Nothing about the U.S. quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup has been conventional, so Friday night's 1-0 triumph over Costa Rica in a blizzard under the lights at Dick's Sporting Goods Park can be chalked up to just another item on the growing list.
While the relentless snow was the main talking point immediately before, during and after, it completely took the spotlight off the fact that the U.S. needed to come through with a bounce-back performance to ease qualification worries. Following a loss to Honduras last month and after enduring a trying week in which manager Jurgen Klinsmann's leadership was called into serious question, the Americans responded and took a necessary step in the right direction.
Klinsmann always talks about trying to push players out of their comfort zones in order for them to reach their potential, and in some of the most uncomfortable conditions imaginable, the Americans came through with a performance that shoots them up to second in the CONCACAF hexagonal standings heading into Tuesday's bout with rival Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Here are player ratings from Friday's match (as always, on a scale from 0-10):
GK, Brad Guzan, 6.5 -- Guzan answered the bell in Tim Howard's place and further fortified his standing as his chief backup. He was sure-handed in unrelenting conditions, although Costa Rica barely put any serious chances on frame. He was only out of position on one instance, when he came off his line for a ball and missed completely, but was fortunate to not have any Costa Rica attacker be in a spot to pounce on the opportunity. Guzan also handled every back pass cleanly, which was no easy task. The Aston Villa man's club form carried over to the national team.
D, Geoff Cameron, 4.5 -- On an otherwise stellar night across the back, Cameron's showing left plenty to be desired. In Cameron's defense, he had never started at right back for the U.S. (although he has for Stoke City), and he was pressed into duty because of a litany of injuries. But he consistently tried to play the ball out of the back on a night when the safe and smart play was to clear it. When Costa Rica presented an attacking threat, it more often than not came down Cameron's channel, with Bryan Oviedo getting forward and sending in balls from that flank. Cameron did come up with a handful of timely tackles, but he put his team under pressure with his distribution and decision making.
D, Clarence Goodson, 7 -- Goodson had been an odd man out in Klinsmann's center-back rotation, but he played his way back into the discussion Friday. Goodson confidently stepped forward and established his presence early, and that carried throughout. A rock in the center, Goodson also alertly got his head to a Bryan Ruiz free kick from a dangerous spot in the second half, redirecting it safely from Guzan's goal. With Klinsmann in need of reliable options at the position, Goodson demonstrated his good side at an opportune time.
D, Omar Gonzalez, 6.5 -- Gonzalez bounced back from his rough go in Honduras with a monster showing against Los Ticos. Gonzalez was not called upon in the early going so much, but he warmed up as the snow came down, his signature moment a block on Ruiz's seemingly open attempt from the edge of the area at the end of the first half. From that point on, Gonzalez grew even more into the game and provided strong, confident leadership in addition to sound distribution. A necessary performance for his accelerated development.
D, DaMarcus Beasley, 7.5 -- On the night that Beasley won his 98th cap, he looked as spry as the day he earned his first. The 30-year-old bounced back from an early head-to-head collision with Gonzalez to turn in his best national team performance in ages. Called upon to fill in at left back with the injury crisis, Beasley was positionally sound all night. His ability to hustle and recover when he pushed forward prevented Costa Rica from threatening Guzan, and he had a big hand in building the attack out of the back when he elected to get involved -- which was quite frequently. Beasley's turn-back-the-clock showing suggested he'll start when the U.S. faces Mexico on Tuesday.
M, Graham Zusi, 5 -- Zusi did not present Jozy Altidore with much service, nor did he factor in the attack all that much, certainly not enough to offset the amount of times he turned the ball over. That said, Zusi was denied a penalty after a tackle went uncalled in the first half, and he managed to set up Clint Dempsey for a great chance in the second half, one that Dempsey side-volleyed wide. He was taken off midway through the second half in favor of Eddie Johnson, and it's uncertain whether he did enough to keep his starting job for the clash with El Tri.
M, Michael Bradley, 6 -- Bradley went about his business in a quiet way Friday, but he was effective nonetheless. Not in the field-general, get-forward, take-charge kind of way that we have grown accustomed to seeing, but in more of a keep-the-engine going kind of way. He helped maintain possession with his accurate passing amid treacherous field conditions (completed 41-of-46 passes, according to stats outfit Opta), and perhaps most importantly, he avoided any crunching fouls from his defensive midfield role that could have earned him a yellow card -- one that would have him suspended for Tuesday's vital match.
M, Jermaine Jones, 5 -- Jones' snow-fro was one of the visual takeaways from the night. In terms of his play on the field, Jones absorbed a beating, but he also nearly got himself into serious trouble with a needless elbow into the face of Ruiz. He was fortunate to escape serious punishment, and overall his night was satisfactory. Klinsmann was wise to sub him off in the 83rd minute, preventing him from picking up a second booking and leaving the USA shorthanded.
M, Clint Dempsey, 7 -- Serving as captain in Carlos Bocanegra's place, Dempsey led by example, tallying the game-winning goal and tying Landon Donovan's U.S. mark for all-time World Cup qualifying goals (12). He made his intentions known moments before his goal by attempting a speculative shot from distance, and he was in perfect position to pounce on Jozy Altidore's redirected blast to touch home the decisive strike. Later on in the half, he was denied what looked to be a clear penalty after being tripped by Roy Miller -- who also touched Altidore's shot into his path -- and he missed a chance to ice the game with his side volley from Zusi's cross.
M, Herculez Gomez, 6.5 -- Gomez demonstrated his typical work rate on both ends, tracking back when necessary, winning 50-50 balls and working very well with Dempsey and Altidore. The latest display of his non-stop motor made it even more of a head-scratcher as to why he was left out of last month's match in Honduras. Gomez's service off set pieces, both free kicks and corners, was below average, but on a night when field conditions were as hard to navigate as they'll ever be, that's a bit more forgivable.
F, Jozy Altidore, 7 -- No, Altidore did not end his lengthy U.S. scoring drought, but he was essential in his side getting the victory. His hold-up play and link-up play were top notch, and he constantly had his head up looking for the next pass when he came into possession. It was Altidore's initial shot that resulted in the deflection for Dempsey's game-winning goal, and the in-form AZ Alkmaar man did plenty to endear himself to Klinsmann ahead of the bout at Estadio Azteca.
M, Eddie Johnson, 5.5 -- Was ready and willing to take defenders on as soon as he entered for Zusi, but the surface gave Johnson fits with his footing, and he never could direct anything toward goal. Even so, Johnson's eagerness and hunger were evident, and even though he is not a wing player by trade he continues to show his flexibility by doing what is asked.
M, Maurice Edu, 5 -- Only saw the field for seven minutes, plus stoppage time, but Edu helped keep the ball going in the right direction while clogging the midfield. There was talk that Edu might get a start in defense considering the current crisis, and perhaps he'll get the chance to do so at Azteca, where he starred at center back during the USA's historic 1-0 win in an August friendly.
M, Kyle Beckerman, N/A -- Brought on as a time-killing sub for Gomez in the 90th minute, Beckerman got a touch or two in his few moments on the field but did not have the opportunity to do much more.