Captain Clint Dempsey scored the night's only goal as the Stars and Stripes won their first 2014 World Cup qualifying Hexagonal match during a blizzard outside of Denver.COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- What's a little bit of snow and cold weather anyway?
The U.S. men's team overcame blizzard conditions to outlast Costa Rica for a 1-0 win at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, earning three crucial points during the second matchday of the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal stage.
Wearing white uniforms to celebrate U.S. Soccer's centennial, the Stars and Stripes got off to an ideal start when Clint Dempsey was the man on the spot to tap in a deflected shot at the 16th minute. The rest of the match was a sloppy, back-and-forth affair.
"It was almost unplayable but the good thing was that we were able to get the game out of the way," Dempsey said. "By scoring the goal early put us in a good position and made them have to chase the game a little bit more."
The U.S. had entered the game as the only team remaining to not earn a point in matchday one but will now enter next Tuesday's much-anticipated road match against Mexico on a high note.
Dempsey was named captain for this month's two qualifiers after coach Jurgen Klinsmann decided to leave Carlos Bocanegra off the roster, and he was certainly a leader for the injury-depleted squad.
The Tottenham forward started alongside Jozy Altidore up front and the pair worked together to create the Americans' only goal of the night. Altidore's shot from the top of the box deflected off Costa Rican defender Roy Miller and Dempsey was in the right place at the right time to push it past the goal line.
It was Dempsey's 12th career goal in World Cup qualifying, tying him with Landon Donovan for the most qualifying goals in U.S. Soccer history. Dempsey has seven goals in the 2014 World Cup qualifying cycle.
"It seemed like (Dempsey) really liked the snow," Klinsmann joked after the game.
"He's proud to have the captain armband and he was obviously thrilled to score that goal right away and he's leading by example. He's ready for this role, he's ready to step it up as a real leader for this team. For a player with 93 caps, it's about time he's become a captain too."
The U.S. came very close to adding one more before halftime as Dempsey received the ball in the box on two occasions. He appeared to be taken down by Roy Miller of the New York Red Bulls, but the referee decided not to blow the whistle.
With the weather getting worse throughout the match, the ref nearly made a decision to halt the game after stopping play in the 55th minute to speak with coaches and players. The lines on the field were barely visible despite the ground crew working to shovel the pitch throughout the match.
If the match had been called off, the teams would have played the remainder of the game within the next 48 hours. All statistics would have stood as the teams would have picked up at the minute it left off. Klinsmann said he would have done everything in his power to keep the match going.
"That's why I went a little bit on the field as well," he said. "Even with my bad Spanish I said we aren't stopping this game."
After the short break, Costa Rica nearly got the opportunity it had been searching for all night. The visitors appeared to have tied things up after Alvaro Saborío beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan, but the play was called offside. Replays suggest that he may have been onside after all.
The U.S. back line held the shutout despite missing several starters. Edgar Castillo (facial fractures), Timmy Chandler (hamstring), Steve Cherundolo (knee), Tim Howard (back), Fabian Johnson (hip), Jonathan Spector (ankle), Jose Torres (hamstring) and Danny Williams (illness) were out.
Guzan earned the start at goalkeeper in place of Howard and managed to keep a clean sheet while making four saves. Costa Rica had hit the target four times on nine shots, while the Americans had one of their six shots on point.
"Good teams find ways to win games and that's what we did today," forward Herculez Gomez said. "We grinded out a result when it was very hard to see and the conditions were pretty bad."