Points are at a premium in World Cup qualifying, so when the United States lost to Honduras after conceding a late goal in February, the pressure turned on very early for Team USA.
Honduras is not exactly a laughable team, but the U.S. should not have had any problems with them, and to go home empty handed was a massive disappointment.
With no points in the early stages of World Cup qualifying, it then became a very real possibility that the United States would not be traveling down to Rio de Janeiro next June for the World Cup.
Things were not about to get any easier last week, as they played Costa Rica and Mexico. It may sound like a recipe for disaster, but the U.S. walked away with two very satisfactory results.
The U.S. chose to play Costa Rica in Denver, which in hindsight might have been a crafty move by manager Jurgen Klinsmann to give his team a real home-field advantage. To no one’s surprise, it was snowing in Denver in the middle of March, and it was probably the first time many of the Costa Rican players had ever seen snow.
Clint Dempsey scored early, and that would be the only time the ball found the net for either side. Costa Rica filed a complaint to FIFA about the field’s conditions, but the result stood. The United States laid groundwork with three points they really could not do without.
A few days later, push really came to shove when the U.S. went down to play bitter rival Mexico in the infamous Estadio Azteca.
At the London Olympics, Mexico brought home the gold and scheduled a bit of a victory lap against the United States shortly after. They had just won a huge tournament and figured they would beat up on their rival in a friendly match in front of their fans, but the United States would have none of that. Team USA went in and beat Mexico for the first time on the road, and even though it had no effect on the standings, it gave them the confidence they needed last week.
The balder the U.S. keeper is, the better they are. Brad Guzan and his thinning hair filled in for an injured Tim Howard and his shiny dome, which was unsettling to many U.S. fans. Klinsmann also gave two young defenders their first career starts against Mexico. The entire unit answered the call and the U.S. was happy to go home with a score of 0-0 and a very valuable point in the standings.
They will still have to make up for the hole they dug themselves into in the Honduras match, but the value of these last two results can’t be understated. The Estadio Azteca is one of the most menacing places to play in the world, and to allow no goals with a makeshift defense was huge.
Tim Howard is a world-class keeper who would start for nearly any club or country in the world, and he should be back and in form for the next qualifying games in June. He is the team’s unquestioned leader and is a coach between the posts for his young, inexperienced defense.
On the other end of the field, the Americans have a few young players that are starting to hit top form. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Maurice Edu play in Italy, Holland, and Turkey respectively, and it has been in these European leagues that they have really been able to excel.
Bradley is the grease that turns the wheel of the American attack in midfield, Altidore simply cannot stop scoring, and Edu is developing into a forceful defensive midfielder.
These three players will be major components of the United States’ quest to head back to the World Cup. But the team’s superstar remains Clint Dempsey.
Landon Donovan has handed the torch to Dempsey, who might be the most dominating offensive force the United States has ever had. Dempsey excels when he is the focal point of the offense, and that is precisely what he is for the United States.
There is no doubt that the U.S. has their work cut out for themselves, but they are on a much better trajectory after last week’s results. They still rely on Clint Dempsey to play Superman and bail them out in tough games, but Klinsmann’s system is really starting to click.