Klinsmann and U.S. team already looking past Costa Rica loss
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Michael Bradley, the U.S. national team's indispensable central midfielder, will miss Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Mexico with a grade-two sprain of his left ankle.
"It's been a bummer," coach Jurgen Klinsmann conceded as the U.S. prepared to train Sunday afternoon here at Crew Stadium. But it didn't take long for the perpetually upbeat manager to find a silver lining.
"Michael will stay with us until Wednesday. Which is nice, you know? Having him around, he's such a positive personality," Klinsmann said.
A heavy loss in Costa Rica, some genuine defensive concerns, the suspension of three important players and Bradley's injury would be enough to leave some squads scrambling. But not Klinsmann's. Friday's 3-1 setback may have snapped the Americans' 12-game winning streak, but it didn't appear to shake their confidence. The outlook remains bright.
"No rain. No snow," Klinsmann said as he met with reporters in sunny Columbus. His players could be heard laughing as they warmed up behind him.
"We wanted three points in Costa Rica," he said. "So, now we have to find a way to get those three points on Tuesday night."
The defeat didn't cause much damage. The U.S. (4-2-1) can seal its spot at the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday with a victory over Mexico (1-1-5) and a Honduras win or tie against visiting Panama. It's impossible to predict whether El Tri -- reeling from Friday's loss to Honduras and the subsequent firing of coach Jose Manuel de la Torre -- will take the Crew Stadium field invigorated or deflated. The U.S. will kick off with a makeshift starting 11 but will be buoyed by the big occasion and reliant on the momentum created during a record-setting summer.
"I think there are things we look at [from the Costa Rica loss] and think we can get those right and we'll be a heck of a lot more solid," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "At the same time, we've been playing well. That happens. Sometimes, you get your butt kicked. That's part of it. You just have to shake it off and move on. I think this group has the resilience to move on."
Bradley was one of five players removed from Klinsmann's active roster this weekend. Defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, defender Matt Besler and forward Jozy Altidore are suspended thanks to yellow card accumulation and defender John Brooks, who was unlikely to play anyway, returned to Hertha Berlin.
Bradley's injury weakens the team's spine and makes the loss of both Besler and Cameron all the more frustrating (especially because Besler's card seemed severe), but Klinsmann said Tuesday that he has faith in his reinforcements.
Clarence Goodson arrived in Columbus Sunday and likely will start in back alongside Omar Gonzalez. Jose Torres, Joe Corona and Brad Davis also came in and will provide depth and additional options in a midfield that could be anchored by Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. That pair started together in last August's historic U.S. win at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
"We're fully loaded," Klinsmann said, calling Goodson, Torres, Corona and Davis "players that were already part of that inner circle. They know exactly what we expect, how we want to play. All the things are prepared for Tuesday night and we want to give them a real fight."
Howard may have called Friday's loss a butt kicking, but the U.S. had its share of close calls. The foul that led to Clint Dempsey's successful first-half penalty kick very well could have resulted in a red card for Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The Americans earned seven corner kicks. Dempsey also hit the post in the second half, during which a lengthy spell of U.S. possession went unrewarded.
"Especially in the second half, until [Costa Rica's third goal] came we actually played a really good game if you watch the game again, which we did," Klinsmann said.
The coach and his goalie were equally as forgiving of their defense, which was torn apart by Costa Rica in the opening 15 minutes and struggled to contain speedster Joel Campbell, who scored the second-half backbreaker. It remains a work in progress. Gonzalez and Besler entered the game with a combined 22 international caps, Michael Orozco was playing right back for the first time and DaMarcus Beasley, while a veteran, is still a midfielder at heart. With only nine months to go, Klinsmann still hasn't found his World Cup back four.
"The backs are the hardest position to gel," Howard said. "You have to go through your bumps and your bruises to get better and that's what we're doing. One game doesn't define us. I think how we've been playing has been important ... Any time you try to bleed a new back four, in particular young center backs, everyone has to go through their ups and downs. That's it, between goalkeeper and center backs, those are the two hardest positions to learn. It takes a long time. We wouldn't be having this conversation if Friday night didn't happen. It's one game."
Klinsmann said the goals yielded in Costa Rica were a team issue, not the fault of one defender or another.
"What I always try to preach, is defensively and offensively you work as a unit, and that unit was far too stretched out in the first 15 minutes in Costa Rica," the coach said. "In this process [of implementing a new playing style and integrating new defenders] you will have moments where you give up a couple more goals than you hope to. But I think overall that process is going very positive."
One defeat in 13 games is pretty positive, and it is on that big picture that Klinsmann and Co. will focus heading into Tuesday's qualifier. Mexico is sliding. The U.S. simply stumbled.
"We've been playing well," Howard said. "I think at the top level, small little mistakes cause chaos and if we can correct those small little things, we'll be fine."