The United States men’s national team downed Costa Rica 1-0 Friday night in what will be remembered as one of the great soccer games played in the Americas. It wasn’t because of the tactics or the technique, but the setting: a driving snowstorm that both teams gutted through to play out an unforgettable match.
Depending on where you were sitting, it was either thriller or farce. There was talk after the game that the Costa Rican FA was preparing a protest; many American fans said it was one of the most enthralling matches they’d ever seen.
It was an emotional end to what United States defender Geoff Cameron admitted had been a difficult week.
“I think a lot of people wanted us to lose,” said Cameron. “But everything that happened this week, tonight, that all got thrown out the window. We showed that we stick together and that we can perform under pressure.”
The Americans got their World Cup campaign back on track with an emotional and inspirational win in incredible conditions. Their manager, Jurgen Klinsmann had called it a must-win, and win the USA did.
The game was played against the backdrop of dissent: eleven players were quoted anonymously in the Sporting News as being dissatisfied with the methods and tactics employed by coach Klinsmann. Klinsmann and several players reacted furiously to the story, but there was little question the story also hit home, becoming a locker room topic – and possibly, a major distraction. Would the German-Americans, supposedly maligned as a clique, pull together with the rest of the team? Would the USA come out with spirit – or would they be the same flat, tired bunch we saw in Honduras?
Michael Bradley said the Americans answered the questions – and their critics – tonight on the field.
“We are a team that has to play with desire, with passion, and a willingness to fight for one another,” said Bradley. “And after what happened this week, we all looked around at each other and said that things haven’t been where we have wanted them to be. So we went out and let our football talk.”
Played in a whiteout, and riddled with pratfalls, mistakes – and even a mid-game confab to decide if the game would even continue to be played – this is likely to go down as soccer’s equivalent of the Snow Bowl. Shovels were needed to clear the pitch. The lines couldn’t be seen. No matter. They played, and they won.
”It was difficult out here to see anything,” Dempsey said. ”We were able to come together when we needed to.”
It is difficult to describe the impact of this match and how powerful the crowd was here in Colorado tonight. But despite nearly four inches of snow on the ground by the game’s end, the fans never faltered – and neither did their team.
The USA got on the board early thanks to a wicked deflection: Jozy Altidore fired a ball in from about 22 yards that took a cut off a Costa Rican defender and fell right to Dempsey. He bundled it over the line, looked to see if the flag was up and then raced to the near touchline. That would be the only goal of the game, and as the match wore on, they clung to it like a life raft.
The USA had some hard breaks: they should have been awarded a penalty in the 42nd minute when Roy Miller clattered down Dempsey on the edge of the area; Graham Zusi was then felled by Ariel Rodriguez but Joel Aguilar waved both away. In fairness, the snow was a factor – but because the flurries were so fast and thick, no one could see the lines, either.
But the USA also caught a break when the Ticos had a goal disallowed for offside. It’s unclear how anyone was able to see anything in the whirl of the snow, but the decision stood over Costa Rica’s protests – and the Americans were able to grind the game out.
The stakes now shift south to Mexico and the Azteca, where the USA must play their arch-rivals on Tuesday. The Americans beat Mexico in a friendly in August, but have never topped El Tri at the Azteca in a qualifier. After this, Klinsmann, and his team will believe they can do anything.
“The Hex is all about adaptation,” said Klinsmann, “and we did that tonight. We are now going to go and play in more altitude and hotter weather, and we will have to adapt again.”
But for the players – many of whom looked as tired as they did relieved – this game closed a painful chapter, and gives them the foundation to move forward,
“We can build on this,” said Clint Dempsey, who scored the winner early on, a tap-in off a deflected shot that drooped in the snow. “We can use this to start a run, and build confidence, and when you have confidence, you can win games. I know that, because I am grateful that Klinsmann showed the confidence in me when things weren’t going so well with that situation at Fulham. And look what happened.”