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Bows on a defeat

Can the U.S. Rebound After the Loss in San Jose?

The Americans fell 3-1 to an inspired Costa Rica team. But now it's time to look forward to the match against Mexico. Will they be able to win despite the many self-inflicted wounds?

BY Noah Davis Posted
September 07, 2013
5:11 PM
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN SAN JOSE AND COLUMBUS—If it was a test, the United States national team failed.

Sure, the Americans were forced to sit for the exam without their TI-83 when Michael Bradley went down with an ankle sprain seconds before kickoff. And fine, the second half was better and they could have, and perhaps deserved to, earn a draw.

But the test wasn't graded on a curve. There was no extra credit for effort or time of possessions. It was pass/fail, and the Americans fell short on the field at Estadio Nacional.

And worse, they handicapped themselves for the next test that comes on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio. Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and Jozy Altidore will miss the match against Mexico due to yellow card accumulation.

Before the game in Costa Rica, Jurgen Klinsmann expressed concern that FIFA assigned a Mexican referee to the match, citing the U.S. squad's eight yellow cards and the fact that they were playing El Tri four days later. It was a legitimate gripe as Besler's caution seemed harsh, and the Americans may protest the suspension.

But Altidore's came when he needlessly shoved a Costa Rican defender with the game out of reach.

Klinsmann was not pleased about the mental breakdown. "We knew about the risk," he said. "It's always upsetting when it happens, especially when I look at Jozy Altidore's yellow card towards the end there. [It] was absolutely not necessary."

The push was a terribly silly blunder for a player who has improved so much over the last few years, and disappointing, especially considering how much of Altidore's growth has come on the mental side of his game. He has worked on staying present and aware at all times, and the goal-scoring streak was the result. On the field as Estadio Nacional, he lost it for a moment—a combination of the frustration of not starting, of being injured, of the impending defeat—and it cost him an appearance against Mexico. He won't be able to start a new goal-scoring streak until October at the earliest.

Although the forward's lapse will hurt the U.S. on Tuesday, it was hardly the most egregious error against Costa Rica.

The first goal came less than 120 seconds into the match off a poorly defended corner kick that resulted from an impressive save by Tim Howard. It was, collectively, a massive letdown, one the team on the field amplified moments later by conceding a second.

Bradley's late scratch was part of the problem. "We had to make a last-second switch and it kind of shocked the team for a couple of moments," Klismann said, which is a fair point. But still, toughness at the beginning of games is something the Americans haven't had consistently since, well, maybe ever. The excuses, no matter how reasonable, are still just excuses. For all the improvement the U.S. has shown, that area remains a major issue and one that no one seems to know how to fix.

Against Mexico, a different group of players will get a chance to start quickly. The quality depth that has been developed since the last World Cup will be vital against the U.S.'s biggest rivals. "We've talked about it over the last three years. Every game. Every game," Howard said. "This is why we build towards that, so a guy can step in and not miss a beat and try and get that cohesion right. That's why we've had so many backs in the back and testing guys. It's going to be interesting."

Donovan went further. “Unquestioned," the Los Angeles Galaxy attacker answered when asked if this was the most talent the program has ever had.

He continued: "When you see a bunch of guys that don’t get called in that absolutely deserve to be here too, it tells you that the team is very deep. There are a lot of guys that could make a case that they should be here that aren’t. It’s tough, and it’s going to be that way all the way through Brazil next year, assuming we qualify. I think that’s a good thing. It’s how the best national teams in the world operate, and it’s how we want to be if we’re going to get to where we want to go."

And give the American team some credit because the club is continuing to get closer to where it wants to go, both in the standings and, more importantly, on the field. The match against Mexico provides a chance to take the game to a struggling, disjointed El Tri. It won't be the best Starting XI on the field, but the red, white, and blue boasts enough ability to plug different players into the mix and find a way to win while outplaying the opposition. Kyle Beckerman, Clarence Goodson, Sacha Kljestan, and others will have the shot they've wanted to show they can help when something goes wrong. The coach expects his charges to respond to the setback in Estadio Nacional. "We badly need four points, and we better start on Tuesday night," Klisnmann said after Friday's match. Due to other results, however, they actually require fewer. A victory against Mexico combined with a Honduras victory or draw would clinch a spot in Brazil.

On Saturday morning, the team charter left Juan Santamaría International Airport without a few of the players who were suspended for the next match. The Americans were undermanned, destined for the safety of Crew Stadium where reinforcements waited.

They had failed in San Jose, but there was another test just over the horizon.

Noah Davis is ASN's deputy editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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