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Stoppage Time: Resilience helps U.S. survive crucial week

10:49 AM, Mar 27, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - It certainly wasn't pretty, but the events of this past week for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. men's national team could go a long way toward shaping the future.

The week began with anonymous quotes about dissension in the side, yet followed with the Americans earning a vital point at Mexico on Tuesday with a 0-0 draw to put themselves in a good position to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

In between there were snowstorms, protests and plenty of frayed nerves, but it all added up to give us a better understanding of what this team is about.

When Klinsmann was hired to replace Bob Bradley in July 2011, it was thought to be a breath of fresh air for the national team as the German was expected to implement a more exciting style of play in sharp contrast to the conservative approach of Bradley.

Yet after the United States began its final round of World Cup qualifying with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at Honduras in February, it seemed that the sharks were beginning to circle.

A story in Sporting News last week quoted anonymous players as saying that a large part of the team dislikes Klinsmann, and it appeared that things were coming apart at exactly the wrong time.

To make matters worse, Klinsmann was facing the most crucial stretch of his national team reign without three of the most reliable players in recent years: goalkeeper Tim Howard, captain Carlos Bocanegra and leading scorer Landon Donovan.

Howard was out with a back injury, leaving Brad Guzan to take his place, while Donovan remains away on a self-imposed sabbatical.

Bocanegra was fully available, but Klinsmann decided not to include him in the side with the 33-year-old struggling to find playing time on his club team, Racing Santander, in Spain.

The U.S. squad also was without a host of other players because of injury or illness, including Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Jonathan Spector, Jose Torres and Danny Williams.

This left Klinsmann with a roster short experience and long on question marks. But over the course of five arduous days, the coach learned a lot about his players.

The 1-0 win over Costa Rica in blizzard conditions was simply about survival as the United States used an early goal from captain Clint Dempsey to claim three must-have points.

It was far from an attractive match, but an inexperienced back line held up with veteran DaMarcus Beasley putting in a great shift as an out-of-position left back.

At one point in the second half of Friday's game, the match referee stopped the contest and threatened to call it off, which would have forced a replay and wiped out the 1-0 lead for the home side.

But the game was allowed to continue and the United States held on, while Costa Rica lodged an unsuccessful protest with FIFA after the match citing unplayable conditions.

With an all-time record of 0-13-1 in Mexico in World Cup qualifiers, the Americans were always going to be up against it at the Estadio Azteca on Tuesday.

More questions were raised when central defender Clarence Goodson was unable to play because of a hamstring injury suffered in Friday's win, forcing Matt Besler to make just his second national team appearance in the most hostile environment possible.

What followed was a tremendous team effort as the U.S. squad offered little in attack but was able to ride a bit of luck to hold off a frustrated Mexico side.

Belser and Omar Gonzalez turned in heroic efforts in the middle of the defense, and in doing so, could give Klinsmann some much-needed stability in an area where there has been none recently.

This is easily the most competitive group in the history of CONCACAF qualifying, but with the United States having survived two of its toughest road matches already and sitting just one point from the top of the group, the future suddenly looks much brighter.

The U.S. squad will play its next three qualifiers in June, allowing some key players to return from injury to give Klinsmann more options.

Two of those three games will come at home, where the Americans will be favored to earn six points, while the other is at Jamaica, which sits on the bottom of the group.

Over the past week, there were a number of reasons for the U.S. team to fall apart. Infighting, injuries, inexperience and a hostile environment were all reasons that could have conspired to put the Americans in a huge qualifying hole.

It may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing 180 minutes of soccer in U.S. history over the past week, but it was among the most resilient.

Surviving a week like this will only serve to strengthen the resolve of the U.S. team, which as long as it qualifies for the World Cup, can look back on a week in March as the turning point in a tumultuous campaign.

The Sports Network

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