U.S. Report Card
By Ridge Mahoney
Soccer in a snow globe was on display Friday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park near Denver, and in a battle against the elements the Americans beat Costa Rica, 1-0, with a Clint Dempsey goal.
A sloppy, messy game marred by giveaways and turnovers nonetheless offered up great drama. A trip on Dempsey went unpunished, a Costa Rican goal was disallowed for offside and early in the second half referee Joel Aguilar briefly suspended play.
In a game lacking shape or elegance, the Americans resorted to toughness and determination to withstand the blowing snow, 29-degree temperatures, and numerous harsh collisions.
7 Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/ENG) 21/0. Aside from flailing at and missing a corner kick into the goal area, Guzan coped admirably well, recovering the few balls he couldn’t handle cleanly and getting down to smother a couple of tricky low shots. In treacherous weather no player is more vulnerable than the goalkeeper, yet Guzan stayed poised and confident.
6 Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG) 13/0. He passed most of his tests, though Bryan Oviedo got past him a few times in the first half and a couple of his fouls gave Costa Rica free kicks in dangerous positions. He tried to link up with Zusi to mixed success and really struggled with his crossing. Defensively, he was strong in the air and in the second half figured out his footing to clear low balls more confidently.
7 Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy) 5/0. Rugged and confident performance in a pressure game against a good opponent justified his selection. He kept his balance while fending off an opponent to neatly trap and clear a low ball driven through the middle by Michael Barrantes, and nimbly dug out centering passes when a miskick or scuff would have been costly. Crucial block in the waning seconds snuffed Costa Rica’s best opportunity of the first half.
7 Clarence Goodson (Broendby/DEN) 35/3. Neutralized Alvaro Saborio often enough in the first half that the RSL forward tried his luck against Gonzalez with much the same result. Looked secure and sure despite the thickening snow, undoubtedly a product of his time in Denmark, and may have saved a goal when he headed away Bryan Ruiz’s free kick for a corner.
7 DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/MEX) 98/17. The Beas scampered in the snow, perhaps flashing back to his days with PSV Eindhoven and the Fire. He gave some width to the attack by working up the left flank to link with Gomez, and tracked back tirelessly to scrape away balls from the skidding Costa Ricans. A few giveaways weren’t punished and the rare occasions he got caught too far forward weren’t exploited.
6 Jermaine Jones (Schalke/GER) 28/2. He ended the match wearing a shower cap of snow on his fuzzy dome after squelching numerous attacks in the middle of the park and beating his opponents to knockdowns and second balls. A rather foolish forearm caught Bryan Ruiz in the face but he escaped punishment. He kept his focus despite absorbing fierce hits and painful kicks before being replaced in the 83rd minute.
7 Michael Bradley (Roma/ITA) 74/11. In a two-man central midfield, he plugged up the middle much of time as a screen behind the more aggressive Jones. Bradley played a lot of good balls out to the right flank for Zusi and Cameron, and resorted to lumping the ball forward less often than his teammates. His run diagonally across the goalmouth drew defenders as Altidore’s shot was deflected to Dempsey.
5 Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City) 9/1. Missed connections with Cameron several times down the right flank and untypically over-hit a few crosses. A couple of other balls tested the Costa Rican defense and he worked hard defensively, though his positioning and decision-making were at times questionable.
7 Clint Dempsey (Tottenham/ENG) 93/32. Ranged back into midfield to find the ball and popped up in several threatening spots to keep the Costa Ricans off balance. Pounced on a deflected Altidore shot to score the game’s only goal and returned the favor with a couple of clever flicks that set up chances. Nicked the ball past Roy Miller and was tripped without a whistle. Got his foot to a Zusi cross but his side-volley went wide.
6 Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna/MEX) 20/5. He didn’t have his best day offensively, though late in the first half he so frustrated Cristian Gamboa that the right back shoved him to the ground and conceded a free kick. Gomez thwarted Costa Rica often by tracking back and getting in tackles. Late in the game he plowed through the snow and barreled over Juan Madrigal. His set plays were hit-and-miss, and quickly whistled fouls negated what looked to be effective serves.
7 Jozy Altidore (AZ/NED) 54/13. Hard work and determination enabled him to win many battles, and thus his hold-up play and flick-ons produced sequences that provided the Americans throw-ins, free kicks, and corner kicks. He made space to fire a low shot that deflected to Dempsey for the goal, and got free again late in the match but rolled his shot wide. Plagued by a reluctance to shoot in past U.S. games, he got assertive at the right time.
5 Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders) 46/14. Ran at the Costa Ricans a few times to pin them back in their own half and a cross required a sharp goalkeeper catch, yet he missed a couple of defensive assignments.
NR Maurice Edu (Bursaspor/TUR) 44/1. Replaced Jones for the final minutes.
NR Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) 25/1. Cameo sub for Gomez.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5-average; 10=high.)