According to a Sporting News report, current and former players have said… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
U.S. national soccer team Coach Juergen Klinsmann has called the World Cup qualifier Friday night with Costa Rica a crucial, must-win game.
It may be bigger than that.
After losing to Honduras in last month's opener of the six-nation, final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014, the U.S. needs a victory over Costa Rica to climb out of last place in the group standings ahead of next week's match with unbeaten Mexico in Mexico City.
But the U.S. will have to do that without nine players who suited up for the Honduras match, including former captains Tim Howard and Carlos Bocanegra. And that lack of leadership and experience couldn't come at a worse time for Klinsmann, who is in danger of losing control of his team, according to a detailed Sporting News report that relied mostly on anonymous sources.
In the story, current and former players said Klinsmann and his assistants lacked the "tactical acumen" and communication skills to lead the team, which has caused players to lose faith in the staff.
Speaking to reporters in Denver ahead of Friday's match in Commerce City, Colo., Klinsmann tried to quash the growing rebellion.
"I have always said we are a team in transition. I have always said between two [World Cup] cycles, there is a lot of work for the coaches and for the team," he said. "That being said, it is normal that we have had to move players out of comfort zones; we have to introduce them to different methods because we want to make them better.
"If we do things exactly the same way, we are not improving. "
The U.S. won't move any closer to stability against Costa Rica, though. Injuries guarantee Klinsmann will start his 24th lineup in 24 games as U.S. coach. And the back line has been hit especially hard: Six players have started at the outside back positions in World Cup qualifying, and none of them are available Friday.
Also out because of injury is Howard, who wore the captain's armband against Honduras and who hasn't missed a World Cup qualifier in goal in four years.
He'll probably be replaced in goal by Brad Guzan, and Clint Dempsey will take over as captain. But Dempsey has his own injury worries, with a calf problem having prevented him from starting for Tottenham of the English Premier League since Feb. 14. Dempsey will also be trying to ignite a punchless U.S. offense missing leading scorer Landon Donovan, who remains on a self-imposed sabbatical.