Sluggish USA can't shake off Mexico loss hangover in falling to Costa Rica

Tim Howard returned to the U.S. goal, but the Americans failed to shake off a hangover effect after Saturday's deflating loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup playoff, writes Grant Wahl.
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HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. men’s national team endured its fourth loss in its last six games on home soil after a 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica here on Tuesday night. Joel Campbell scored the game-winner with a pinpoint left-footed finish for the Ticos in the 70th minute, giving the sparse crowd of 9,214—the majority of which was cheering for Costa Rica—a reason to celebrate.

Aside from that, it was a rather bland night at Red Bull Arena, with the USA–which welcomed Tim Howard back into goal in place of anointed No. 1 Brad Guzan–hardly threatening Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas and entering World Cup qualifying next month on a sour note.

Here are three thoughts on the game:

The hangover from the Mexico loss didn’t go away

Three days after one of the most bitter defeats in recent U.S. history to archrival Mexico, the U.S. was still in a funk on the other side of the country.

U.S. failed to assert itself against more proactive, opportunistic Mexico

In one of the least anticipated U.S games that anyone can remember, the Yanks had a night to forget, playing with little urgency or leadership as the U.S. fell on home soil yet again. The lasting images of this game, if anyone recalls them at all, will be of U.S. players Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron and Brad Evans snipping at each other in the first half. But that would imply that there was much meaning at all to this game, and let’s be honest: There wasn’t.

Howard's return restarts GK competition

After taking a year off from the national team, Howard played for the U.S. for the first time since his memorable performance against Belgium in World Cup 2014. He wasn’t at fault on Campbell’s goal, and overall Howard had a couple good moments, including a one-on-one breakaway stop late on Marcos Ureña.

Howard’s return to the field does signal that the competition is well and truly on for the U.S.’s No. 1 goalkeeper spot moving forward between Howard and Brad Guzan. How embattled U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was booed by U.S. fans during pregame introductions, decides between the two will be an ongoing subplot as the Americans move toward the start of World Cup qualifying next month.

The starting central midfield didn’t make much sense

After Mexico loss, it's time to consider Klinsmann's suitability as U.S. coach

​Klinsmann started Jones and Danny Williams in the central midfield, and the U.S. had about as much creativity as you would expect from that decision: Very little.

With Lee Nguyen and Mix Diskerud starting on the bench and Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber at home, the U.S. midfield created nothing in the first half and not much more when Diskerud came on in the second half to replace Jones.

In the end, though, if you were expecting to take many lessons away from this game for the start of World Cup qualifying, you probably shouldn’t have been. The comparison in importance between this game and Saturday’s was night and day.

GALLERY: U.S. Soccer in 2015