KENYA BROWN - Sunday, September 3, 2017
The United States faces a daunting task in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup as two goals from Marco Urena saw them fall to Costa Rica on Friday at Red Bull Arena.
After the re-appointment of Bruce Arena to the head coaching post, it appeared that the team had turned a corner after a faltering start to the CONCACAF Hexagonal with losses to Mexico and Costa Rica that ultimately led to the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann. Having collected eight points from their previous four games put them in good position to secure one of the three automatic qualifying spots for next summer's tournament.
However, after Friday nights performance, they will find themselves in a battle with Honduras and Panama to see who can claim that spot and avoid a tricky two-leg playoff with the qualifier from Asia.
The US came into the game with some issues. The most daunting was the back line as they were missing right back DeAndre Yedlin as he continued to recover from a hamstring injury that has forced him to miss the first three games of the English Premier League season. John Brooks was not called up as he too sat out due to a thigh injury.
This led Arena to fielding Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream together in the center - the two have never played togther in that position - and Graham Zusi at right back. Fabian Johnson also got the start despite only playing his first game in the Bundesliga last week as he came off the bench.
The US could have gone down a goal early when Ream gave away the ball to Bryan Ruiz, but the Ticos captain flailed at his chance to give his team the lead.
A bit of controversy erupted around the 23rd minute when Christian Pulisic played Jozy Altidore into the area with a pass, but the forward appeared to have been brought down. The US appealed for a penalty, but the referee continued play.
The visitors would find another scoring opportunity in the 29th minute when Ruiz's through ball found Urena, but he could not capitalize on a chance at goal. However, the two would link up again a minute later when picked out the San Jose Earthquakes forward with another pass and he made sure to score as he beat Tim Howard.
Pulisic worked hard in the midfield to try and get the US back into the game, but was left frustrated on the night as Costa Rica made things difficult for him smothered him every time he got his foot onto the ball. He did create many chances, but the end result was that the US remained goalless.
The Red, White and Blue were in a sense of urgency as the teams took the field in the second half. They nearly found the equalizer early on when Howard booted the ball up field to Bobby Wood, but his effort was saved by Ticos' goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
The Real Madrid goalkeeper would prove to be a life saver throughout the course of the game as he made further saves to prevent the US from tying the game.
As the US could not find that punch in the final third, Arena went to the bench and called on Clint Dempsey. It appeared the team found another spark when he entered, especially when they had a free kick later on. However, Navas came up trumps again to deny Pulisic.
The host kept pushing for the equalizer, but Costa Rica would put the final dagger into the game in the 82nd minute when Cameron turned over the ball and Urena made him pay for the error as he fired his shot past Howard to send the Ticos fans in the stadium into momentous cheers as their team inched closer to automatic qualification to the World Cup.
Changes will certainly have to be made come Tuesday as Arena and his team will have to quickly forget this game and focus on claiming points down in Honduras.