HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. suffered a shocking 2-0 home defeat to Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying on Friday, throwing a Russia 2018 berth back into question and stopping the 2017 momentum achieved under coach Bruce Arena in its tracks.
Marco Ureña scored in both halves for the Ticos (14 points), putting Costa Rica in terrific shape to clinch a World Cup berth. The U.S., meanwhile, was left on eight points from seven games in the Hexagonal with a now-huge game at Honduras coming on Tuesday.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
That was a bellyflop of a U.S. showing
The U.S. had done so much work in March (four points) and June (four points) to make up for losing the first two Hexagonal games last November. But the Americans wasted all that achievement in one night on Friday. Costa Rica didn’t surprise anyone with its 5-4-1 formation and countering style, but the U.S. didn’t create enough scoring chances and got victimized by an insane Keylor Navas save on Christian Pulisic in the 67th minute that kept the score at 1-0. Making matters worse, the U.S. center backs, Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream, had a bad night on the ball. Cameron’s give-away pass in his own end led directly to Costa Rica’s second goal.
Costa Rica's opener was a bad goal to concede
I’m still scratching my head over Ureña’s first-half goal on a trademark Tico counter that put Costa Rica ahead. Forget for a second that there was an apparent handball when Costa Rica got possession. There was no way that Ureña should have been able to go one-on-four against the U.S. defense and finish. Ream struggled as the primary defender on the play; the spacing between Ream and Cameron was too wide; and Tim Howard contributed as well with positioning that felt slightly off on the hard-angled shot. Costa Rica is too good and too accustomed to its traditional style not to take advantage of moments like that, and that’s exactly what happened.
The CONCACAF Hexagonal has a lot of margin for error
Losing two home games in the Hex is a giant screw-up by the U.S., but it’s kind of crazy how much you can screw up in the Hex and still qualify for the World Cup. The top three teams will qualify automatically, and the fourth-place team will go to a playoff against the fifth-place team in Asia—possibly Syria or Saudi Arabia at this point—for a spot in Russia 2018.
If Panama were to lose at Mexico later on Friday and Honduras were to win at Trinidad and Tobago—Honduras was ahead at the time of the final whistle—then the U.S. would be tied for third place with Honduras on eight points with Panama at seven. One of the U.S., Honduras or Panama will not even make the playoff—and the U.S. has the benefit of playing head-to-head against Honduras (on Tuesday) and Panama (in Orlando next month). Bottom line: Friday was horrible for the U.S. and a setback–and Jozy Altidore's yellow card that rules him out of Tuesday's match doesn't help–but it certainly doesn’t erase the Americans’ chance of making the World Cup.