USA vs. Costa Rica: Discovering Depth?

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Back at work.

Back at work.

(TSG’s USA-Costa Rica preview was written prior to Charlie Davies’ car accident.)

Fresh off a historic qualifying win in Honduras, the US was back in training in our nation’s capital today. Wouldn’t it be a great if the Striker-in-Chief happened to make a journey out to RFK?

We believe Coach USA and the USMNT should play for the win against Costa Rica, but not miss the chance to explore the depth of the USMNT.

To be clear,  the USMNT should employ its aggressive attacking and counter-attacking strategy similar to Saturday’s 2nd half, but do so with a few new faces in the line-up.

Let’s get right to our customary preview.

  1. TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”
  2. 11 at the Whistle
  3. *Disclaimers

TSG’s “What We’re Looking For”

Overview: The USMNT will be issued a stern challenge by the Costa Rican side that dismantled T&T at home over the weekend. CR was led by striker Alvaro Saborio (of the Championship side Bristol City), who netted twice on Saturday. Perhaps you remember Saborio who put the Yanks down less than two minutes into the match at Saprissa in June.

More importantly, Costa Rica comes in two points ahead of Honduras for the third and final automatic qualifying spot in the region. We all know by now that the fourth place finisher in CONCACAF has a date with the fifth place finisher from CONMEBOL for a tickets to South Africa. Right now it is likely that either CR or HON will have tickets to “The Battle of Argentina” and you can sure that will not be an easier route to the WC.

Expect the Costa Ricans to attack like they did in the first game at Saprissa with their Cup hopes on the line. The June 3rd return-to-qualification match-up saw Costa Rica rarely challenged in their defensive third and clinical in breaking down the US defense.

That game also signaled the beginning of Dempsey’s  loss of form for the national team as well as a glaring display of the US defensive deficiencies when pressed by faster, quicker strikers. Starters that day included Mastreoni, Wynee, Beasley and Torres. The game also saw cameos for current USMNT starter Charlie Davies, former (and future?) hopeful Freddy Adu and Sacha Kljestan

June “lowlights” (certainly not “highlights”) — watch at your own risk.

» Oh come on, you knew we were going here first. Does one Jose Francisco Torres get atonement, vindication and revenge…or even playing time?

Before we even get to how the USMNT and Bob Bradley will strategize the game, we’re going to the most compelling storyline.

Will Torres be singing a little Bob Marley come Wednesday? (Hint: Redemption Song)

Will Torres be singing a Bob Marley song of freedom come Wednesday?

The June 3rd game at Saprissa marked the beginning of Torres’s stay in Bob Bradley’s sweatsuit closet. The Pachuca halfback started the game and was soundly beaten twice in defense–although only 1 goal was his fault alone. (See “highlights” above.) Before he knew it, Torres found himself banished to the bench after halftime and has only been seen since in spot duty, the last of which versus El Salvador last month.

To his credit, Torres was one of the few Yanks on that pitch that day generating any type of offense.

Bob Bradley has a way of sticking with players, but Torres hasn’t received that treatment yet from Coach USA. It would be a show of faith and challenge to Torres if he takes the pitch, especially as a member of the starting squad.

What does Bob do? We won’t make you wait until the end of the column. We say Torres subs early.

» Backtracking, what is the USMNT strategy?: Major minutes for the second squad, a continued full-court press to South Africa or a hybrid of the two?

The June 3rd match saw the beginning of the end of roster invites for some USMNT hopefuls Kljestan, Beasley, Wynne and Adu. The October 14th match will present the opportunity for veterans, injury returnees and newcomers to stake some claim, namely Goodson, Holden, Feilhaber, Cooper and perhaps Ching.

This time around Bob Bradley has the luxury of a Cup invite in-hand and has multiple ways to play this one. While Bradley came out Sunday and said the US would be playing to win the group, consider that statement more a shot across the bow for any new starters that Bradley employs on Wednesday. As in, “I expect a win no matter what team I field.”

Does Bradley take a look at as many extras as possible to determine how they play against a team in need? Or…

Does he pair one or two new guys (Torres, Cooper) with the foundation of the starting group to see if he’s missed a potential dynamic pairing? Or…

Does he come at the came with his best squad and make statement to the FIFA ranking committee? Or…

Does Bradley rest weary legs or reward good performances from Saturday?

We say Bradley goes with a hybrid approach. He keeps a core group of starters intact and takes a calculated look here and there at some potential new pairings. Bradley wants to finish qualifying as #1 in CONCACAF and will want to keep the integrity of the group strong by playing to win against Costa Rica.

» Does the Guz get a shot?

This is a no-brainer for TSG. Brad Guzan has sat patiently as Tim Howard’s caddy through nearly all of qualifying. This game should be used to get Guzan some first team time in the “Heaven forbid Tim Howard goes down” scenario as well as some time in a meaningful match. (Something he hasn’t seen for the national team since the Confed Cup tilt versus Egypt). Let’s just move on now.

11 at the Whistle

Doing this may be more accruate

Doing this may be more accurate

A Guzan selection in goal is certainly a good bet and a smart decision.

GK: Guzan

The backline could be a tough one for Coach Bradley. Does he play the line from the Honduras match to build chemistry or does he  investigate other options?

In central defense specifically, expect to see Gooch for sure. The Milan man looked good on Saturday and is fresh. Does Gooch pair with Boca or does Captain Carlos get are rest allowing for Goodson or even Conrad to get some minutes. (Way too early for Goodson, but he’ll be on the bench.)

On the outside Bradley’s options are simpler. Bornstein should be in the starting eleven until a better option presents itself. On the right it could be Dolo or Spector? Our guess is that Bradley sticks with Spector to see if he can work out his defensive issues on the pitch.

DEF: Spector, Bornstein, Gooch, Boca

Bradley has more options and flexibility in the front six with the line-up hinging on how he chooses to use Lando.

While Donovan will keep the left half slot for the foreseeable future there is an outside shot Bradley deploys him further up the pitch (relieving LD of some defensive responsibilities) to put pressure on the Costa Rica. Our bet is that Landon stays wide left and potentially moves up (a la Deuces’ recent role) depending on the scoreboard.

As you might expect from TSG, we’re championing Benny Feilhaber getting moretime after his cup of coffee on Saturday, likely in place of Ricardo Clark, with Stu Holden manning the right flank again.

MID: Donovan, Bradley, Feilhaber, Holden

Up top, Bradley can choose from Saturday’s hero Casey (who missed practice today, Chuck Deezy, a “well-rested” Altidore, former favored target man Ching or even Bundesliga 2 striker Kenny Cooper.

This is probably the toughest call a few days in advance, but here goes. Let’s use deductive reasoning here…

Altidore gets one spot…Bradley will want to give the youngster some run and keep him in good standing on the USMNT. That leaves us with one opening. And let’s rule out Kenny Cooper…he’s been scoring overseas at 1860 Munich, but BB has shown a penchant for players earning their starts on the USMNT.

That leaves us with Ching, Casey, and Davies. With the U.S. looking  for a win and Ching redundant to Casey, we say that Casey stays put and is rewarded for his performance on Saturday with another start.  (We also wouldn’t be surprised  if Davies gets a game breather from Bob Bradley either.)

ST: Altidore, Casey

Substitutes will depend on the flow of the game and score. However, we think this is where Bradley will go to the second (or third) line.

Subs off the bench: Torres, Cooper and…and…can I borrow that hat?


  • Conor Casey’s spot? Davies? Ching?

Coach USA can go anyway on this one and, after Casey’s suprise start on Saturday, it’s anyone guess. Bradley will most likely goes with Davies or Casey. So let’s call it a 49% chance that Davies (or someone else) pairs Altidore.

Probability: 49%

  • Dolo or Spector?

The never ending long straw, short straw. No idea here. TSG wants more pitch time for Spector, but there is plenty of good rationale for ‘Dolo. Fresh legs, speed on the corner, ‘Dolo brought back some serious suds from Oktoberfest.

Probability: 49%

  • Torres starting somewhere?

It would be a shock if Paco started, but stranger things have happened (see Casey, Honduras, 10/10). Just like BB surprised USMNT fans Saturday, he’s probably good for another one. If so, this is it.

Probability: No idea

  • Davies not in the 18.

Just call this a guess, but two bullets to back this up.

One, Davies is rumored to have a knock of some sort. That’s all we know.

Two, June 3rd saw Davies pull an Adebayor on a Costa Rican player’s groin. While it wasn’t clear if it was intentional, why put a first team striker at risk, especially if Costa Rica is losing their immediate World Cup bid in real time.

Probability: Again, no idea

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/12 at 9:15 PM

    This is Matt — Mark and I co-wrote this one.

    Casey sat out practice today, not sure how that changes anything or why he did.

    I think we also both agree there is a shot you’ll see Conrad to spell Boca, but not likely.


  2. I realllllllly would like to see

    With Donovan playing somewhat more of a supporting forward role/having a little more freedom. I think getting a look at Torres and Feilhaber together centrally while not sacrificing anything defensively would be quite potent, and baby bradley can make his dirt nasty late runs/shots from distance. this should also free stu up a little more offensively as well, and allow him to run at people. I think the support for Jozy would be perfect, Casey doesn’t have much to prove and if Charlie is even kinda hurt(or Casey) certainly no need to give them any time. I want to see Gooch paired with someone outside Boca, and Conrad is quite capable, and really should be the 4th cb/compete with Marshall for that spot. Dolo on the right and spec on the left explores something new while keeping the defense pretty stable, and even though spector might not provide as much service, I’m really interested in seeing what he could do out there. Subs are Cooper, and Goodson late. It would help answer a lot of questions in the least.


  3. Posted by Wilson on 2009/10/13 at 12:22 AM

    Lets leave starting 11 home with their clubs.
    this Costa Rica Match Play some subs and other players to keep the depth. XI = Howard, Dolo, Gooch, Boca, JB, Stu(Deuce), Bradley, Clark, Donavon, Casey, Davies.

    “Guzan”/Perkins, “Castillo”/Wynne. Goodson/”Marshall”/Conrad/Parkhurst/Califf/”Demerit”, “Spector”, “Torres”/Klejestein/”Feilhaber”, Mastreoni/”Edu”, “Beasley”/Rogers, “Altidore”/Ching/Cooper, “Adu”

    ” ” = the players i want to see play.


  4. Posted by kaya on 2009/10/13 at 9:48 AM

    I know the friendlies just aren’t the same, but I don’t want to see this game as a depth exercise. I kinda doubt FIFA will give us the pot over Mexico for the next 20 years, but I want don’t want to give them any extra excuses.
    I frankly didn’t know much about Honduras’ backline… certainly not enough to figure BB’s decision to put CC in there to be a brilliant coup (get it?? ha!) Ditto for the Ticos backline. Any guesses for that? Is CC a good matchup for their center backs? Do I sound ungrateful by saying I don’t expect lightning to strike twice in the same spot?
    Anyway, Altidore should be easily capable of the same thing… then some.
    Ticos seem like they’re back on their game, but at least this time we’ve firmly eliminated the Beasly LB experiment.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/13 at 10:01 AM


      Understandable on Mex, in my opinion, I doubt one qualifier will weigh heavily more than the collective thinking that CONCACAF is behind other regions.

      Also, I think you can still with with the line above. All of those guys have started qualifiers — BF most recently home vs. El Salvador and Guz I believe played away against El Sal earlier this year.

      On the Ticos backline it’s largely untested, but I think you want to beat them up. The combined age of their central defenders is somewhere around 75 I believe.

      I think the midfield will be the key in this one to generating offense regardless who is up top. The US got manhandled in the midfield last time. LD was average and not on his game yet. Dempsey was ridden up and down the field. Kljestan came in and was lost.

      US will be better on home soil, but they’ll win this game in the middle 1/3 of the field in my mind. They keep giving up chances to Ruiz and Saborio (who is just a nasty-filthy :> combination of physicality and agility) and they’ll be in trouble. (Which is why I may be leaning to Cherundolo on the right)

      Unlike Honduras, the US can’t push possession out to the flanks this time — the wingfulls are better for CR–which means to me they’ll try a few over the tops to Alitdore and Casey or Ching.

      I have this nagging feeling that Charlie rests this game, but I’ve been wrong a lot lately.


      • Posted by Mark T on 2009/10/13 at 10:07 AM

        Don’t forget that Guzan pitched the shut-out versus Egypt in the Confed Cup.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/13 at 10:15 AM

          True — but I discount that a little bit.

          Yes, I know that Egypt is a good team, but there was absolutely zero pressure on Guz in that game and the US for that matter. No one expected them to do anything.

          In some minds, this game will impact seeding for the World Cup. Last time out for Guz in qualifiers was El Sal I believe and the two goals really weren’t his fault.

          But I agree Guzan appears to be big time, defeating Juventus “A minus” team in the Peace Cup, pitching victories in the Carling Cup for Villa and of course as you mention Egypt.

          One thing I will look for in Guzan is how he moves — in the World Cup, you really have to rely on your keeper to be a good ballhandler when the d plays the ball back. Most suggest this is why Keller was the mainstay for 2006.

          I’ll (hopefully) be watching how Guz does against that on Wednesday.


      • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/13 at 10:21 AM

        My apologies — central defense for CR last time

        Freddy Fernandez: 35 years old
        Michael Umana: just 27 — was released by the Galaxy though.

        Both could have sat down for a 5-course meal in the first meeting.


  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/10/13 at 10:03 AM

    And a note on the Beasley experiment — I think you can now forgive BB for that —

    US had major holes at LH and LB so Bradley tried to get all his best players on the field by moving Donovan down from forward and Beasley down from half.

    Turned out that Beasley wasn’t up to the task. But if it had worked, the US would have had the attacking left back they look for — so let’s not forget that one.


  6. Despite saying “our only goal is to qualify” like a mantra, after we qualified Bradley set a new goal to win the group. We should be serious about winning the group even though there’s only an outside chance of CONCACAF getting a seeded slot, if some marquee names fail to qualify maybe the chance increases. I hope Bob Bradley isn’t going to make wholesale changes – Enough Gold Cup style “play the second team” line-up’s. They don’t tell us anything about what players outside the first 11 are going to bring when integrated into the side. I expect to see only 2 or 3 changes from the line-up which took the field in Honduras.

    After a shaky performance, the back 4 should stay the same. Already the second-choice pairing, Boca is suspended for his club’s next match and Gooch needs all the minutes he can get, as does Spector. Cherundolo is a known quantity so I expect Spector gets a chance to redeem himself after a marginal performance in Honduras. Bornstein was fairly solid but is the main candidate for a change which would see local lad Clarence Goodson slotting into the middle, pushing Boca out to the left – unless Bob’s looking to experiment with a 6’4″ giant left back. We’re more likely to see Goodson as a substitute.

    If we’re serious about winning the group, we will see Landon Donovan in midfield. I was Donovan’s biggest critic at the beginning of the summer but he has recovered from the disaporkment against Mexico to look like the class of CONCACAF. He continues to develop his skills which means his next European adventure should be a success. In Honduras he did a fine imitation of Beckham’s free-kick technique and showed the ability to keep possession ticking over in midfield as the second half wore on in addition to his usual incisive passing on the counterattack. His technical ability

    Bradley should nurture the confidence that emerged in Holden after a shaky start against Honduras. Holden needs more minutes to work on the understanding with Spector. Holden delivers a fantastic final ball but isn’t going to beat players on his own – his best crosses come when he’s played up the flank by his team-mates so he needs service that he wasn’t getting for the first 30 minutes of the match. Suddenly he started to find the play and dropped a clinical cross on Davies head right between defenders.

    In the center of midfield, expect to see at least one change with either Feilhaber or Torres relieving one of Bradley or Clark. We need to look at some central midfield options other than Bradley + 1. I’m on record that a Feilhaber/Clark pairing is of interest as the classic creative organizer/holding player fulcrum. I thought Bradley was poor in the 1st half against Honduras and (from what I could decipher) seemed to be the source of a number of dangerous giveaways in central midfield, though he improved in the second. Our back four is just not good enough to go without cover in the form of Clark, so the more creative players should replace Bradley who is a box-to-box player. I agree we’re most likely to see Torres as a substitution as Donovan ends his night early, rather than as a starter.

    Up front we may see wholesale changes. Despite missing a great chance in the first half vs Honduras, Davies is our first choice striker so there’s no reason for him to start if he’s carrying a minor knock. He makes the bench if fit enough to play. If he’s fit, I would like to see Conor Casey get a second straight start, he’s earned it. He did everything Ching usually gets too much credit for and then some. He created a goal from nothing with his physical presence and made a good run to find space, a classy first touch to take the defender out of the play for his second, and a cool finish. Won the free kick for the third with another classy first-touch. Casey is painfully slow by the standards of international football and may not trouble the better international defenders, but his first touch is consistently good, he has football intelligence and a nose for goal. Let’s see if he can do it again. Ching has been consistently poor this summer and should play no part on Wednesday.

    I would like to see Cooper get a start. Cooper is a Peter “he’s got great touch for a big man” Crouch type player – he troubles his manager by looking for all the world like a target striker but not being particularly good in the air and preferring the ball into feet. I thought Altidore was worryingly out of sorts after coming on in Honduras and looked his tender 19 years of age for the first time this summer. He has all the physical attributes you would love to download Casey’s speed of thought and decision-making into Jozy’s head, matrix-style. Young Jozy has a lot of potential, a leaden first touch and lot to learn. Lacking match sharpness is a far bigger problem as a striker than as a defender.


  7. ESPN and CNN/Sports Illustrated are confirming reports from the blogosphere that Charlie Davies was in a one-car accident that proved fatal for one of the passengers and landed Davies in surgery all afternoon. So it looks like we’ll be seeing either Altidore or Coops up top with Casey Conor or Conor Kersey, whichever you prefer.


  8. […] full TSG preview can be read here. Please keep in mind that it was written before yesterday’s […]


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