After a 1-0 victory over feisty Costa Rica on a snowy Friday night in Denver, some critics’ questions about the leadership of Manager Jurgen Klinsmann and the reasoning behind the U.S. lineup may have been answered.

Prior to the Costa Rica showdown, many American soccer fans were ready to press the panic button in the wake of Sporting News’ in-depth story of locker room dissension as well as former captain and defender Carlos Bocanegra’s exclusion from the roster. Fans and (allegedly) players were questioning Klinsmann’s decision to play 33-year-old veteran DaMarcus Beasley — who hasn’t played in a World Cup qualifier in over three years — at left back, a less attacking position than he’s used to. With the U.S. missing its three top outside backs due to injury, however Klinsmann had little choice.

But with three much-needed points on the line and snow covering the field, the U.S. squad provedKlinsmann right, or perhaps he proved himself right.. The wholly unfamiliar back four of Beasley, Clarence Goodson and Omar Gonzalez at center back and Geoff Cameron at right back played solid defense for all 90 minutes. Only Gonzalez and Cameron had been paired together in a previous qualifier, although that time — against Honduras last month — came with the duo patrolling the middle of the defense.

Going into tonight’s game against Mexico, the rhetoric swirling around the national team has changed completely from where it was a week ago. Words like “unity” have replaced “division,” and fans seem to have forgotten about the previously maligned Bocanegra, who himself said he never felt slighted byKlinsmann.

German-American midfielder Jermaine Jones, who was once held up as a symbol of Klinsmann’s biased and flawed decision-making, doggedly chased down every ball at midfield, even after suffering a gruesome ankle injury that will likely force World Cup veteran Maurice Edu into the fold tonight as a replacement.

Forward Jozy Altidore, meanwhile, demonstrated his worth without getting on the board himself, as it was his deflected shot that led to Friday captain Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 16th minute.

It’s hard not to wonder if soccer fans would be so quick to question the decisions of Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley or another American coach. There has been targeted focus on the fact that Klinsmann is German and criticism of the fact that he has called German-American players up to train with the national team. Some see this as playing favorites, but as long as the players are making the team stronger, I don’t see the problem.

Since Klinsmann became head coach in July 2011, the U.S. has recorded several historic wins, including its first-ever victory over Italy in February 2012 and the first defeat of Mexico on Mexican soil in July 2012.  A couple of unconventional roster decisions should not outweigh these achievements.

Not all may back him, but when the team takes the field tonight, all U.S. fans will be on the edge of their seats, hoping his decisions pay off.

Though the turbulence — both perceived and real — surrounding the national team this past week has subsided, a result against rival Mexico tonight would go a long way towards silencing the doubters once and for all, not to mention potentially vaulting the United States to the top spot in this final Hexagonal round. Winning in Estadio Azteca, however, is no easy feat due not only to the high altitude and thin air but also to the decidedly unfriendly atmosphere.

The hostility like that between these two national teams, who first played each other in 1934, is the hallmark of any thriving rivalry. Though it may be one of the most underrated rivalries in the United States, soccer fans know just how bitter the competition with our neighbors to the south can get. Take, for example, the case of Landon Donovan urinating — yes, urinating — in Azteca to justifiable Mexican outrage in 2003, or defender Frankie Hejduk getting slapped in the face by one of Mexico’s assistant coaches following a 2009 U.S. win. The rivalry runs deep, and emotions always run high.

While the U.S. lost its opening game to Honduras in this round of qualifying before earning three points against Costa Rica, Mexico has tied its first two games, earning only two total points, and will therefore be even hungrier for a win over the U.S. tonight. More lethal than Mexico’s desire for a win, however, is the presence of star forwards Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos. Though the inexperienced U.S. backline may have held up against Costa Rica at home, it will have a much harder time stopping this talented tandem in front of a rowdy Mexican crowd.

Klinsmann has utilized a different starting 11 in each of the 25 games he has presided over as manager, so while we cannot predict the lineup or the outcome of the game, one thing is for certain: We need to give him a chance.

 

Laura Wagner is a sophomore in the College. GAME OF CHANGE appears every Tuesday.

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