With rumors of locker room turmoil and player dissent circling the U.S. Men’s National team like a vulture ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica last Friday, they desperately needed a game free of criticism. A game where they were so commanding in victory that any venom from critics and pundits would be squelched, at least for a few days. They got exactly that. Not necessarily because of their play, but because the blizzard-like conditions neutralized any disparity between the teams. It was a game of who could get a shot on a goal and await the snow caused rebound. The USMNT did that part better and even though they had fewer total shots, they finished the one chance they had. For that they should be praised.
It was humorous though to watch the post-game analysis. Alexi Lalas offered his usual serving of impassioned rants, but in the end this game was a crap shoot, literally. It should be a game free of criticism, but should also be a game free of real praise. The game was played through sheets of falling snow that made players indecipherable. The pitch was transformed into a soft bed of white snow that would have been better suited for sleeping, snow angels, cross-country skiing, even American football; anything but soccer. But the game must go on, and so it did, barely. It is impressive that with help of a tireless grounds crew, they were able to finish the game, but the conditions make it hard to judge it as a game of soccer.
Costa Rica filed a protest with FIFA claiming the game should be replayed because of the weather conditions. FIFA rejected that notion swiftly. Apparently Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz would have had to make a formal complaint during the game in order for FIFA to consider Costa Rica’s appeal.
In the end the conditions were much better suited for the USMNT, no doubt. The average temperature for the majority of Costa Rica, excluding the mountain regions, is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s year around.
Regardless of the outcome on Friday, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann must have realized criticism would be at a minimum. After the beating he’s taken in the media the last couple weeks it had to be a relief knowing the heat wouldn’t be cranked up too high after this one. He’ll hope things stay on the cold side tonight in Mexico, but that’s unlikely.
Lalas did say after the game that this showed what the Americans are all about and that they adapted well and fought for the win, even in adverse conditions.
They did get the victory, so that’s a positive. It counts for 3 points and will hopefully help the team come together in the midst of anonymous sources claiming there is a disconnect between the players and Klinsmann.
Rest assured their criticism-free ride ends tonight. Maybe they can prolong it bit further with a draw or a win, but either way the vultures are looming. A win will surely continue their free ride, but a draw in the tough conditions of Azteca Stadium in Mexico would also keep the critics at bay a while longer.