It wasn't pretty but the United States got its first victory in the Hexagonal thanks to another clutch performance from Clint Dempsey.
Dempsey pounced on a deflection off of a Jozy Altidore shot to give the U.S. a vital 1-0 win over Costa Rica in brutal snowing conditions out in Denver. Yet, all of the credit can't go to Dempsey. A makeshift U.S. defense, which was playing together for the first time, pulled together to hold off crafty Costa Rican striker Alvaro Saborio, who had several threatening chances during the match.
Here are five observations from the U.S. win:
Clint Dempsey is on fire for the United States
Dempsey scored the game-winning goal for the United States in the 16th minute, continuing to prove that he's clutch when the USA needs him. Dempsey might not be the flashiest player on the team, but he gets goals, and the USA leans heavily on him to put the ball in net.
Dempsey is responsible for over 60 percent of the team's goals in qualifying, scoring eight of the 13 total scored by the USA, with many of those goals being game deciding. However, Dempsey can't take all of the credit for today's win as....
This was a much better performance from Altidore
Altidore rebounded from a non-existent performance in the U.S. 2-1 loss to Honduras, proving to Klinsmann that he can positively affect the game even if he isn't scoring. Altidore is still mired in a 16-month goal drought for the U.S. but he was active in the team's win, winning headers and not surrendering the ball when up top. It was his dangerous effort in the box that allowed Dempsey to pounce on the deflection.
Luck also had some part of the team's success on Friday night.
Snow made it difficult to gauge whether or not the U.S. improved from the Honduras loss
After all of the media hoopla surrounding the now legendary Sporting News article released earlier this week, eyes were fixated on the U.S. to see if the Stars and Stripes would deliver a dominant performance or capitulate under pressure. Then the Denver blizzard of 2013 came along.
The U.S. deserved to beat Costa Rica as the team dominated possession with 57.2 percent, but let's be honest: soccer should never, ever be played in conditions like this. The action on the field was barely visible and the game was almost postponed in the 55th minute.
Credit the U.S. and Costa Rica for both giving their all in this game, but this match won't do much to silent Klinsmann's critics. All eyes will be on the U.S.'s next match in Mexico.
DeMarcus Beasley had a solid performance at left back
The natural left winger has had follies in the past while playing left back but was superb in wintry conditions at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. He effectively neutralized Costa Rica's star right winger Bryan Ruiz and assisted in whatever momentum the U.S. could build in the attack. With both Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo out with injuries, Klinsmann just needed Beasley to be decent and the Puebla player exceeded expectations. Beasley has two more caps until he reaches number 100 for the U.S.
The U.S. has more points than Mexico in the Hex
For all of the sky is failing mentality that ensued after the U.S. loss to Honduras in its opening qualifying match, the U.S. is now second in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. The Red, White and Blue are just one point behind table-topping Honduras on the table with three points and ahead of Mexico, which has two points to start its qualifying run. Now, the pressure lies with Mexico, a side that many expected to be a dark horse contender for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Lesson learned? While neither the U.S. nor Mexico should be overly concerned about its chances to qualify, CONCACAF is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Who would have though Honduras would upset the region's top two powers to open the Hex?
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