The U.S. national team is 0-8-2 all-time on the road against Costa Rica. Welp.
[ MORE: How big is game vs. CR? ]
It’s a daunting task to face Los Ticos on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET on NBC Universo and online here) and especially after the demoralizing, if not too unexpected, home defeat to Mexico last Friday.
Even if the USMNT opens up the Hexagonal with two-straight defeats, it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men will have eight more games in the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying to turn it around and finish in the top three and they’ll be the heavy favorites for most of those matches.
That said, what the USMNT has to have is a clear game-plan for these kind of tough tests on the road in central America.
Here’s a look at three ways the U.S. can shock everyone and beat Costa Rica for the first-time ever on the road.
1. Go back to the 4-4-2
We all saw how much better the U.S. was when they switched to a 4-4-2 against Mexico after 30 minutes last Friday. Yes, it may have coincided with Mexico’s star midfielder Andres Guardado also being injured, but there’s no doubt Klinsmann’s side looked more solid defensively and more capable in midfield to shut down space for opponents. It was a big gamble to play 3-4-3 (basically a 3-5-2 but Klinsmann disagrees) against Mexico and it is not one Klinsmann should repeat in a hurry.
My formation and personnel would be the following: I’d like DeAndre Yedlin to get the nod over Timmy Chandler at right back and I think Michael Orozco will add balance at center back but I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Besler starts ahead of him as the U.S. continues to suffer from the loss of Geoff Cameron. In midfield it is all about continuity and having Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones’ experience is essential in a road World Cup qualifier. There’s an argument to leave out Christian Pulisic for a tough game in a tough environment, but the youngster is easily the USMNT’s most creative player so surely he has to start to help keep the ball and ease some pressure when the U.S. is defending. Up top, the duo of Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood picks itself. Speaking of that…
—– Guzan —–
— Yedlin — Orzoco — Brooks — Johnson —
— Bedoya — Bradley — Jones — Pulisic
—– Wood —– Altidore —–
2. Keep Altidore and Wood together
The biggest plus to come out of the loss to Mexico was the combination play between Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood up front. Due to Altidore’s injury this summer it has been very rare to see this duo line up together up top. Their movement mirrors one another and with Wood more willing to run into the channels and Altidore able to operate centrally and hold the ball up, their partnership is showing very promising signs. Altidore has been on his own up top for many years with Clint Dempsey hovering around just underneath him. Now, he has a bonafide striking partner and the U.S. looked very dangerous in the second half against Mexico.
Altidore’s hold up play and clever through ball set Wood up to equalizes against Mexico and the power and pace they possess will blow other CONCACAF opponents apart in the Hex. With Altidore 27 and Wood 23, if both stay fit this partnership has the makings of the U.S. forward line for the next five years.
3. Deny Ruiz and Campbell space
Okay, so Bryan Ruiz is an injury doubt after limping off in Costa Rica’s impressive 2-0 win away at Trinidad and Tobago last Friday. However, let’s assume he starts and if he does the U.S. has to stop Costa Rica’s skipper getting the ball in advanced positions. That’s easier said than done but defending with a deep line is something the USMNT is very good at and that was demonstrated throughout the Copa America Centenario this summer and in the 4-0 win against Costa Rica in Chicago.
Locking down Ruiz’s Sporting Lisbon teammate Joel Campbell is very tricky too.
The pacy striker can run the channels and latches onto balls from Ruiz so simply put you have to deny them the space centrally and you can’t allow them to get in-behind. It will be a dangerous game for the U.S. to play because basically they will say to Costa Rica ‘fine, have the ball, you can’t get past us anyway…’ and then rely on set pieces and counter attacks to get at Los Ticos. That sounds likes tactics which have worked well for the U.S. in the past, right? Aiding a deep back four should be Bradley and Jones sat just in front of them to plug gaps for Ruiz to find Campbell.
Make no mistake about it, a point on the road at Costa Rica would be a big boost for the U.S. If they follow the three points above, it may just get them a valuable win and put them back on track in the Hex before the next batch of qualifiers in March.