Clint Dempsey’s 16th minute goal proved all the U.S. Men’s National Team would need to get a crucial three points from a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in blizzard-like conditions in Denver on Friday night. The win moves the U.S. (1-1-0, 3 points) from the basement of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying final round group into second place.
Dempsey’s game-winner came after Jozy Altidore attempted a shot from just outside the box. Altidore’s effort took a fortuitous bounce right in front of Dempsey who tapped it into the empty net for his 12th career World Cup Qualifying goal.
From there, completing the match was always in doubt given the weather, but the grounds crew at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park managed to get the entire game in with only one minor delay.
The U.S. was forced to make several changes to their line-up due to injuries. Brad Guzan made his 21st appearance in net in place of the injured Tim Howard with Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, and DaMarcus Beasley making up the defense. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted for a five man midfield with Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Dempsey and Herculez Gomez playing behind the lone striker Altidore. Dempsey was named captain with Carlos Bocanegra left out of the squad.
Dempsey’s goal came on essentially the first chance of the match. The former New Engand Revolution star gave the U.S. the lead in the 16th minute after Altidore saw his shot from just outside the box deflected off a defender. With Bradley making a run the other way and dragging three defenders with him, the ball fell fortunately to Dempsey, who tapped it into the empty net with Costa Rica ‘keeper Keylor Navas caught out of position attempting to stop Altidore’s shot.
After the snow kept both teams fairly quiet, Costa Rica first tested Guzan in the 38th minute when Bryan Oviedo broke free down the left flank. Oviedo’s shot from just inside the box on the left flank was easily saved by a well-positioned Guzan.
The U.S. should have earned a penalty in the 42nd minute, when Dempsey was taken by a badly mistimed challenge from Roy Miller in the box. Zusi was also brought down immediately after by a rough challenge after getting the ball, but referee Joel Aguilar allowed play to continue on both occasions.
Costa Rica had their best chance just before halftime when Alvaro Saborio backheeled a pass to Bryan Ruiz at the top of the box. Ruiz looked open to blast a shot on frame, but Gonzalez slid in to deflect the shot wide for a corner.
After the halftime break, both Altidore and Dempsey came close to scoring, seeing shots go just wide of the post.
With the snow continuing to come down on the pitch, play was stopped by Aguilar for a brief period in the 55th minute. The players on both sides seemingly argued for the match to continue and got their wish, with the match resuming soon after.
The visitors looked to have gotten the equalizer in the 70th minute after Jones gave up a dangerous free kick on the left flank. The ball was curled into the box and eventually was headed by Michael Umaña off the post and past Guzan into the net, only for the play to be called back for offside.
Costa Rica continued to press forward looking for an equalizer, but Guzan made some comfortable saves and the U.S. survived some dangerous late set pieces to hold onto the lead.
The U.S. returns to action on Tuesday with a trip to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to take on Mexico at 10:30p.m. ET.