Let us not get wedded to the result against Costa Rica which on the face registers a disappointing loss. That is the refuge of the impatient and those who seek instant gratification.
The focus should be on the first 40 minutes of the first half which saw a USA in absolute command and control using a short passing game to push and probe the Costa Ricans to the maximum. Jose Francisco Torres was the architect of these lateral shape shifting passing triangles which had fans salivating at the prospect of an early goal which would have been just reward. The best chance fell to Landon Donovan after Torres and Brek Shea laid the spadework but the USA’s top goalscorer finishing touch let him down. Shea especially was a handful down the left with his speed and ability to improvise.
If today’s display is any indication then Klinsmann is laying down a template to wean the US away from a one dimensional and predictable counterattacking style. It is unclear where Donovan and Michael Bradley fit into this more deliberative and patient system as they have been the faces of a more direct approach. Donovan after that one moment failed to provide that vital link between Torres, a more deep seated playmaker and Jozy Altidore or Juan Agudelo, his second half replacement.
The short passing game which requires constant overlapping also demands extra-ordinary levels of fitness. The USA prides itself as one of the fittest teams and Klinsmann is a known martinet when it comes to conditioning. But the second half showed a rapidly tiring USA team losing 50-50 challenges and the compact shape of its passing game. The Costa Ricans who had put more emphasis on a confrontational and aggressive approach (they committed five times as many fouls) sensed the shifting winds.
The USA ceded ground in the midfield as Maurice Edu abdicated his enforcer role, piling up pressure on a backpedaling defense. Daniel Colindres, introduced in the second half proved too strong for Edgar Castillo, the weakest link in the back four. The right flank was exposed when Rodney Wallace, another potential US prospect but now with the Costa Ricans, bulled his way into the box for his game winning header after Tim Howard’s rebuff of Michael Barrantes’s shot. A scuffle broke out at the end with Shea receiving a yellow card. That sums up the level of frustration for a match the US thought it should have had in the bag. But lets be calm.
This is just the sort of match for an experiment and one has to be heartened by the first half display. Klinsmann is feeling his way through and a Barca type approach carries with it a learning curve which has its ups and downs. In 6 months we will have a team that pleases the eye and scores at the same time.