U.S.- Costa Rica prediction for tonight, and where a bit of creeping self-doubt can be a good thing

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – History has taught us that the best U.S. national team performances have arrived when the Americans feel backed into a tough spot.

The big disappointments – think “Ghana,” and then “Ghana” again – have often arrived when the team begins feeling good about itself.

I have this theory that as the United States talent pool gradually improved, the team lost a little bit of the gritty element that got it through the 1990s and pushed it forward in the early part of the 2000s. It lost a little bit of that useful chip-on-shoulder effect.

Past U.S. versions knew they had to try harder. Unblessed with a superior first touch or the collective soccer brain to think three moves ahead rather than two, the boys in star-striped blue or red (or that awful denim) had to close the gap through heart, hustle and a stubborn competitiveness. And also through that most quintessential of American values, that optimistic, unbreakable belief that good things were ahead.

You only have to spend a little bit of time in other lands to gain perspective on the U.S. virtue of heady expectation. There are plenty of countries where the populace really does sit around and wait for the next bad thing to happen.

That brings us to tonight’s match at DSG Park in Commerce City. U.S. backs against the wall? Yeah, I’d say we are there.

Feeling the weight of it all, the pressure to get the job done tonight against Costa Rica amid the team’s first real test of locker room accord since the days of Steve Sampson, John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, etc.? That seems reasonable as an assessment.

So I wonder if a little bit of creeping self-doubt isn’t a good thing? I wonder if the players don’t rally a little bit around the unrest?

I chatted yesterday with Ian Darke, who will call tonight’s game for ESPN (10 p.m. ET).  We agreed that Brian Straus’ Sporting News piece – the best piece of American soccer reporting in a long, long time, in my opinion – might just be a good thing for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.

Straus certainly didn’t make any of that stuff up; players were saying it.

Well, you want that stuff in the open, ready to be mopped up and dealt with. Better that than whispered around certain corners of the locker room, like so much toxic sludge, slowly rotting the floors, so to speak.

It may have made some people mad (like Michael Bradley – and good for him for adding a counter-balance and saying things that needed to be said.) And perhaps Klinsmann will understand that some of his communication methods may need a re-think.

In the end, the team might just be better for it.  We’ll know more in a little while.

I say it will help. I say the U.S. back line will get lots of protection and will dig in accordingly, stubbornly rather than nervously. The fullbacks will be aggressive in moving forward, but not wildly so.

Michael Bradley will be cautious, also endeavoring to protect a weakened defense.

The United States will find a goal … but perhaps not multiple goals.

I’m calling a 1-0 U.S. win.

AT HALF: Lletget, Bradley, Dempsey spur USMNT to 3-0 lead

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The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes is off to a flying start.

As it stands, the 3-0 halftime lead provided by Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey has the Yanks up from sixth to fourth in the Hex table.

Sebastian Lletget scored a fifth minute goal to ease the tensions of the Avaya Stadium crowd in San Jose, though he’d leave the match with injury before the match was 20 minutes old.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal.

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks, Cameron; Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′)

LIVE – USMNT looks to right ship vs. Honduras

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The United States starts to make amends for its 0-2 start to the final round of World Cup qualifying with a match against Honduras on Friday in San Jose.

Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job and Bruce Arena will try things differently

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Most importantly for Arena, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard are available this time around.

Cameron starts at right back, with John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez in the center of the back four. Jorge Villafana slots into the mix at left back.

Captain Michael Bradley will sit atop the midfield, with Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Lletget, and Christian Pulisic in the midfield.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the forwards. Kickoff is set for 10:55 p.m. EDT from Avaya Stadium.

Minnesota’s Molino lifts Trinidad and Tobago to big win (video)

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Minnesota United attacker Kevin Molino has given Trinidad and Tobago life in the race to win a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Molino’s 37th minute goal gave hosts T&T a 1-0 lead against visiting Panama at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on Friday, and the Soca Warriors held on to win its first points of qualifying.

Panama had a Luis Tejada goal controversially ruled offside as Los Canaleros nearly pulled their fifth point of the Hex. Panama faces the USMNT on Tuesday in Panama City.

[ WATCH: Zaha scores wonder vs. Russia ]

Molino fooled long time LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with a low shot across the body. The Panama backstop couldn’t get low enough or far enough with his dive to stop the shot.

The win has T&T in fifth place on the Hex table, behind Honduras on goal differential and three points ahead of the last place USMNT.

The U.S. needs a two-goal win to pass T&T, and a three-goal win to climb above Honduras.

WATCH: Zaha drives Russia nuts with mazy dribble goal

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Wilfried Zaha combined balance, deft touch, and breakneck speed to score his first international goal for the Ivory Coast.

With his side leading Russia 1-0 on Friday, the Crystal Palace winger worked his way through four defenders before burying his shot.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Zaha especially fooled with Ilya Kutepov, a harsh cut nearly tipping both to the field.

He’s just 24, and it seems much longer ago that he made his failed move to Manchester United in 2013.

Failed may be a rough verb considering it all contributed to making him the player he is for Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast today.