The US defied the difficulties of driving snow to get their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign back on track on Friday with a 1-0 triumph over Costa Rica.
In a match put in jeopardy by blizzard conditions, which saw the grounds crew in a constant battle to keep the pitch clear enough for play, Clint Dempsey leapt on a deflection in front of the Costa Rica goal in the 16th minute and nudged the ball in.
It proved all the US needed in a contest that had been billed a “must-win” by US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, after his team fell 2-1 to Honduras last month in their opening match in the six-nation final-round of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The three points pushed the US to second in the table behind Honduras, who erased a two-goal deficit en route to a 2-2 draw with Mexico on Friday.
In the day’s other match, Panama rallied for a 1-1 draw at Jamaica.
Dempsey’s goal — after Jozy Altidore’s shot deflected off Roy Miller — was his 12th in World Cup qualifying, tying him with Landon Donovan for the most in qualifying for the US.
It stood up, although Costa Rica had several chances — including two free-kicks from just outside the US penalty area — and an apparent goal in the 70th minute disallowed for offside.
That was after Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar briefly stopped the action in the 55th minute, to the apparent dismay of players from both teams, before allowing the match to conclude. The wintry weather in Denver was a far cry from the intense heat in San Pedro Sula, where second half strikes from Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson saw Honduras rally for a stunning draw with Mexico.
Costly’s header in the 77th minute and Bengtson’s 80th-minute blast — off the rebound from his own saved penalty attempt — canceled out a pair of goals from Javier Hernandez.
Hernandez opened the scoring in the 28th, heading in a cross from the hard-working Andres Guardado on the left.
He doubled Mexico’s lead in the 54th, eluding the defenders in front of the goal to slot home a set-piece delivery from Carlos Salcido.
Honduras had few true scoring chances, before Costly rose to head in a corner-kick in the 77th.
Minutes later, Costly drew a foul in the penalty area and Bengtson stepped up to take the kick.
Guillermo Ochoa dived to his right for the save, but pushed the ball straight back to Bengtson, who belted the equalizer past the helpless ’keeper.
The draw left Honduras atop the table with four points, one more than the US.
Meanwhile, regional powerhouse Mexico remain in search of a first win after two matches, having been held to a goalless draw when hosting Jamaica last month.
Mexico were level on two points with Jamaica and Panama.
Luis Henriquez salvaged a point for the Panamanians in Kingston with his equalizer in the 65th minute. Marvin Elliott had put hosts Jamaica in front with his header in the 22nd minute.
The top three teams from the region advance to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, while the fourth place team plays off against top Oceania team New Zealand for a berth.