U.S. vs Costa Rica: Countdown to Kickoff

Go time is fast approaching in Commerce City, Colorado, where the U.S. national team will take on Costa Rica at 10:00 ET tonight (ESPN).

It’s the Americans’ biggest game since the Round of 16 match against Ghana at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and our sauve special correspondent Our Man at the Valley will be there, liveblogging the game for Backpost. Come back and join us for his on-site commentary and criticism (mostly of the concession-stand fare) during what should be a cracking game.

As you’re no doubt aware, there’s been some friction in the air at the U.S. camp.

How well the team deals with that, as well as with the multiple player absences, are the leading questions heading up to kickoff.

As for the controversy, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has handled the problem fairly well—he’s been unruffled and, in typical Klinsmann fashion, he found a silver lining during a press conference in Denver yesterday: “I think it’s a great sign, all the debate that is going on about soccer in this country. It shows you that people care.”

Responding to the specifics in Straus’s article, Klinsmann had this to say:

“Obviously I prefer that if you have a problem with me, come to me and talk to me about it. The so-called ‘anonymous quotes’ where we do don’t know who said it; is it a player, is it an agent, is it a fan or whoever? But it doesn’t distract us from what we’re here for or. Our focus is strictly Costa Rica…. It really doesn’t bother me that much. If it’s true, which obviously it’s still a rumor because if you say ‘anonymous sources’ then you gotta name it, then you’d rather prefer as a coach or as individual, no matter who you are, that people talk to you directly if they have something to complain about. It’s as simple as that.”

As for the player absences, there’s a lot of chatter this morning that DaMarcus Beasley could start at left back. Here’s a thought: No.

Beasley defends well from his left-mid spot, but he is not a defender. U.S. fans have found that out before, and now is not the time for them to re-learn it. But we’re all for Beasley getting a starting nod—in midfield, where he can provide much needed width and speed.

For all the stuff that’s been swirling around this week, the team seems relaxed and ready to perform. Take a look:

Bradley cracks a smile there over the ‘anonymous critics’ fallout, and Gomez points out that all the hullabaloo can be helpful in the long run, as a fallback experience for dealing with the pressure cooker of an actual World Cup game.

Whatever their mindset, they’ll need to be at their best to beat Costa Rica, a team they haven’t defeated since 2005. That’s right, the U.S. is 11-12-6 alltime against the Ticos, but have not beaten them in eight years. They’ll be hoping for a little magic of the kind Tab Ramos provided vs Costa Rica in this pivotal 1997 WC qualifier:

Enjoy the game, and be sure to tune in for Our Man’s bulletins from Commerce City.

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Two Yoots: Pair of 19-Year-Old Americans Help Galaxy, Sounders Reach CCL Semifinals

For the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two clubs from Major League Soccer in the final four. Seattle and Los Angeles both advanced to the semis this week, eliminating Tigres of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, respectively, and both got key goals from 19-year-olds who came up through the clubs’ academies. That’s called living right.

Here’s the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., in 1993. You probably remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Villareal is fresh from a standout performance with the U.S. U-20s at the CONCACAF Championships, where he bagged three goals in four games. Last night versus Herediano, he kept his personal momentum going, scoring the second goal to spark LA to a 4-1 win:

Go ahead, watch it again. See the stepover, the spin-o-rama, and the deadly left-footed finish to the far post. Pure class in a glass, as Ray Hudson would say.

The previous night in Seattle, the Sounders fell behind Tigres’s B squad and looked to be on their way out of the CCL. Their 19-year-old right back, DeAndre Yedlin, was beaten—some say fouled—on the play that led to Tigres’s goal and put Seattle in a 2-0 aggregate hole.

The young Seattle native—in his CCL debut and just his second appearance for the Sounders—quickly made amends, scoring a sweet equalizer and turning in an excellent, assured second-half performance.

Check out his goal:

Yedlin was not part of the U.S. U-2o team that qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Turkey, but if he keeps up his current form—he was named to the MLS Team of the Week last week, becoming the first rookie ever to earn the honor in his professional debut—you can bet that coach Tab Ramos will call him in for the tournament.

Bonus Yoot

Another player who was not part of that U-20 qualifying team, but could play his way onto it, is Villareal’s teammate in LA, 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach, Calif. A big kid with skill and a nose for goal, McBean is the youngest signing in Galaxy history, having put pen to paper with the team in April 2011 at age 16.

Here he is late in last night’s game against Herediano, taking a quick restart and curling a shot into the far side netting to make it 4-1 LA:

The MLS academy system, founded in 2006 and streamlined in ’08, is starting to bear fruit. The 2011 U.S. U-20 team featured just one academy product; this year’s edition featured four—as well as two (Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas) who split their youth development between US academy sides and the Santos Laguna (Mexico) youth system.

U.S. U-20s Rally Against Canada, Clinch World Cup Berth

Two years after their predecessors fell short of qualifying for the 2011 U-20 World Cup and one year after the American U-23 side failed to qualify for the London Olympics, the current U.S. U-20 side made some amends on Friday, knocking off Canada 4-2 to advance to the CONCACAF Championship semifinals and secure a berth in this summer’s U-20 World Cup in Turkey (June 21-July 13).

With former U.S. youth and senior international star Tab Ramos holding the coaching reins, the young Yanks rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the do-or-die game, reeling off three goals in 17 minutes to take a 3-1 lead into the break. A fourth came just after the intermission to all but wrap up the game. Canada pulled one back in the 63rd, and then the teams traded chances the rest of the way.

To the highlights:

U.S. fans can take satisfaction on several levels from this result. The team got the job done without midfield star Marc Pelosi (who broke his leg playing for Liverpool’s U-21s) and center backs Walker Zimmerman and Will Packwood. The U.S. was also missing defender John Anthony Brooks, a German-American who has played for both nations’ U-20 teams.

The side performed in pressure-packed circumstances (WC qualifying, with the above-mentioned previous failures hanging over their heads) and in a hostile environment (Puebla, Mexico, where the locals jeered just about every U.S. touch).

Additionally, a few players stood out as potential candidates for the USMNT a few years down the line, including stocky, speedy striker Daniel Cuevas, goal-poacher Jose Villareal, and Real Salt Lake playmaker Luis Gil.

One other notable element was that Ramos did not hesitate to shift his team out of the Klinsmann-mandated 4-3-3 formation when game situations warranted it. The team looked much more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 (with two holding midfielders), and they controlled games in that setup, whereas in the 4-3-3 they were overrun in midfield. Something to consider going forward (and something U-23 coach Caleb Porter did not do in his team’s failed Olympic bid).

Here’s some postmatch reaction from Ramos and his players:

The U.S. will meet Cuba in the (much-less-meaningful) semifinals on Friday (6:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer), but with qualification already assured, a number of players, including Cuevas and Gil, will be heading back to their club sides.