I don't know about you, but going into this match, I pretty much thought we'd come out with a draw given all the circumstances surrounding the match. Costa Rica were desperate for a win. We were already through. You knew everybody in a white shirt was going to be trying just that extra little bit harder for Charlie, leaving the inevitable gaps at the back from rash defending, chances blazed over the bar from over-eager forwards, and cards dished out for headstrong challenges. That said, I couldn't see us losing to a nervy Costa Rica at home.
But I never expected a draw like that!
Talking points, my friends...
* Laking the lethal touch. I know I'll be reading a lot of crap tomorrow about how we didn't start well, and the Ticos won the first half. That's a steaming pile of...listen, they did play better than I can remember them playing against us in our house in a while, but let's look at the chances. By my count, they had two great chances (converting one) and two decent chances (converting another--golazo by Ruiz, a little Dutch magic rubbing off on him?). By contrast, we had two great chances (welcome back, normal Conor Casey!, and why the hell doesn't Donovan ever finish like that when he's playing for LA in RFK?) and at least four decent ones. Soccer's a fickle game, so I can understand going in behind, but down by two? We should have buried at least one of those, if not more. And, loathe as I am to say this with the kid still in the hospital, but Davies isn't the answer to this particular dilemma. He's as wasteful as the rest of them despite all of his endeavor and danger. We need somebody lethal to bury chances. Somebody to complement...
* Jozy the beast. I know he was playing with a little extra fire in his belly, and that was understandable given the events of the last couple of days, but it wasn't just the intensity. His touch was sharper, his play more direct. He wanted to take on defenders and did so, often two or three at a time. And he was winning those battles! I seen him play well before, but I can't ever remember being that substantially impressed. If he takes that attitude back to Hull City, I don't see how even a manager as thick as Phil Brown can keep starting Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.
* Hero to zero. So obviously those 20 minutes in Honduras didn't change a thing, did they? Yes, Casey bundled home two precious goals that saw us through that night, but his 80 minutes tonight were what we've come to expect as classic Conor in a Nats shirt. Lots of standing around looking angry, trying to beat defenders for pace and coming up miles short, ballooning shots over the bar, losing aerial battles. The man's immobility wouldn't be so astonishing if he brought something else to the team, but the grand totality of his contribution seemed to be one little heel flick and missing probably the best chance of the match.
* Problems in the middle. Junior/Feilhaber didn't really work did it? There was space behind the forwards that one of them should have been exploiting, but Junior's usual dynamism was blunted by having to cover for Feilhaber's lack thereof. And Feilhaber seemed to want to float around in deeper spots looking for possession, but not so deep that it let Bradley bomb forward. Even when he was deeper, his passes were generally short or backwards. By contrast, when Torres got stuck in the same position, he started directing traffic, hands in the air, wanting the ball, grabbing possession and getting it forward into wide areas quickly. And where was Junior? In and around the box. Result? Junior gets a rebound goal. Sure, you could argue that Costa Rica packing things in let us do that, but I think the longer term solution is to go with an anchor playmaker, Pirlo-style, against lesser opposition, and a destroyer alongside Junior (Clark, or perhaps Jones if he ever gets healthy) otherwise.
* Curse of DC? United players have been dropping like flies as we approach crunch time in MLS, and if the tragedy involving Davies were the worst thing that happened to the national team during their stint in DC, that would be curse enough. But we've yet to see what Onyewu did to his knee in the later stages of the match. That could make an already looming problem worse. Gooch hasn't been at his best since being stuck on the bench at Milan, and the pattern continued tonight, most obviously when Ruiz burned him for Costa Rica's first. A potential spell on the shelf won't get him minutes, and might just take him out of the picture completely when signs seem to be pointing towards Milan doing the coach-swap dance in the near future.
* Give Bornstein the #9. I'm only half kidding--at least he puts his chances on target. But how, how, how does a team up a man and defending for its World Cup life leave a guy unmarked on a corner?
* Put Rogers back in the oven, he's nowhere near done. Too slow of thought, too wasteful with chances and possession, too easy to body off the ball. The tools are there, but the seasoning isn't. Still love the fact that he's so two-footed, but he's one for the 2014 cycle.
* Need for speed. With Davies out in the long term, we need speed up top more than we need big bodies (Ching, Casey, Cooper). Some may call for Cunningham (what's with all the "C" forwards?). I'd like to see what Donovan paired with Altidore would look like.
* Holden has justified his place to me. I've never been that high on him, but I'll admit I was wrong.
* Cherundolo still brings an attacking ability to the right back spot that his other competitors can't.
* Torres needs more minutes.
* Did Donvan hitting that one free kick against Honduras doom us to his being the unquestioned taker for the foreseeable future? I hope Torres taking the corners was an indication that we might not, because Landon was laying out some real stinkers.
The scenes at the end of the match showed just how much this one meant to the team. Though it had no bearing on their passage to the finals, it was important both to win the qualifying tournament and to get a positive result on the back of a tragic couple of days. Now the winnowing process begins. I'd be pretty certain of my first 15 or so slots to fill at this point, though I expect Bob's number is closer to 20 (you know how he is with "his guys"). You obviously want to keep the core of the team that got you to the big dance. Now it becomes a matter of finding little bits and pieces to spackle over the weak points and complement the strengths.