The USMNT’s path to Russia became much less straightforward — and far more difficult — as Costa Rica beat the US 2-0 Friday night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
Costa Rica movs to 14 points through seven games, while the US remains stuck on eight. And with two difficult road games to play and two teams to compete with, suddenly a direct berth to the World Cup seems far less likely than it did at the start of the day.
The match started fairly cagey, with only some brief half-chances between the two sides, though the US carried the play. The first notable moment came when Kendall Waston almost surely pulled down Jozy Altidore in the penalty area, but Panamanian referee Jhon Pitti saw nothing wrong with the challenge.
Not five minutes later, San Jose’s Marco Urena put Costa Rica in front from a sharp angle after he got the better of Tim Ream, who was not at his best in the match replacing John Brooks.
— Spaasn (@Spaasn) September 2, 2017
Later in the half, the US may have been denied another penalty shot when Bryan Ruiz looked to have tugged Fabian Johnson’s shirt in the penalty area, but that shot was also denied.
The second half started brightly for the US with a couple of decent set pieces, but nothing came of them. Bobby Wood served in a great cross on 55 minutes that Jozy Altidore couldn’t get a telling touch on, otherwise it would have been 1-1. Clint Dempsey came on in the 65th minute trying to find the 58th goal of his international career, and after he hit a free kick into the wall, Christian Pulisic had the best chance for the US to that point but his shot was denied by Keylor Navas. Dempsey may have had a penalty shot himself in the 74th minute after he was knocked down in the penalty area, but that shot too was denied.
By the 77th minute, the numerous Costa Rican fans in attendance began ole’ing their teams passing and ability to keep possession, and then began engaging in some famous CONCACAF time-wasting tactics. The US began to get more and more frustrated.
After Altidore was denied point blank by another fantastic Keylor Navas save, Urena went down at the other end to bag a brace and put the Ticos out of sight with a 2-0 lead.
GOAL: Marco Urena braces doubles Costa Rica's lead https://t.co/G2Az416BgQ
— FootMobb (@FootMobb) September 2, 2017
For a team that hadn’t yet lost under Bruce Arena since he took over the team last November, and had just beaten Costa Rica in the Gold Cup semifinals, the performance wasn’t anywhere near good enough, especially from some key contributors. The centerback pairing of Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron was not up to par in the first half — or on Urena’s second goal — and Darlington Nagbe was largely invisible playing with Michael Bradley in midfield. The partnership of Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood never came off, and Christian Pulisic was neutered by Costa Rica’s fantastic 5-4-1 shape. Altidore also picked up a yellow card, meaning he’ll be suspended for the game in Honduras as well.
And with the loss, the US made some rather ignominious history:
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) September 2, 2017
The fourth official put Christian Pulsic's number on the board instead of Graham Zusi's. Arena yells: "What are we f***ing doing?"
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) September 2, 2017
Bruce Arena said before the match that “we know that all hell breaks loose if we lose”. All hell has broken loose and the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying prospects now suddenly seem in some serious jeopardy. They travel to steamy Honduras on Tuesday afternoon, now potentially facing a must-win game, or else stare at the prospect of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986.