had them line up in a 3-5-2 (he calls it a 3-4-3) that the team had never used before, and it did not work at all. They looked disorganized and uncomfortable, and the USMNT could not hold onto possession. The right time for Klinsmann to try a new, unfamiliar formation is not the first games of the Hex, and he needs to go back to what the players know.
This is worth emphasizing. Going with the three-back against Mexico left the USMNT very exposed. In defensive phases of the game, players looked unsure of their positioning and had trouble recognizing the spaces they needed to get into. Without the right organization to make the system work, there were gaps all over the field for Mexico to exploit.
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Put players in confidence-boosting roles for success
Klinsmann is the ultimate tinkerer. He likes to move players into different roles and get them out of their comfort zone. But he can't do that against Costa Rica. He needs to put each player in a role they will feel confident in and that gives them the maximum chance at succeeding. For instance, center back Matt Besler was asked to play left back against Mexico, and didn't look that comfortable doing it. Throughout his tenure, Klinsmann has often plopped players in new roles and it rarely works out well, so he should avoid surprises on Tuesday.
Work on set pieces
The USMNT nearly eked out a result against Mexico on Friday, until a set piece in the 89th minute. Rafa Marquez nodded a header home, and it couldn't have been any easier. There was no one marking him and there was no USMNT defender on the back post. Klinsmann said John Brooks lost his mark, which is concerning if true, because Brooks wasn't anywhere near Marquez on the play. Jozy Altidore was closest to Marquez, but paid him no attention and just sort of hung out, guarding no one. Everyone needs to know their role and the Americans, who have a physical advantage on set pieces, need to use restarts to their advantage.
Don't be afraid to counterattack
There are no style points in the Hex. Costa Rica like to attack aggressively, but they can overextend themselves sometimes. There's nothing wrong with the USMNT absorbing pressure and taking their chances on the counter when Costa Rica pushes too far up the field. If Costa Rica comes out with that kind of pressure, the "bunker and counter" approach would be a smart one for the USMNT.
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Get Sacha Kljestan on the field
If the USMNT opts to sit back a bit to avoid opening themselves up like they did so often again Mexico, and if they look to play on the counter, Kljestan is a good player to have in the midfield. He is good in transition and he can get service to Jozy Altidore up top quickly. Getting Kljestan on the field may very well mean the USMNT switches to a 4-2-3-1, but given the style they may have to play to absorb Costa Rica's, that would not be a bad tactical setup. Kljestan has proved himself and it may be time to give him an important role.