USMNT: Klinsmann's Tactics Pay off at Home vs Costa Rica

Andy KontyCorrespondent IIMarch 23, 2013

Home-field advantage
Home-field advantageDustin Bradford/Getty Images

Latitude and weather doomed the U.S. Men's National Team in Honduras.

On Friday night, the North Americans returned the favor in the World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.

Seven U.S. starters play league ball above the 40th parallel. Graham Zusi (39.09° N) is close.

Denver, Colorado is at 39.7392° North. And it sometimes snows there in March.

For home-field advantage against a Central American team, the weather couldn't be better—30 degrees with snow on the field and in the air.

Costa Rica's strategy was to park the snowplow in front of goal, deploying in a 5-4-1 formation. The U.S. set up in Klinsmann's preferred 4-2-3-1.

Klinsmann played Geoff Cameron out wide where he plays in the EPL. Clarence Goodson, a five-year veteran of the Scandinavian leagues, took the spot opposite Omar Gonzalez in central defense.

Klinsmann's team took advantage of the lighter snowfall in the first half. They were able to run their offense and held 62 percent of possession.

It must have been tempting to simply play more direct from the very beginning, but the Americans stayed disciplined through halftime.

Once again the U.S. grabbed an early lead, and it started with a slick pass from Clint Dempsey to Jozy Altidore facing the goal. Jozy got his shot away and the rebound fell at the feet of Dempsey, who continued his run after picking out his target forward.

The U.S. back four looked like the ski patrol. Goodson particularly looked right at home on the glacier as he continuously cut out passes with well-timed jumps into the passing lanes.

Goodson and Gonzalez smothered the Costa Ricans' main scoring threat Alvaro Saborío, who responded with more cheap shots than a target .22.

In first-half stoppage time, Gonzalez atoned for his sins in Honduras. The Costa Ricans penetrated the Americans' 18 and were lining up a shot when an avalanche of snow and ice announced Gonzalez's arrival—sliding in shorts through the slush to block the shot.

Brad Guzan was fantastic, sure-handed and in complete control of his box. The Costa Ricans put a few shots on target, all of them low and skidding. Guzan smothered them like sausage gravy on biscuits.

The Americans started more directly in the second half. This was apparently by design as Klinsmann told the ESPN sideline reporter at halftime:

We need to put the ball in their half and play the game in their half. Today is not a technical game. Because of the snow you can't do nice passing combinations. It's about second balls, it's about the battles there.

How can anyone listen to Klinsmann talk tactics—once you understand his accent and funky sentence construction—and conclude that he is "scatterbrained"?

The difficult conditions and the one-goal lead made for an anxious second half. The more anxious the Nats got, the more they were inclined to play those long balls forward looking for a second ball to get them behind the Costa Ricans.

Altidore was a pleasant surprise because he was still running hard and applying pressure in the second half. His movement off the ball and his hold-up play were better than in any of his recent caps.

The FIFA "match commissioner" paused the game in the 55th minute. It seemed for a moment that the Americans would lose their home-field advantage to a bureaucrat. But the game Costa Ricans convinced the referee to see the match to full time.

Perhaps the most important outcome for the Americans was the maximum team effort they put in. For a team supposedly on the ropes, filled with disgruntled players and led by an inept coach, the U.S. side played hard and played together under impossible conditions.

The suspiciously inexperienced defense suddenly became a more experienced defense. This happened in part because of the conditions, but also because Klinsmann started two World Cup-qualifying vets—Goodson and DaMarcus Beasley.

Klinsmann's tactics and game lineup worked this time. Maybe he learned a lesson in Honduras.

Now the Americans sit second in the Hex, ahead of Mexico and ready to rumble in Stadio Azteca in four days.

Apparently, reports of the USMNT's death were anonymously exaggerated.