On Friday night, the U.S. put in its worst performance in perhaps a year, losing 3–1 to Costa Rica, in San Jose. Not only did the U.S. break their winning streak, they did so in the least impressive way possible, being overrun by Costa Rica in the first half, and also receiving yellow cards to key players, which will see them to miss Tuesday’s game against Mexico.
In short, it was about as bad as it could have been.
With Jozy Altidore only fit enough for the bench, and Michael Bradley limping out of the warm-up with a twisted left ankle, the U.S. starting lineup was Tim Howard; DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Michael Orozco; Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones; Fabian Johnson, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi; Clint Dempsey. Orozco at right back was a surprise, though he has played there in the past, and currently plays on the right of a three-man back line for his club team, Puebla.
The game could not have started in a worse fashion for the U.S., when, in the second minute, a bouncing ball deflected through the U.S. defense and gave Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz a half-chance, which Howard duly saved. On the resulting corner, however, Johnny Acosta rose highest and flicked the ball toward the near post. Beasley was there, but his attempt to head the ball away deflected Acota’s header into his own goal.
The U.S. was shaken by the goal, and had difficulty stringing even a handful of passes together. Costa Rica, on the other hand, was hugely energized by the goal, and came at the U.S. in waves. In the 9th minute, a U.S. attack managed to make its way to the edge of the Costa Rica box. The ball bounced up and Dempsey attempted an overhead kick from the top of the 18, but couldn’t connect well, and the ball was gathered by the Costa Rican keeper, Keylor Navas.
Navas threw the ball straight back out and soon Christian Bolanos had the ball high on the left, after a Jones turnover. He cut back and sent in a teasing ball toward the back post, where a late run from Celso Borges was there to meet it and head in goal number two. The U.S. was in a very early, very deep hole.
Costa Rica was flying into tackles, taking advantage of the U.S.’s hesitancy, and every flick and backheel seemed to be finding the right person. The U.S., on the other hand, was shaking.
The U.S. started to calm after about 20 minutes and, in the 22nd, finally won its first corner, which was headed out for a second. After that corner was cleared, Jones lashed in a powerful shot from 30 yards, which went wide. In the 29th, a well-run U.S. break resulted in a fierce volley from Fabian Johnson, but it was well saved, and the U.S. only got a corner.
The U.S. was improving, but Costa Rica was still a danger. Twice, Bolanos found himself with a reason to fall over in the box. The ref was unmoved, and gave him a yellow for his second tumble.
The U.S. found a lifeline in the 41st, when Dempsey was fouled 25 yards out. Zusi took the free quick quickly, sending Johnson into the box alone, where he was cleaned out by Navas. The ref pointed to the spot and gave Navas a yellow. A red would have been a reasonable call, but the U.S. didn’t protest loudly, given the opportunity of a free shot at goal. Dempsey stepped up and powered a poorly-placed shot to Navas’s right. Navas got a touch, but the pace of the ball took it over the line, and gave the U.S. something to hold on to.
The U.S. closed the half with the best pressure and possession they’d had, but Costa Rica got to halftime with its lead intact.
The U.S. opened the second half with much calmer possession. While long passes were still going astray, the U.S. was able to actually find teammates on the shorter stuff, and win it back after losing it. As much as Costa Rica had dominated the first half, the U.S. was on top to start the second.
In the 52nd, a U.S. corner was put into a dangerous area near the Costa Rica six-yard box. Gonzalez was there for the volley, but it deflected out. In the 56th, a lightning counter got Donovan on the ball high left. His pull back was behind Dempsey, who collected it, cut back, and ripped a left-footed shot off the post. An equalizer seemed possible, even likely. The U.S. was finally playing the way it wanted to, with Costa Rica’s passes a little disjointed, but they had to do more, and in the 58th, Eddie Johnson came on for Zusi.
However, things started moving downhill. In the 62nd, Geoff Cameron was shown a yellow card, meaning he will miss the game against Mexico. With Bradley an injury doubt, that means the U.S. midfield may look very different for what is now an even more important game.
In the 65th, a perfect Gonzalez sliding tackle was the only thing that prevented Joel Campbell from having a run in on goal. A few moments later, the offside flag stopped Bolanos from doing the same.
Seeing that the U.S. needed even more firepower, Jozy Altidore came on for Fabian Johnson in the 71st. He had an immediate impact, and in the 76th minute, worked his way into the box and found space for a shot. Unfortunately, his shot was blocked and cannoned back toward midfield, where it was picked up by Costa Rica and punted long. Campbell, who had been playing off the back shoulder of the defense all night, found himself a step ahead in a footrace with Besler. While Besler is quick, Campbell got to the ball first and slotted past Howard to make it 3–1.
At 2–1, the U.S. had seemed lively, like they might have it in them to get the draw, if not the win. But with two goals gone so late in the game, it was over. Costa Rica did well to burn the clock, through a combination of gamesmanship, play-acting, and keep-away, and the tenor of the match got to the U.S. players. An off the ball foul by Besler on Campbell wasn’t caught by cameras, but Campbell stayed down until the referee saw him lying on the ground. After consulting with his linesman, the ref gave Besler a yellow, meaning he, too, will miss the Mexico match. Then Altidore, in stoppage time, got a yellow of his own, after a meaningless bump into the back of a Costa Rican defender. He makes three to not play against El Tri.
In the end, a horrible first ten minutes let the game get away from the U.S., and this night, after 12 games of finding ways to win, it was too much.
U.S. not ready: Whether it was Bradley’s very late scratch throwing off communication in the midfield, or just a general lack of concentration, the U.S. opened this game without any coherence. Costa Rica pounced, and instead of calming down and pulling together, the U.S. panicked, and gave up a second goal. It wasn’t until very late in the first half that the team began to play with intelligence. The U.S. came out much better in the second half, but what prevented that same calmness from being present at the opening whistle?
Poor passing: Without Bradley to pull the strings, the U.S. couldn’t find a passing rhythm, often passing directly to Costa Rica. All too often, players dwelt on the ball too long, then sent aimless long balls up front to no one. Jermaine Jones was the worst offender, but many players were guilty of it.
Dempsey up top: Clint Dempsey is a wonderful player, but being the most advanced attacker is not his strong suit. The team would have been much better served, in Altidore’s absence, playing Dempsey in the hole with Eddie Johnson up top, or even Aron Johannsson. Fabian Johnson also had a poor game, and with Dempsey in the 10 spot, Donovan would have taken up the wide position instead. Donovan was more effective out wide late in the game.
If there’s a bright side, this is it: While it’s never good to lose, perhaps the U.S. needed a reminder of how difficult qualifying for the World Cup was going to be. After the run the U.S. has been on, it seemed a fait accompli, and now it’s anything but. The U.S. is still in a very strong position, but it can’t afford to start playing twenty minutes into a match. Lesson learned?
The U.S. lost the game, but the points were perhaps less important than the hit to the U.S.’s pride. With Mexico’s loss at home to Honduras, the U.S. still has breathing room between themselves and third place, which is now occupied by Honduras,with 10 points. The U.S. has 13, and Costa Rica now leads the group, with 14. Mexico has only eight, with Panama just a point behind, on seven. On Tuesday, a win over Mexico would do double duty, both getting the U.S. back on track, and also dealing a serious blow to Mexico’s hopes of making it to the World Cup. Depending on results, a win could still confirm the U.S.’s qualification for Brazil.
In short, the qualifier in Costa Rica was bad. Very bad. But the U.S. is okay. On another night, perhaps Navas is sent off, or Dempsey’s second-half strike goes in, instead of hitting the post. Either of those things happen, and this game might have been very different. With reinforcements coming to replace the suspended players, and fingers, toes, and everything in between crossed in the hope that Michael Bradley can shake off his ankle injury, the U.S. needs to dust itself off and leave this game behind.
CRC – Johnny Acosta (Joel Campbell) 2′
CRC – Celso Borges (Christian Bolanos) 9′
USA – Clint Dempsey (penalty kick) 43′
CRC – Joel Campbell (Jose Miguel Cubero) 75′
CRC – Michael Umana (Caution) 32′
CRC – Christian Bolanos (Caution) 36′
CRC – Keylor Navas (Caution) 41′
USA – Geoff Cameron (Caution) 62′
USA – Matt Besler (Caution) 78′
USA – Jozy Altidore (Caution) 90+3′
USA: 1-Tim Howard; 21-Michael Orozco, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 5-Matt Besler, 7-DaMarcus Beasley; 20-Geoff Cameron, 13-Jermaine Jones; 19-Graham Zusi (18-Eddie Johnson, 58), 10-Landon Donovan, 23-Fabian Johnson (17-Jozy Altidore, 71); 8-Clint Dempsey (capt.) (9-Aron Johannsson, 90)
Substitutions Not Used: 12-Brad Guzan,22-Nick Rimando, 2-Edgar Castillo, 6-Michael Parkhurst, 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 14-Kyle Beckerman, 15-John Brooks, 16-Mix Diskerud, 4-Michael Bradley
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
Costa Rica: 1-Keylor Navas; 4-Michael Umana, 3-Giancarlo Gonzalez, 2-Johnny Acosta, 8-Bryan Oviedo; 16-Christian Gamboa, 5-Celso Borges, 17-Yeltsin Tejeda (22-Jose Miguel Cubero, 73), 7-Christian Bolanos (14-Randall Brenes, 86); 12-Joel Campbell, 10-Bryan Ruiz (9-Alvaro Saborio, 80)
Substitutions Not Used: 18-Patrick Pemberton, 6-Oscar Duarte, 13-Carlos Johnson, 15-Junior Diaz, 20-Diego Calvo, 21-Victor Nunez, 19-Mauricio Castillo, 11-Michael Barrantes
Head coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Stats Summary: USA / CRC
Shots: 7 / 13
Shots on Goal: 4 / 6
Saves: 3 / 3
Corner Kicks: 4 / 2
Fouls: 9 / 13
Offside: 1 / 5
Referee: Marco Rodriguez (MEX)
Assistant Referee 1: Marvin Torrentera (MEX)
Assistant Referee 2: Marcos Quintero (MEX)
Fourth Official: Jose Penaloza (MEX)
Weather: 68 degrees, rainy