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USA facing tough transition and more takeaways from loss to Costa Rica


GOALCOMMENT   By Ives Galarcep

For the first time in what feels like forever, there was no deflecting or blatant misdirection from U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann after a loss.

Tuesday night's 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica came just three days after an emotionally draining loss to Mexico, which Klinsmann did point to as part of the cause of yet another flat perfermance, but he eventually put away the excuses and began waxing philosophically about the current state of his struggling squad.

"Overall, you have to go through (struggles). It's part of life. It's part of the job," Klinsmann said after the match. "It's not only sunshine days. We've had a lot of sunshine, 2012, 2013, 2014. Now, it's raining a little bit, and you've got to go through that. You have to go through a little bit of mud as well, and we'll do that. That was my message through the players. When you're on the floor for a moment, you have to get up and we'll start all over again."

The loss to Costa Rica will surely draw ire from U.S. fans as it marks five defeats in six matches, including four straight against CONCACAF opponents. The latest defeat was different though in that it wasn't in an official competition, and it was very far from being the U.S. first team. The Americans were facing a motivated Costa Rican side featuring most of its best players in a match that was always going to be a very difficult challenge.

The result itself wasn't nearly as alarming as the relative lack of bright spots in a match that was supposed to provide opportunities for younger players to impress. Overall though, few took real advantage of that opportunity, and the outcome was a performance with very few encouraging sides to build on.

"We can’t repeat enough, we’re going through a new cycle and we just gotta try to try and identify guys that can step in right away and make the team better because we have to get better," U.S. forward Jozy Altidore said. "We need the young guys to step up as well. We need some young guys to step up and add that injection to the team. We need that. We need to get younger and we need those guys to step up now."

The sense among the handful of veterans who took part in Tuesday's match is that there is no panic mode at the moment, and there is an understanding that the team in transitioning.

"Every cycle is a rebirth and you have to shake things up," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "You have to try new players, other players get older. Some of your best players who are top dogs today are going to be old as dirt in 2018 and are not going to be able to perform. There's that balance of getting the result today versus trying to bleed new guys in.

"It's not doom and gloom," he added. "I think we're a good team, and I think, in this region, we're going to qualify for the World Cup. It's not going to be easy, it's going to be hard as heck, but we'll figure it out and get the balance right."

On Tuesday, the U.S. looked nothing like a team close to finding answers. Attacking creativity and defensive organization continued to be an issue, and Klinsmann once again provided ammunition from his growing legion of critics with his line-up choices. He deployed a defensive-minded pair of central midfielders, choosing to once again leave a playmaker like Lee Nguyen on the bench. Promising young forward Bobby Wood sat on the bench in favour of a fatigued Altidore and unimpressive Gyasi Zardes.

The result was another loss, and a match that had even less reason for optimism to draw from it than even Saturday's devastating defeat to Mexico.

Klinsmann acknowledged that he knows the criticism being aimed at him is growing, but insisted that he is committed to the job and still believes the U.S. will turn things around.

"I understand if some people are really critical because of the disappointment with the Gold Cup and because of the disappointment on Saturday," Klinsmann said. "I respect that, but at the same time, with everything that goes not my way, I get evey hungrier to turn it the other way. That's just in me. That's why I'm going to take this team and go through that. I'm going to look everywhere for younger players hopefully developing and hopefully getting to a point where that transition that we've talked about for more than a year really happens going towards World Cup qualifying and hopefully the Copa America."

At least for now, it sounds like his players still believe in him, and the veterans who have already spent four years being led by Klinsmann believe a turnaround is on the horizon.

"The simple fact is we weren't the best team in the world when we were beating all those teams and having good years in 2013 and 2014. We're not the worst team in the world right now," Howard said. "It's fine. We'll get two wins against St. Vincent and Trinidad and everybody will be happy again."

Here are some key takeways from the U.S. loss to Costa Rica:


DANNY WILLIAMS FAILS IN FIRST AUDITION FOR STARTING ROLE

We all know Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman are both 33 years old, and both are at the tail end of their national team careers. The search for viable long-term replacements should begin with Danny Williams, but he didn't exactly shine when given the start against Costa Rica.

Williams lost the battle in central midfield to Costa Rican veteran Celso Borges, and just never really looked the part. He lost the ball repeatedly, and was even outmuscled on a handful of occasions. His passing wasn't anything special, and overall, he just didn't look like someone ready to take over a starting role just yet.

If Williams isn't the answer, then who is? Alfredo Morales and Wil Trapp are two younger options who could merit a look in the near future. Williams should see other opportunities, but he will need to step his game up to be seen as a viable replacement for Beckerman and Jones.


TIM HOWARD TAKES STEP TOWARDS REGAINING STARTING ROLE

Given a chance to start in his home market, Howard used his first start since his record-setting effort against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup to remind us just how good he can be. Howard made a couple of top-shelf saves, and wasn't at fault on Costa Rica's winning goal.

Klinsmann praised Howard's performance, but wouldn't go far as to say the starting job is Howard's again, or even if Brad Guzan is still his first-choice goalkeeper.

"We have two exceptional international-calibre goalkeepers. We need both of them," Klinsmann said. "We need both of them on board. That's what I told them and going forward they will probably rotate.

"There will come a decision if we play Copa America or Gold Cup or whatever comes up where one starts over the other," he added. "For us coaches, it's extremely important to have both of them. I cannot afford to lose one of them because he's not getting his games or he gets frustrated."


BRAD EVANS MAKES GOOD CASE TO FILL FABIAN JOHNSON'S SHOES

Klinsmann's very public shaming of Fabian Johnson has put the German-American's national team future into question, and based on the track record of other players who Klinsmann has called out in such fashion, we may not see Johnson for a good while.

If so, that will mean the need for some fresh options at right-back. Brad Evans made a good case for more caps with one of the few solid performances for the U.S. against Costa Rica. Evans is confident on the ball and solid defensively, looking more than capable of handling himself against top CONCACAF competition.

As for the Johnson saga, Klinsmann addressed Borussia Monchengladbach's claim that they were treating Johnson for an injury when Klinsmann said that Johnson told him he wasn't injured when he asked to be subbed out of Saturday's CONCACAF Cup.

"I understand the club," Klinsmann said. "They want to look their way. If you want to test it out, then see if he's playing on the weekend and you'll have your answer."


LEE NGUYEN NEEDS A LONGER LOOK

After the U.S. team's two latest losses, and really over the course of the past year, it has become as clear as ever that the current U.S. squad is lacking attacking creativity. This was painfully apparent against Costa Rica, as Jermaine Jones and Danny Williams offered very little in midfield, and the rest of the U.S. attack consisted of poor touches and poorly timed runs.

One bright spot was Lee Nguyen, who has made a habit of impressing in the limited minutes he has received under Klinsmann. His calm on the ball, vision, and confidence facing up against defenders is something sorely lacking on the U.S. team, and Nguyen gained at least one more vocal supporter in favour of more national team playing time for the New England Revolution star.

"We need to want the ball more. We need to have guys that, in between the lines, are able to get the ball and already be thinking about the next play and what they’re going to do, being aware of their surroundings," Altidore said. "Like Lee (Nguyen), when he came in, you saw in between the lines he’s clever. He gets on the half turn, and there the strikers can run off of them. We need more of this. We acknowledged that and it’s something we have to improve on."

Klinsmann has relied on Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to generate attacking chances for the U.S. for several years now, but with Dempsey showing signs of age, Klinsmann needs to find some creative players to position around Bradley to get the most out of the U.S. captain. Nguyen could be that option, but he'll need more than just a few late sub appearances to be able to show that.