Jurgen Klinsmann has sought to brush off a historic loss on home turf to Mexico and believes his United States team can grab a first ever win in Costa Rica on Tuesday night.
Following a 2-1 defeat that ended the U.S. team’s perfect record against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, Klinsmann has faced plenty of criticism for starting his players in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation before switching late in the first half. Yet immediately following the loss, he blamed the individual performances of his midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones for the system’s failure.
And, speaking in San Jose ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier, he has now suggested that the U.S. could well have won the game if not for John Brooks losing track of Rafa Márquez to allow the Mexico veteran to head home a late winner.
“We should've beaten Mexico," Klinsmann told reporters. "We didn't knock them off with the second goal and then out of the blue they get a corner kick and then [on an] individual mistake, they score. There's a very small margin in all of those games."
The final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, known as the Hexagonal, offers plenty of margin for error, with three of the six teams automatically making it to Russia and a fourth going into a playoff. Nonetheless, a defeat on Tuesday would leave Klinsmann in the uncomfortable position of going into a four-month break with zero points to his team’s name.
If history is any guide, then that’s exactly the position the U.S. will find itself in. Not only has the U.S. never won in Costa Rica in nine attempts, it has lost on its last eight visits. Klinsmann, though, sounded an optimistic tone.
“We can win here," he said. "We can absolutely win here. Will it take a lot of effort and things need[ing] to click to work? Absolutely."
Counting in the Americans’ favor is a 4-0 win when the sides last met in the group stage of the Copa America Centenario in Chicago this summer. But, as well as winning its last nine competitive home matches, Costa Rica has also won all five matches since that humbling loss to the U.S.
And, having topped a semifinal-round group ahead of Panama, Haiti and Jamaica, the side led by former Costa Rica international Óscar Ramírez got the Hexagonal off to an ideal start with a 2-0 win at Trinidad and Tobago on Friday. After going all the way to the quarterfinals in Brazil as the region's best-performing team, Costa Rica is now seeking to qualify for back-to-back World Cups for just the second time.
Ramírez will be without defender Francisco Calvo after he picked up an injury against Trinidad and Tobago, with veteran Michael Umaña likely to be the man to step in. But the side will have one valuable extra element in its locker from the last time it played the U.S., with Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas now available.
“It’s always great to play the United States, but no matter who the opponent is, our goal is to classify for the World Cup,” he said at a press conference Monday. “We have to enjoy it, but still take it seriously, because they have a great team.”