CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Saturday, March 23, 2013
In a scene that evoked reservations about holding a game in Denver in March, with snow billowing and obscuring play and visibility alike, as the U.S. got back on track in its campaign to qualify for Brazil.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose to field a back line of Geoff Cameron, Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez and DaMarcus Beasley, with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley manning the center midfield in front, and Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez taking up wide positions. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore led the attack, while Brad Guzan manned the net.
Amid hopes that the storm would pass and fears that the game would be postponed, the teams took the field and began a cold evening of play, cheered on by the raucous support of 19,000 fans braving the wintry conditions.
It was slow moving for the first minutes of the game as players on both sides adjusted to the way the ball moved in the snow and the wind, and how their cleats gripped the surface.
Despite the slow start, the U.S. built the game with possession and searched out a weakness in the Costa Rican defense, and found it in the 16th minute when Dempsey executed a nice turn with the ball about 35-yards from goal, avoiding his defender and running towards goal down the center of the field. He passed to his left to Altidore who had his back to goal about 19-yards out. Altidore did well to control the ball, turning away from the defense and getting space for a shot, hitting the ball towards goal.
The shot took a deflection, and fell in the path of Dempsey who had continued his run into the box, and was now left unattended to as the defense had been entirely drawn to Altidore. Dempsey finished the ball easily as the goalkeeper scrambled to reset himself after the deflection.
The team and the crowd erupted, and what happened next was 74 minutes plus injury time of perseverance, surviving the snow and keeping the Ticos away from Guzan's goal. The referee paused the game in the 55th minute to consult with the match commissioner and decide the fate of the game. With the threat of a loss of the one goal lead and full 90-minute replay at hand, the U.S. team surrounded Joel Aguillar and appealed to continue the game.
The crowd chanted its support and the Ticos expressed their frustration with the conditions. After giving time for groundsmen to clear the lines of snow, Aguillar whistled for the game to continue, despite the snow coming up to the tops of players' shoes in some parts of the field.
With the game resumed, the defense buckled down and kept the threats from Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz pushed to the side. Regardless, Saborio showed his quality in the 60th minute when he took a seemingly harmless ball played diagonally across the box to the Guzan's left, putting the Real Salt Lake striker at a sharp angle and moving away from goal, but he hooked his body around and hit a powerful half volley that Guzan did well to stop and prevent a dangerous rebound. About 10 minutes later the Ticos thought they found the tying goal, but Michael Umana was flagged down by the linesman for offsides as he headed the ball past Guzan.
The U.S. held the lead until the end, and exulted in the victory that put them above the scrutiny and into second place, taking advantage of ties in the other evening's games. It was a gutsy performance in adverse conditions, and the players showed their elation on and off the field.
The U.S. will next play Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Tuesday, a place where the team has only won one point in World Cup Qualifying history.
Jamaica played Panama to a 1-1 tie, while San Pedro Sula displayed its magic once again for Honduras. Mexico led by two goals with 13 minutes to play, but Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengston struck in 77th and 80th to salvage a 2-2 tie.