DENVER, Colorado (Reuters) - After a week surprisingly dominated by talk of rifts and lack of player confidence in coach Juergen Klinsmann, the United States gave a characteristically battling display to beat Costa Rica 1-0 in driving snow.
There was nothing to learn about Klinsmann’s tactics, about the nuances of team formation in Friday’s game which, in many other circumstances, may have been halted due to the snow-covered field.
Arguably, Klinsmann’s biggest mistake when taking over the U.S. team in 2011 was to over-promise with talk of a new era of more progressive passing football when his immediate task is primarily to negotiate what is the most competitive qualifying processes the CONCACAF region has seen.
Getting to Brazil will require grinding out results in front of hostile crowds in stifling heat in Central America and, on Friday, it was about getting three points in a blizzard by the Rocky Mountains.
As forward Herculez Gomez put it after the game: “Good teams find ways to win games, and that’s what we did. We grinded out a result because it wasn’t very hard to see that conditions were pretty bad and it was pretty difficult to play actual soccer but we found a way.”
It was, as Klinsmann put it “a snow fight” but it is hard to imagine that a squad with real morale problems and a lack of faith in their coach would fight in such aggressive fashion as the U.S. did.
For goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who kept a clean sheet deputizing for injured first choice keeper Tim Howard, the air of negativity surrounding the team never entered the dressing room.
“Negativity from who? Whatever goes on the outside, you know inside of our team these group of guys have all the confidence in each other and belief that we can go out there and do our job,” he said after the win.
“We have the support of the coaching staff. I thought the game really showed that. The guys rolled up their sleeves, got after it and in difficult conditions where we got three points.”
Injuries meant Klinsmann was forced to put out a makeshift defense in front of Guzan and while Costa Rica certainly threatened, the U.S. back-line generally held firm.
Center-half Omar Gonzalez had a reassuringly solid game after his shaky display in the February loss to Honduras and midfielder DaMarcus Beasley was outstanding in an unfamiliar left-back role.
Any coach needs strong leaders and new captain Clint Dempsey certainly took on that role. “He led by example”, said Klinsmann, and his 16th minute goal and angry faced celebration certainly set the tone.
Michael Bradley, who before the game had slammed the anonymous player criticisms of Klinsmann in the media as “shameful and embarrassing” was his usual aggressive but intelligent self in the center of midfield.
Bradley acknowledged the team had acknowledged they needed to display the kind of fighting spirit U.S. teams have become known for.
“In the past stretch, even going back to the last stage of qualifying, the things that our team always has to be about, the fight, the commitment … we looked at each other and said this isn’t what it needs to be,” he told reporters.
“As we move forward and the big games come, in order for us to be a team that competes at the highest level that (spirit) has to be at its absolute highest whenever we step on the field.
“When you look in all those areas, there is a lot to be proud of from this game.”
On Tuesday the U.S. aim to do what they have never done before - beat Mexico at the Azteca in a qualifier.
There may have been few things that could be learnt about Klinsmann’s team from a win in such conditions but for Gomez, who plays in Mexico, there was one very clear indication of their character.
“Unity. When the going got tough, we stuck together. We didn’t point fingers, we didn’t blame, we were intense with each other and we knew that it would take all of us.”
Editing by Gene Cherry