Frankie Hejduk’s injury suffered on Wednesday night before an MLS match was disastrous as the US enters the most important stretch of matches since 2006. It was Hejduk who was the best US player at World Cup 1998, and filled the most critical and problematic role left back in 2002. In 2006, Hejduk’s injury in a pre World Cup friendly foretold the poor World Cup in front of us.
In 2007 Bob Bradley recalled Hejduk for the Gold Cup and he became one of two Americans on the tournament Best XI. Since then even in his mid 30s, Hejduk has proven to be consistent, reliable and a leader. He dominated Gio Dos Santos and Matias Vuoso at the back against Mexico and then scored an amazing game tying goal to salvage a draw in El Salvador.
Steve Cherundolo’s continued injury woes coupled with Hejduk’s injury leaves the US with two unproven internationals: Marvell Wynne and Jonathan Spector to potentially play right back against a team which the US last gained a point against on the road in 1985.
The US has never gotten a result at Saprissa Stadium (the 1985 match was at Alajuelense) and has quite frankly been outplayed more dramatically there than at the vaunted Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
Wynne brings quickness but perhaps a tactical naivety to the US team. Spector is more tactically sound but is not a natural right back, nor has he been consistently able to play for 90 minutes.
Costa Rica’s current squad is the weakest the US has faced in qualifying perhaps since 1985, and certainly since 1997. But the Ticos have the confidence of having qualified for the last two World Cups largely on the backs of an intimidating home field advantage at Saprissa and an ability to steal results when outplayed.
Hejduk’s most famous moment in Costa Rica was a costly late sending off in July 2000. Moments later Eddie Lewis was called in the box for a controversial foul giving Costa Rica an undeserved 2-1 victory, and sending Captain Claudio Reyna and Manager Bruce Arena into a justified rage.
Without Hejduk however, the US loses leadership, tactical discipline, and knowledge of how to play on the road in CONCACAF. Let’s hope Spector or Wynne can have a breakout game on the international level. Otherwise, Costa Rica has the leg up in this matchup.
UPDATE: Coach Bob Bradley stated at his press conference this afternoon in Miami that Frankie Hejduk will be joining the team this weekend and they will evaluate his injury further then. The USSF staff has been in constant touch with the Crew about the situation.
- Pachuca and Jose Francisco Torres were comprehensively outplayed last night in Mexico City against Pumas. Pachuca lost 1-0. The second leg in Pachuca will take place on Sunday night.
- Chivas USA seems to have been robbed by Terry Vaughn in the dying seconds of last night’s clash at the Home Depot Center. This is just the latest controversy over a number of seasons involving Vaughn who is one of the few full time USSF officials. Controversy has not only surrounded Vaughn in MLS matches but also when he’s officiated CONCACAF Champions League matches.
- I’ll have a piece on Saprissa Stadium later today or early tomorrow.