Why the USMNT lost to Costa Rica

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From an American perspective, the loss to Costa Rica was largely blamed on the pre-game injury to Michael Bradley, which crippled the United States Men’s National Team’s ability to maintain possession and win the battle for control of the midfield, but the absence of natural outside backs and a playmaker were equally to blame.

Even without Bradley, the duo of Geoff Cameron and Jermaine Jones was missing a playmaker to link them to attacking midfielders like Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, and Fabian Johnson, and Clint Dempsey was stranded up top out of position as the lone striker.

This tactical set-up left the United States without any outlet for Cameron and Jones who could feed the attack. In many ways, there was an abyss between Cameron and Jones and players like Donovan, Johnson, Zusi, and Dempsey.

With the injury to Michael Bradley before kickoff, Jürgen Klinsmann would have been wise to use an out and out striker like Eddie Johnson or Aron Jóhannsson with Mix Diskerud linking Cameron and Jones to Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and whichever striker Klinsmann selected.

Klinsmann received all of the praise for the United States’ 12-game winning streak, so it’s fair to question his line-up decision, which showed an inability to recognize the necessity of a playmaker like Diskerud to link up the defensive midfielders with the attackers.

A wise decision would have been to start a Front Six of Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones, Landon Donovan, Mix Diskerud, Clint Dempsey, and Aron Jóhannsson as soon as the injury to Michael Bradley happened.

While Michael Bradley is a defensive midfielder and a strong tackler who covers a lot of territory with tireless running, he has always been a skilled passer and smooth on the ball, and over time, his technical ability has improved to the point that he himself can link the more defensive midfielders to the attacking midfielders.

In many ways, this ability to link up the defense and the deeper midfielders to players like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan made many people including Klinsmann think that the United States didn’t need a playmaker, but Bradley could still greatly benefit from a playmaker to give him a link between himself and Dempsey and Donovan downfield.

Jürgen Klinsmann chose to not call up Joe Benny Corona, and he chose to not use Mix Diskerud who he did call up. Both of these players could have helped to maintain more possession in the midfield, and the use of Clint Dempsey as a first striker was a truly poor decision. Only Spain plays without a striker at times, but Spain also uses three playmakers at the same time: Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, and Cesc Fàbregas.

With Jóhannsson playing well for AZ Alkmaar and given the fact that he proved his international abilities against Bosnia and Herzegovina, not starting him at first striker with Jozy Altidore still returning to 100% fitness was very misguided.

These problems outlined above are more of the reasons that the United States lost to Costa Rica 3-1 than the play of Michael Orozco at right back, as Orozco was frequently left with no support from Graham Zusi who allowed midfielders to simply run past him and feed passes into space behind Orozco.

Orozco wasn’t even responsible for a single Costa Rican goal. Costa Rica roamed free in the midfield and bossed the game, and this allowed them to put the United States on their heels for the entire game.

One way to look at this game is that when the United States faced the CONCACAF team that was the closest to them in the World Cup qualifying standings, Klinsmann’s makeshift defensive back fours and players like Graham Zusi simply didn’t cut it.

The loss of Michael Bradley before the game was a big loss, but having Cameron, Jones, Donovan, Diskerud, Dempsey, and Jóhannsson as a Front Six could have been enough to still play well even without the Roma defensive midfielder.

Cameron filled in for one of the defensive midfield roles, but Klinsman did nothing to address the problem, which was obvious before the game started: Who is going to connect my defensive midfielders to my attacking players?

The beginning of Jürgen Klinsmann’s tenure as coach of the United States was a time when Klinsmann emphasized how every player in a Starting XI had a unique role to play and that each of his first-choice players needed a quality second-choice option to not only give them competition but also to cover for them if injuries occurred.

An injury to Bradley occurred, and Klinsmann lacked the good sense to either use Dempsey and Donovan to connect the defensive midfielders to a striker like Jóhannsson or Eddie Johnson or to use Diskerud to provide the link to the U.S.’ best attackers.

It was just one loss, but Jürgen Klinmann’s Jericho Walls and his false sense of security have come tumbling down. Klinsmann needs to rethink his tactics, his player selections, and his opinion of playmakers, especially when Michael Bradley goes down injured.

Klinsmann and the United States can still defeat Mexico on Tuesday if Klinsmann selects a more balanced and a better line-up to face Mexico than the one he selected to face Costa Rica, and someone with Klinsmann’s playing resume has to already know that he needs someone to help the American midfield enjoy more possession than it did against Costa Rica.

 

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