TSG’s Official Costa Rica vs. USA Preview: Better Than A Snowball’s Chance In Hell

Despite its best efforts, the US has been unable to squeeze a point out of the Ticos at home in qualifying.

Despite its best efforts, the US has been unable to squeeze a point out of the Ticos at home in qualifying.

The US looks to put a long-elusive notch on its CONCACAF bedpost this Friday as it heads south to San Jose, Costa Rica for a showdown with the Ticos.

There is no question that this will be the hardest three points for the States to bed in 2013.

Whereas the Mexico qualifier on enemy grounds has long been the most challenging of the Hex gauntlet, this year’s Yanks squad had sufficient injuries and absences against El Tri to make that skirmish a quest to eek out a point. The US’s bend-to-just-about-the-point-of-breaking strategy against Chepo Nation was acceptable and the States, despite being on the wrong side of a lopsided shots on goal tally, were applauded for their valiant effort at the Azteca.

Friday’s game, however, will see a nearly fully fit US squad attempt to wrestle away its first point ever in San Jose. Or maybe just steal a goal from the run of play. The US hasn’t scored in that manner in Costa Rica in over 12 years.

The edict from skipper Jurgen Klinsmann appears clear:

“The Costa Rica game in San Jose is the biggest game in 2013 for all of us because we want to win there,” said Klinsmann. “We want to qualify as soon as possible for the World Cup in Brazil. We want to get the first ever three points in World Cup qualifying in Costa Rica.”

It’s a worthy goal and when the statement is considered within the progressions of the US team in 2013, it’s also the correct milestone to target.

The lineage of 2013 saw the US stay true to its defense-at-all-costs philosophy at the outset. Games in Honduras–a loss–and Mexico were exercises in maintaining shape and defensive continuity at the expense of attacking.

Jamaica away last series saw the US take a few more calculated forays up the field. What then flowed was a string of results by both the “A” team and “B” team where the US successfully managed its attempts at goal and numbers up the field, culminating in an excellent performance against a quality Bosnian side in August.

This Ticos date will be the first time–since a few Eddie Johnson bum-rushes to begin the second half in Honduras in February–that the States will are expected to take the game to their CONCACAF opponent on the road in qualifying, if you believe the rhetoric.

Of course, the Ticos will enter the game beating their chests with national pride and with more motivation than Katie Holmes on Tom Cruise Independence Day. The Ticos currently sit second in the Hex; their 11 points just two shy of the Yanks’ leading 13. A combination of four points here from the US on Friday in tandem with Jamaica away on Tuesday puts the Ticos just a whisker away from a qualifying berth–a berth they fell short of by the same margin in 2009 when a late header from Jonathan Bornstein at RFK forced the Ticos into an ultimately heartbreaking playoff loss with Uruguay.

But that’s not the most acute prod in this one for the home side.

The US squad arrived late Tuesday in San Jose to chants of “No fair play USA,” a reference to the Blizzard Bowl back in March when the States heisted three points in a controversial home game played with snow pelting the sod.

The rhetoric has been non-stop this week and–with the mystique of Azteca-death-cauldron being seemingly vanquished with a win last year and draw this year–“Costa Rica – Away” elevates to the ultimate CONCACAF trophy win–that elusive “chick at the bar” that both scares and excites you. Moving on….

Do the Yanks got game? How’s that bedpost looking Saturday morning?

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview. It goes:

» About the Opponent: Costa Rica

» TSG What We’re Looking For

» Keys To the Game for the Americans

» 11 At the Whistle.

Last qualifier Beasley tussled with Costa Rica, he broke a tooth.

Last qualifier Beasley tussled with Costa Rica, he broke a tooth.

About The Opponent: Costa Rica

This is about as cut-and-dry as a USMNT opponent can get.  And the Yanks have faced the Ticos twice this year on home soil; both times the interlopers came out in an exceedingly defensive shell with as much offensive intent as an episode of Sesame Street.

The Ticos bunkered in Denver in The Throwaway/Blizzard/Ice Bowl and then, faced with a talented US junior varsity, was downright negative in the Gold Cup. The Ticos gave the US their best or at least second best Gold Cup test. A little late-game razzle dazzle from Landon Donovan the necessary incision in an otherwise concrete defensive wall effort.

However, when the Ticos are back home, they display a more aggressive and somewhat looser attacking behavior, primarily using their central mid pairing to push the ball up to an attack quadrumvirate that can can match any in the region.

Expect the Ticos to maintain defensive integrity at the back.  Like CONCACAF brethren Panama, the Costa Ricans excel at defending centrally in the run of play in their defensive third. The Ticos have given up four goals in qualifying in the past year–two throw 50/50-ball-producing broken plays in the box (Panama, February 2013) an d two via corners (Mexico, September 2012).

Across the back five, the Ticos will probably stay true to their most recent home WCQ, a 2-0 win over Panama in June, with one exception: The squad player Junior Diaz will give way at LB to Everton prospect Brian Oviedo who is expected to see a decent minutes increase at Goodison this year under Roberto Martinez.

Oviedo will play like DaMarcus Beasley will for the States–tasked with possession, pushing forward, and being aggressive in the attack. Centerbacks Michael Umaña and Giancarlo González are strong, disciplined defenders, but both are prone to losing marks on service into the box. Gonzalez as well has a penchant to foul in or near the box–can you say Clinton D.e.m.p.s.e.y.

The front six will be business usual as well. (Note: This is all good news for the Ticos who appear to have finally settled on a reduced rotation of players through the squad, breeding improved chemistry.)

Ariel Rodriguez and Celso Borges will form the double-pivot. Borges is on-form and the one to watch. An average defender at the best, the Swedish leaguer has been instrumental in many of the Costa Ricans chances this qualifying series. He likes to ghost in late after the opponent’s flank has been compromised and gather at the top of the box with a shoot-first mentality. He’s not wholly accurate, but he is wholly able.

The front four will be standard. From the point, Alvaro Saborio will get things going. US players and fans know him well from his time at Real Salt Lake. To use a Panama comparison again, Saborio is the Ticos’ Blas Perez. The home midfield will look for him at all times once across the halfline, both on the floor and through the air. Saborio is equally apt to put a header or volley on frame and he’s well skilled–as RSL man Javi Morales can attest–at receiving and dropping to an oncoming attacker.

Joel Campbell is on the rise for Olympiakos this year.

Joel Campbell is on the rise for Olympiakos this year.

Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos form the midfield three. Bolanos is the Ticos’s Old Faithful, providing pace and a decent amount of shake-and-bake out right.

As US fans can attest, Ruiz has been the lynchpin of the Tico attack for the past half decade. However, it may become a little more Batman-Robin like on Friday.

The Fulham man has been little used by manager Martin Jol for no clearcut reason in the Prem’s early going. Meanwhile, Arsenal asset Joel Campbell is thriving in his second consecutive loan stint. Last campaign saw the speedy attacker fare well at Real Betis.

This year, Campbell finds himself in-form, already starting, and a critical member of Greek superclub Olympiakos. He plays LFW in a 4-3-3. Campbell is adept at gaining the corner and has improved his service game.

Expect the Ticos to attempt to look for Ruiz early incutting off the *right flank and hope that the US’s defense collapses to help. If the Ticos can manufacture this phenomena then they can get Campbell wide on the left and in space for 1v1 situations. If that fails, you’ll see the two switch (the pattern and tactical progression may be reversed, but you get the picture) sometime in the first half. Regardless of the success here, any chance the Costa Ricans get to find Saborio in space on the floor or in the box through the air will likely be taken.


GK: Navas

DEF: Gamboa, Umana, Gonzalez, Oviedo

CM: Rodriguez, Borges

RMF/CAM/LMF: Bolanos, Ruiz, Campbell

STR: Saborio

Readying for the surge....

Readying for the surge….

TSG What Are We Looking For

» Firehosing Costa Rica’s Left Flank

Once again, Graham Zusi is a pivotal midfielder for the Americans and his fitness–or lack thereof–will be a key tactical piece of Friday’s match.

The US again…going up the left side through the feet of Beasley and Dempsey.

Costa Rica? Many signs point to the Ticos storming down the US’s right and more conservative flank whether it’s Campbell or Ruiz.

Accompanying Campbell will be the  forward forays of left fullback Brian Oveida forming the one-two punch.

The Ticos love to get their left fullback/wingback up in the attack–here against Panama. Oviedo will look to play off of Campbell or Ruiz ahead of him. The US defensive strategy here will employ the right type of player–Zusi or Bedoya–but the States may be able to take advantage of the situation as well.

With the US rightback situation, the best way to provide cover will be through a midfielder–like Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya–who aggressively tracks back.

But the States can do better than that.

"So, really, no Bradentown?"

“So, really, no Bradentown?”

While Bedoya is a viable option, the ability for Zusi–normally indefatiguable–to not only help defensively but get ahead, stay wide, and be effective wide will bat back the CR attack on that side. Zusi is such a luxury for Klinsmann. He can play at any tempo. He man manage possession. He defends aggressively for 90 minutes when fit and he doesn’t need the ball to remain sharp or involved.

The Ticos have to respect Zusi’s service–whether it’s Jozy Altidore or Eddie Johnson looking to get on the other end.

If the States can be successful in managing possession out to Zusi on that flank and Zusi can be effective with the majority of his crosses, the Ticos first choice attack plan will effectively be negated.

(Note: It’s interesting to see just how conservative the Yanks have become in attack. Countless times again Bosnia, Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones receiving the ball left-central could have played a switch-field pass to Brad Evans in space and they demurred every time, the accuracy risk greater than the benefit of Evans going 1v1 on a defender.)

» Set Piece Repellant & The Picket Fence

Howard has a tendency to be indecisive on whether to abandon the goal on set pieces into the box. Here, a famous Kuyt goal against he and the Toffees.

This may be the first time that Tim Howard has figured into this section for TSG since…since…Emile Heskey went ground-and-pound on Tim in Rustenburg in 2010.

Costa Rica. Scores off of set pieces.

The US… real difficulty maintaining their marks and gathering up second balls on set pieces. Jamaica, a missed mark concession. Belize in the Gold Cup.

BELIZE! Well Belize is probably why Clarence Goodson didn’t go looking for his passport this weekend.

Back to Tim.

Howard–as written in this publication previously–is a very good goalie under fire. He’s a decent to above average organizer against the run of play.

Where Howard has difficult defensively is on those dastardly in-between balls into the box that beg for the keeper to come out and snatch or punch them away. Howard used to be aggressive on these to the point of over-aggression. He would routinely get beat on a shot on the rebound.

Father Time has now influenced Howard to stay at home, his decisions to come out become less frequent and marked, at times, with indecision.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 9.33.24 PM

The US has kept an above-average to good line on set pieces where offsides is a factor. Here is the 2nd Bosnian goal. There is some clean-up on Dzeko is he hustles back on side, but otherwise, everyone is goalside and between the defender and the goal.

Of course, that’s only one part. The US defenders merely have to refuse to get beat.

It sounds like one of those “Fox-Soccer Points to the Game (“Have fun!” “Express yourself!”), but it’s not. The US is–for the most part–structurally sound when defend set pieces in the box. The line–as you can see above in the Bosnia game–is stepping in unison and the players know their responsibility, but where they get hurt is on “knowing where they’re going.”

The US challenges in man-marking set pieces is on switches and picks and that’s exactly what Costa Rica feasts on in the box. A simple play that Costa Rica greenlight frequently is running the near post man behind the player stack and looping him to the far post. It’s a fairly simple and effective play because the looping attacker’s mark has to find his way typically through a a sea of 12 players–six attackers, six defenders.

The switching and defense responsibility needs to be up to the task Friday because Costa Rica will get their chances and know those are probably their best ones.

Oh, and the Ticos last two qualifiers at home have seen them rack up 41 fouls suffered. Wow. Good chance the US needs to defend six to ten of these opportunities on Friday. It only takes one.

Keys to the Game for the Americans

1) Defense: Apply on-ball pressure whenever Costa Rica is in the US half. Recover that second ball.

Costa Rica loves to lob the ball in the box hoping for puppy dog tails, dropoffs that lead to shots and just plain goals. Defending balls served into the box always starts with preventing looks … into the box. The Ticos also thrive off of broken plays. Make it simple. Get out on your man; stop the easy service.

2) Defense: Track Ruiz and Campbell between the lines. Immediately support any 1v1 defender who is out in space

This is something that the States did very well in Bosnia against Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic.

The Tico opportunities that don’t come via service into the box will have to come from Ruiz playmaking between the lines. If the Campbell gets the ball out near the touchline on the US rightback, immediately slide to provide support. Again, done well in Bosnia.

3) Have fun Offense: Get Zusi opportunities on the deep right flank. Don’t be wasteful with corner kicks and deep flank service chances.

If the past two years have proven anything about Costa Rica defensively it’s that their only Achilles heal is–like the States–keeping marks and cleaning up the second ball in and around the box. All four goals against Costa Rica over the past year in WCQ have come on broken plays with a ball served into the box laterally. Cue Zusi, EJ, Cameron, Gonzo. Hell get Gooch or better Crouch late game.

4) Offense: Work the channels with Zusi, Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson.

If you’re looking for a close comp to how the States will have to break down Costa Rica, the closest bet is the way the States attacked Honduras in June. In that game Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson worked the 18′ yard box extended (vertically) to provide high possession hubs where they had essentially soccer’s equivalent of the read-option. Receive, read the defense, take it to the hole, shoot it, or dish it. Zusi’s clever dummy against Honduras led to the lone US tally in that crucial home qualifier.

A fresh second half Donovan may be just the tonic here.

A possible US deployment

A possible US deployment

11 At The Whistle:

GK: Tim Howard

The skinny: Marshall the defense. Be decisive on set pieces. Don’t add to the hysteria of the crowd by shouting at defenders who make mistakes and cu

DEF: Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley

The skinny: If you have to miss Brad Evans for a match, this may be the best bet. Sure the Ticos attacking forwards will present challenges to Cameron in space, especially with Gonzo backing him up. Adding Cameron to the starting mix gives the US another big body to contest set pieces with. A wash?

CM: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones

The skinny: Bradley has been downright wizardry in his positioning of late. His move back to a more traditional box-to-box player in a standard system for Roma has certainly improved his positioning. Go back and look at the States 3-1 qualifer loss in Costa Rica in June of 2009. Bradley defines “overtracking.” And further, what a far cry from the player who never met a tackle–late or not–that he didn’t want to get stuck-in on. And would you ever have uttered the following a few years ago:

US fan 1: “Wow, look how many Yanks … count ’em .. are on yellow card going into Friday’s game? SEVEN. Jozy MB, Cameron, Dempsey, Howard, Fabian and Jermaine Jones

US fan 2: “Out of all those guys, I trust Bradley not to pick up a second one. You?”

US fan 1: [Drops dead]

LM/RM: Fabian Johnson, Graham Zusi

The skinny: First, it’s a night game, so Fab J’s chances of playing increase. Second, Johnson’s spot is the likely Donovan spot going forward, but I think Johnson gets the start here for two reasons. First, he’s on a yellow card–so if you play Donovan–who picked up a knock over the weekend–and Johnson comes in as a late sub and gets another card ruling him out for Mexico, you’ve essentially need to hope that Donovan is fully healthy by Tuesday.

Second, Johnson can issue a lefty cross–many think Johnson is a natural lefty, but in fact he’s a natural righty. If you believe the words above that the US wants to continually push high and left, then you’d rather have Johnson starting and see if can pull the attacking amoeba as high and wide left as possible. And finally, a fresh Landon Donovan works best when there is an uptempo more vertical game–works best, not works only.

A very strong sub for this match.

WtF: Clint Dempsey

STR: Eddie Johnson

The skinny: It’d be great to have Jozy Altidore fully fit and in-form in this one, but the prudent move is to start Altidore on the pine. Wet field, hammy injury, on a yellow card, low-but-real risk of a longer term injury if not already healed. It’s tough because Altidore’s size, speed and ability to help out defensively in the air would all be, of course, extremely welcome here on the road.

Clint Dempsey will need to tone down his “try-shit” game that’s been creeping back into his repertoire back up in Seattle, but Dempsey is the type of guy who pounces on the few chances in these games and delivers.

Big moment here for Eddie Johnson, CONCAConquerer (sounded a lot better with an inside voice). Johnson will be unshackled from the defensive responsibilities that always seem to retard the ability of his game.

43 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tom P on 2013/09/05 at 1:16 PM

    Don’t let EJ cross midfield unless it is to defend on a set piece/corner or mark my words: he will dribble us into a giveaway goal because his ego is out of control.


    • Posted by CJ on 2013/09/05 at 3:58 PM

      C’mon man, of all the years EJ has been playing for the US, I would say that this would have to be his best. I’m now a fan of him from his recent play and I used to flame on him for running around in circles with his arms out asking what do I do now? You’re going to crucify him over one give away?


  2. I like it. I agree on Fabian for 50-60 minutes then add Donovan. I’m wondering if Bedoya could make a late play in the game at the 75 mark for Zusi to stretch the back line (Jurgen used him in some games for the very reason in Gold Cup). I would be very surprised to not see Beckerman in for Jones or Bradley based on the score (defensive and yellow card protection). If we are winning, maybe for Bradley or Jones. I just don’t see Dempsey coming out for Johannson but maybe for Eddie Johnson at 60-65 mark.

    Another great read and analysis. So your not expecting Costa Rica to go into a shell because they are home? Sounds good to me. Lets go get that W!


  3. Great work as usual, Matt.

    A couple of things to discuss.

    First, the US have earned a point in Costa Rica, with college kids in 1985. You are right that winning is the proper goal given how things are going.

    On Borges: I think he’s an above-average defender after watching him at the Gold Cup twice. He takes great angles. He’s a “better than most” tackler. He also benefits at country because he plays where he should play- he’s tasked with barreling forward at club and aiding attack. With the Ticos, he doesn’t have to because Ruiz can come in from the right and play centrally to aid in link-up with the forwards in front of him (See, most of Ruiz’s time at Twente). That allows Borges to remain withdrawn and defend, and as you wrote, he’s wholly able.

    On Ruiz: wouldn’t be surprised to see him trequartista in this match a bit- especially if Americans enjoy possession early. Luxury they have with Campbell in form, and might increase pressure on the US mids, who are already going to have to cover a bunch anyway.


  4. Posted by Scweeb on 2013/09/05 at 1:47 PM

    Love the line up and i agree LD in at the 50-60 mark followed by Bacon at the 70. I really think you have to keep putting him out there saying k son you wanted the move and you want to play in the WC well here is Hells Kitchen go take that mother F*&%$


  5. Posted by KickinNames.... on 2013/09/05 at 1:59 PM

    He’s baaaaack! Fantastic breakdown. CR is really a very strong front 6 that will pose many problems for the back line.
    Thanks for taking the time and delivering the best content on soccer on the interwebs.


  6. Posted by Ufficio on 2013/09/05 at 3:11 PM

    Really don’t like the thought of Eddie Johnson going against a legit international side, which I believe Costa Rica is. Is it too much of a stretch to start the Icelandic Johnson?


  7. Posted by CJ on 2013/09/05 at 4:17 PM

    Here’s my thoughts on Johnson in video:

    (Header off the bench, why? Because he’s a beast in the box with confidence.)

    (This is the pass from Goodson, dummied by EJ, one touched by LD, to upper net finish)
    A lot of credit should go to EJ for initiating the run. Honduras was beat when they allowed Goodson to walk up the field with the ball but, if EJ hadn’t made 2 moves in 3 secs there then Goodson and LD don’t set this up.

    (The 4-4-2 switch goal assisted by Altidore vs Bosnia, maybe Altidore finishes on his own but, that doesn’t matter because EJ was right place, right time [not to be undervalued])

    (EJ beasts through the defender, deftly heads it forward to himself and does more than a flick to not give the goalie a chance, quality)

    (Speeds past his defender, great ball over the top by Cameron)

    There’s a theme here, EJ has speed, size, and touch up front. Couple those attributes with his confidence and heading ability and he is an excellent option for the USMNT.


  8. Tremendous.


  9. Posted by Berniebernier on 2013/09/05 at 6:12 PM

    I would like to see Donovan instead of EJ and let him and Dempsey switch. Not sure you get much back to goal play out of EJ any way.


    • Posted by Trainwreck on 2013/09/06 at 7:15 AM

      I’m guessing you haven’t watched EJ play at the Sounders much. Back to goal, he receives the ball all game long these days, and does a very good job of trapping, shielding, dishing off, It’s really become one of his strengths.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 8:49 AM

        I’ve watched about 80% of the Sounders games this year. We has gotten much much better at holding the ball. But he is extremely more effective when you have a player playing off of that.


  10. Posted by dth on 2013/09/05 at 6:18 PM

    Best place for Eddie Johnson in this game? At home, watching on TV.


  11. Posted by FellainisFro on 2013/09/05 at 7:42 PM

    Not sure about Eddie Johnson as a starter. I would love to see what Aron Bacon is made of in an important qualifier. I think we have the deepest pool of players in recent memory with a ton of confidence, most of it emanating from Klinsi himself. To go down three days early and let Costa Rica know, “here we are and we are ready to play” is the type of gamemanship needed from the top down. I am predicting a two nil game in our favor.


  12. Posted by David on 2013/09/05 at 7:47 PM

    For what it’s worth, looked at Weather Channel’s forecast for San José tomorrow, they’re saying 60’s with good chance of rain. That might help some of our heat averse players.( Meanwhile, Weather Underground’s forecast for Columbus Tuesday is quite hot and humid.)


  13. […] The Shin Guardian preview is thorough, brilliant, and much better than mine. Read it. […]


  14. […] As usual, the guys over at The Shin Guardian and The Yanks Are Coming have you covered for game […]


  15. […] Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Soccer Team continue their improbable 12-game winning streak with a World Cup Qualifier win in Costa Rica (tonight, 9:00 CST)?   Jozy Altidore is questionable to play and the right back position, which […]


  16. “qualifying birth–a birth…”

    I think the word you are looking for is “berth.”


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 6:23 AM

      I blame this on spellcheck. My first revs had that and the spellcheck drove me crazy because all of the other misspellings. Anywho.


  17. So Landon Donovan has been the best player for both club and country for the last couple months including leading the US to TWO victories over this same Costa Rican squad over that time frame and your reaction to this is to put him on the bench? Makes perfect sense.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 6:38 AM

      Each are entitled to their own opinion.

      By your rationale then Chris Wondolowski should be starting also?

      Regardless of debating who is best in-form, since Klinsmann has really discounted “form” as a selection and starting mechanism (Cameron, Herc Gomez, Jose Torres)…here are some supporting points:

      – Landon nursing an injury
      – Klinsmann penchant for slow blooding in legacy players (Michael Bradley–started on the bench, Jozy Altidore–not selected)
      – Graham Zusi is needed in this game.

      There is a clear opportunity as I alluded to below for Landon for Fab J–that is most likely.

      *That comes down to strategy which nobody on the interwebs can possibly know.

      Landon plays if:
      – Klinsmann-Vasquez wants to overlap DaMarcus early in the game. My suggestion is no, they don’t. They want hm more to manage possession
      – If the US believes they will be in an uptempo game to start. No, they won’t if they have their way.

      If US wants to get width through DaMarcus early, they go with Donovan. If they want to manage possession and be more tentaitve offensively–as they have against all quality competition, then it may be Fab J.

      These are all debatable points, but they reflect an opinion on strategy and tactics.

      Klinsmann didn’t play Jozy when he was scoring goals in bunches.
      Klinsmann didn’t play Michael Bradley as a starter when he was killing it in Serie A.
      Klinsmann didn’t even call in Omar Gonzalez when he was in form.

      So there is precedent in some ways.

      Would I be surprised if Landon started? Absolutely not.
      Is there rationale for him to sit? Yes, that too.


      • Certainly, one is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Are you really comparing Wondo to Landon. Seriously? By his own comments Landon Donovan is in the best form of his career. That’s right, the best US player ever in his best form and you are comparing him to Wondo? Sure, Wondo finished a few nice goals in the Gold Cup and he occasionally gets himself in good positions and can occasionally finish as well.

        Landon Donovan dominated the Gold Cup. You say Landon is nursing an injury — where do you get that information? Grant Wahl — who is in Costa Rica — says he is in excellent form. Jozy is nursing an injury, not Landon. Then you bring up situations where Klinsmann sat Jozy and Gonzalez while they were playing well for their clubs. The issue, of course, was that they had not played well for country in their last several appearances on those occasions. In fact, I think its certainly an open question whether Gonzalez gets the start tonite though I believe he likely will.

        Conversely, we are here talking about Landon Donovan. Again, the best US player EVER playing in his best form ever and dominating when whether wearing US or Galaxy kit. Will you be surprised if Landon starts? The best US player in his best form — I sure hope not. The only way Landon does not start is if he gets hit by a bus on his way to the stadium. Landon is as much of a lock as any player on the team. The only question is if Klinsmann elects to slot him in at forward for a not quite fit Jozy or puts him on the left or right wing.

        You can talk strategy and tactics all day and certainly many points along those lines are debatable. Whether Landon starts, however, is clearly not.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 9:28 AM

          Was told in the MLS Soccer offices when were prepping for MttM podcast that Landon picked up a knock on Saturday.

          Can’t say if he’s over it or not now. But since you asked.


          • Fair enough. I hadn’t heard anything about that. It doesn’t seem that he’s been held back in training at all this week (at least as far as Andrew Wiebe or Grant Wahl have reported) unlike Jozy who has not been able to train all week.

            Reading a bit more about this it looks like some at MLS Soccer also think that its a legitimate debate about whether Landon starts. To me, its laughable that one would bench a fit and in form Landon for either Zusi or Fabian but, of course, with Jozy likely not fit all 3 could easily all start. If it were up to me I would bench Zusi in favor of EJ and run more of a 4-3-3//4-5-1 something like this:
            —–Jones——————Bradley—————F. Johnson—

            I should note I’d be equally happy with Aron Jóhannsson over EJ at the top of that Christmas tree. I’m not saying that Klinsy will go with that but that’s what I would like to see anyway. I suppose I fail to rate Zusi as high as many others seem to and though I think he is a hard worker who can get stuck in and can make a sweet cross on occasion (see Jozy’s header against Jamaica) a true talent like Landon he is not imo.


            • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 10:20 AM

              This is perhaps poor observation, but if you have MLS Live watch this game: http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2013-06-29-SJ-v-LA/highlights/224913

              This is the first–perhaps ever–I said to myself, “Landon doesn’t want to defend today” or “Landon’s a reluctant defender.”

              Shea Salinas (admittedly on form) gives Donovan fits this game.

              Again, we also don’t know if Zusi is fit.

              No one question Donovan’s ability or that he is perhaps the best attacker still on the team.

              The question I think more is. This is the first time back in the senior side. He’s a smart guy but I (JK/MV) know how I want to face Costa Rica.

              I would be surprised, really, if he started on the right. I really would be. I think even there is a shot of a 4-2-3-1 with Bedoya right and Donovan left. (Heck, I think there is a shot that Bedoya plays RB even…though unlikely).
              If he started for Fab J, it would merely play into all the tactics Klinsmann has used to date.

            • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 10:31 AM

              Looking at your line-up I would be extremely concerned that the RB spot was left without cover. You’re playing a chistmas tree there? With Jones as the theoretical cover over Cameron.

              I think that’s begging for trouble against a Costa Rica side that plays with a LB who is more of wingback then fullback. That’s a lot of space to ask Jones (who is used for ball carriage centrally) to get back to.

              In that line-up I think you also have Fab Johnson miscast. Unless he’s staying wide .. but then you have Beasley wanting that space.

              Less concerning, but I would definitely, respectfully, advise against the line-up against Costa Rica.

              This is the chalkboard from Costa Rica v. Panama, Costa Rica’s last home game.


              Do me a favor. Mouse over the name of “Junior Diaz” and look at his heatmap.

              Then mouse over his foil Roland Escobar and see *his* heat map. Hardly getting forward. And that’s with a RM tasked specifically to cover that side.

              If that has to be Jones…whoa boy … way out of position.

              Next, click on Escobar and then clicks on his “distribution, defensive, and ball possession events”
              A total of 3…a mere 3 …in the attacking third.

              Can’t get up the field. If that’s Donovan asked to track back, he might get stuck back there all day.

              I think the US manages possession in this one. Very well may be Donovan on the right or left as you presume.

              So in that case, first 35 mins or so. It’s really about ball circulation and taking chances if they come. Donovan would be very good there as a high second forward, but you’re still going to play — if, unlike Panana, you can maintain possession — with Costa Rica defending narrow.

              Anywho. I’ve been excessively too wordy, but hopefully you see there is a method to the madness of the non-selection of Donovan for me…. at least on the RT. :>

            • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 10:39 AM

              OKAY VERY LAST ON THIS.

              By the way, the US essentially tried that formation above. You know when?

              Again Honduras in February:

              The formation tab–incorrectly– lists Dempsey as the RFW in a 4-3-3, but what really happened that day is that Eddie Johnson played high on the left, but Dempsey drifted central (mouse over and look at his heatmap).

              Guess who was tasked with covering that right midfield spot. Jermaine Jones! And he was awful at it.

              Look at the heatmaps of Martinez and Garcia who both switched unmercilessly (spl?) that game.

              Look how high they are! Look at their distribution and ball possession events! Almost none in the defensive third.

              Okay totally done now. Sorry.

            • Besler, Beasley and EJ all played big minutes in the gold cup and Gonzalez would have if he was not out of favor at that moment. While clearly that was not an “A” team it did have many members of it and, if anything, that speaks of Landon’s ability to help raise the game of even lesser players. Having more caps than any other player on the pitch I’m pretty confident Landon will be able to adjust just fine to being back in a qualifier.

              Frankly, I rate Bedoya well over Zusi. By the accounts I’ve read he played quite well in Nantes close loss to PSG a couple of weeks ago and he went 90 again for them last week. Its unclear to me how Klinsy rates Zusi right now though didn’t he just go 90 and score the game winning goal on Saturday? I assume he is fit. If there were a player to be considered at right back I actually think Zusi would be a good option — I like his hustle and his willingness to get stuck in but I don’t see him as having the technical acumen of Landon or Alejandro now or probably ever.

              Finally, I didn’t catch that one game in June you posted the highlight of but I’ve seen several of the Galaxy games of late as well as all of the US matches. While its certainly true that Landon can drift out of games that has not been the case for either club or country throughout July and August. He has been locked in, no question. I’m not sure how long you have watched Landon for but he has frequently been a reluctant defender over the years — most notably in his second stint at Leverkusen but also with San Jose and even some during his brief spell at Bayern in addition to occasionally for the USMNT. The fair criticism against him has been his tendency to fail to commit and become lackidazical. However, there have also have been matches — most notably 2006 World Cup against Italy where he has shown a tenacious ability to defend when he wants to.

              I guess for me, at the end of the day, if I’m Klinsmann I think I want my best player playing in his best form on the field. I suppose you could be right and he could leave him on the bench but to me that would seem silly. However, I do think you are right about that 4-2-3-1 which he could use much akin to his mentor, Wenger’s use of that style. Really the 4-3-3 I was mentioning morphs into that formation as well its just that I think Fab Johnson will be given more defensive responsibilities than either Donovan or Dempsey assuming that group starts.

              Anyway, I’m super excited about the match tonite — thanks for such a thorough and detailed article even if we disagree about the likely starting lineup.

            • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 11:10 AM


            • I think you have some valid concerns on the formation but you also must admit there is a reason why Danny Williams and Mo Edu are well behind our existing options. That was a very different team that day against Honduras than the one we have developed into today. (See, e.g., 12 straight Ws…)

            • Posted by KL on 2013/09/06 at 12:28 PM

              Have to say that I agree with Matt on this one. It’s not about whether a single player is the best ever, in form, or any other individual statements. Instead, it’s important to think about a player as a piece of a very complicated puzzle. There are multiple examples (many of them mentioned above) where an extremely talented player was benched or left entirely off the roster because they didn’t fit into the larger scheme of what JK is trying to do. I do think Landon plays tonight, but he does not start in my opinion. Will I be surprised if he starts? Absolutely not. Do I understand why it doesn’t if that is the choice? Absolutely, and I actually somewhat support it. However, all of this will be a moot point if we come out and play like a pile of dog shit. Just my opinion, so feel free to flame all you want.

            • Methinks someone plays too much FIFA on PS3 or Xbox. Not to criticize because as Matt’s pointed out before, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Maybe I read wrong between the lines but Rusten’s first couple of entries seemed a tad arrogant, like maybe the author was presenting his opinions as absolute truths. Anyhow, regardless of who trots out at the start of the game, we’re all rooting for the same winning result.

            • I understand the argument but I guess the difficulty I have is finding something that either Fabian Johnson or Graham Zusi does better than Landon. With Fab I would concede he is left footed. Aside from that when it comes to passing, shooting, defending and combining with teammates I take Landon. With Zusi I would concede that he does get stuck in better. Again with everything else I take Landon. Of course, it a piece of a complicated puzzle — that’s true — but I don’t see the analysis of why we should use another player over Donovan as that piece.

      • Posted by Eiffel on 2013/09/06 at 9:34 AM

        Love it. Thank you Matt!!


  18. Having read your article first (of course!), this made me laugh:

    “Anyone else worried about these yellows? I feel Bradley is smart enough to not do anything stupid in CR, but I wouldnt mind seeing Jones on the bench or subbed early for Beckerman/Cameron.”


  19. Posted by Chazcar2 on 2013/09/06 at 12:44 PM

    I don’t think putting Donovan on a wing makes sense. He is playing great as a striker right now. Not as a midfielder.

    I can see the formation that tsg suggests being the best. As alternatives I suggest two other thoughts to get Donovan starting.
    1) 4-4-2 with Dempsey and Donovan up top with tsg’s other line up.
    2) 4-4(diamond)-2 with healthy altidore(ej otherwise) paired with Donovan. Dempsey at top of diamond. Bradley at the base. Johnson and healthy zusi(bedoya otherwise) wide.

    I think 2 is likely what we switch to if we are down or tied 0-0 at 60 min


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2013/09/06 at 1:06 PM

      I think the US really needs to have as many folks who can handle jump balls in the box. It’s just too important how Costa Rica plays. We saw Jozy back in the box defending against Bosnia.

      I don’t think the US will play a diamond since I doubt they’ll hold that much possession and it concedes the flanks.

      I could see a line-up where it’s EJ / Donovan and Dempsey at LM since Bradley is backing up that defensive area.


      • Posted by Chazcar2 on 2013/09/06 at 3:51 PM

        I could see that too. Dempsey could come into that back post area for crosses from disk. Also I noticed that Dempsey and Fabian tend to occupy the same space when Fabian comes inside. Also Dempsey in that “possession hub high left role” that ej tried to play in a couple games.


  20. Posted by Steven on 2013/09/06 at 1:14 PM

    I think this game needs a Hoosiers like montage. Gene Hackman being Klinz and Jimmy being Donovan.


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