The most recent round of 2014 World Cup qualification matches was dubbed a sort of make-or-break affair for the United States Men’s National Team. Having lost their first match away to Honduras, any further slip-ups could have meant that America would be in grave danger of missing out on the next World Cup, which would have been the first American absence since 1986. Such an occurrence would be tragic for American soccer, but fortunately the team played fantastic in their two matches against Costa Rica and Mexico, and found a blessed piece of good fortune that earned the team a valuable 4 points of a possible 6.
The Costa Rica game was massive. With a blizzard raging, the weather meant that the teams would be equally balanced and anyone could favor from a lucky bounce or slippery mistake on the frozen field in Denver, Colorado. Fortunately, the break fell to America in just the 15th minute as a deflected Jozy Altidore shot fell right into the path of Clint Dempsey, who pounced upon the opportunity and gave America the lead.
Naturally, the Costa Rica officials have cried foul to FIFA, but the result will stand nevertheless. And although I predicted that these matches would be goal-fests, this lone goal was actually the single goal scored in both matches! The American defense was able to set up shop and withhold any legitimate chances from Costa Rica. It was a terribly strange match because of the snowy conditions, and in many respects cannot show us much about how America would play in sweltering Brazil, but a tough 3 points earned is a success for me!
The second match was billed as the big test. Playing in Mexico’s sacred Azteca Stadium has been a nightmare for past American soccer players in World Cup qualifiers, and became even a tougher task when one considered the defensive lineup of Brad Guzan in goal, DeMarcus Beasley at left back, and center back Matt Besler making just his second ever international appearance.
Both Beasley and Besler were struggling early and picked up yellow cards in the match’s early goings. Mexico was eating up our defenders and creating many chances, but for some reason they simply couldn’t score. An American defender would always help break up the play at the pivotal moment, or shots would go high and wide.
Mexico had two fairly clear shouts for a penalty kick, but even the referee wouldn’t help them find the goal as he waved the claims away. In the end, Mexico was never able to find a breakthrough, and the Americans were able to hold down the fort for the duration of the game. One of the broadcasters even described it as the “Defending of the Alamo” as Mexico lined up for another one of their 15 corner kick attempts on the night as time winded down. The point earned was just the second ever at Azteca for America in their history of competitive matches.
And so America is now sitting rather comfortably in the CONCACAF group with 4 points from 3 matches. Although only in 3rd position, there are still 7 games to go to determine the final spots in the table, and one must be feeling quite good about the American hopes considering they have already travelled to two of the most challenging locations for qualifying and will have an abundance of home matches to close out the campaign. A big step has been taken towards the World Cup in these most recent qualification matches for America!