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Donovan: That Was The Best Game We've Played Here

The Americans didn't get close to victory on Friday night in Costa Rica, but one of their best players believes the squad has never been better. Is he right? And why does it matter?

BY Noah Davis Posted
September 07, 2013
2:51 AM
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica—The United States national team found themselves down by two after just nine minutes on Friday night and eventually fell 3-1 to the Ticos. Michael Bradley watched, a bag of ice on his newly sprained ankle and crutches at the ready.

Maybe it wasn't all that bad.

"I thought we played a better game than we've ever played here," Landon Donovan said. "We had a lot of the possession, a lot of the chances. We can learn from it."

Jurgen Klinsmann, California sun shining through, had a similar take: "We told the team just to calm down a second and start playing. Start combining. Getting passes completed. Step by step I think we came back into the game towards the end of the first half. It looked actually really good then. Then the penalty. And then the second half, there are no complaints at all about how we played until the third goal that killed things off."

Let's take that apart a bit. After the U.S. went down two goals, they started passing better. And they were in the game, controlling it even, until Costa Rica scored a third goal.

Right.

More than most sports, soccer is affected by luck. Strange bounces, unlucky calls, a loose bit of dirt, a fluke injury to your best player. These things alter games. But so does giving up two goals in the first nine minutes. Luck only explains so much.

"The attitude from the start has to be better," Donovan said after the loss.

As the Americans crawled back into the match, Fabian Johnson forced a magnificent reaction save from Ticos goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Would you rather be lucky or good?

On Friday night, the question was moot: Costa Rica was both in the early stages of the match.

Still, Dempsey tallied before halftime and had an open header on a floated cross from Donovan to make it 2-2 midway through the second. He hit it weakly toward Navas, but it was an opportunity, a good opportunity.

"We fought our way back in the game. I thought we had them back on their heels in the second half. Hitting the post. Having some other chances," Dempsey said. "Without that counter goal, it looked like a goal was going to come for us. A draw was a strong possibility for us." And then it wasn't. It was a loss, the first in many months.

"We've been on a lot of ups and now we're on a down. We''re going to see how we recover, see what we're made of," Donovan said.

Friday night's match wasn't lucky. And it wasn't good. The U.S. team put itself into a massive hole and rightly believes there were chances to earn a draw. How much credit you want to give a team for giving itself an opportunity to tie is another matter, but outright panic isn't the answer. (As Jozy Altidore's dumb yellow card. Well...)

At any rate, it could be worse.

The U.S. could be in Mexico's spot.

Noah Davis is American Soccer Now's deputy editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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