Friday's 1-0 victory over Costa Rica couldn’t have come at a better time for USA, who celebrated wildly with freezing, snowball-tossing fans after the final whistle. It must have been a relief, as the Stars and Stripes were criticised in the press following their opening-day loss in Honduras last month. And Clarence Goodson, at the heart of a USA rearguard currently in flux with injuries to key players, saw the Costa Rica win – more about grit than football – as a turning-point. “We did a good job on the day,” said the towering 6foot4 centre-back, who anticipated play well and cut off Tico passing lanes alongside partner Geoff Cameron. “We needed to adapt to the changes at the back, and the injuries to some guys, but we talk a lot on and off the field and we were able to mesh together.”
Goodson plays his club football in Denmark for Copenhagen giants Brondby, and he doesn’t mince words when addressing the media criticism the American team, and their coach Jurgen Klinsmann, came up against after the loss in Honduras. “A lot of the people doing the talking don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, how hard it is to play in some of the places we have to play,” said the former FC Dallas man, who also had a stint in Norway with IK Start, who he helped to gain promotion to the Norwegian top-flight. “You have to deal with a lot of things – angry crowds, humidity, travel. What we need to do is win our games at home and try to nick some points on the road. If we do that, we’ll get to the World Cup.”
One place that Goodson and co would love to nick a point, or three for that matter, is Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where they face CONCACAF champions and arch-rivals Mexico in the region’s clasico on Tuesday. “People talk a lot about going to Azteca, and how challenging it is,” said the 30-year-old Goodson. “The fans are passionate, but the longer we keep them off the board, the more pressure they’ll get from those fans, who know they’ve not had the best results lately.”
Although Goodson has never before lined up at Azteca, he was in the back-four against Mexico in the finals of the 2009 and 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cups. “I could have sworn we were at Azteca then,” he laughed, remembering those games in Pasadena and New York. “There were about 90,000 fans in the stadiums both of those days and I couldn’t say with any confidence that there were more than 5000 pro-US fans.” Goodson seems to remember those games well, and he will also remember the scorelines. The US lost 5-0 in New York in 2009 and 4-2 last time out in Southern California.
“Each game has its own feel and its own identity, and you can’t put too much emphasis or importance on what happened before,” he said, pointing out that the Mexican team might be feeling pressure after opening their qualifying account with a pair of draws. “These games between Mexico and the US are different; we are the top teams in the region and it’s always a massive game. This is the big one, the one that all the players want to be a part of.”
The Americans have never won a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier at Azteca (only Costa Rica have) and Goodson and his teammates will have a point to prove after those Gold Cup finals. “This is the big game,” he concluded, as if drawing a line under the point. “They’re all important, all the games in qualifying, but there are bragging rights on the line when we play Mexico. We’re here to give it a go and do everything we can."