Costa Rica Punishes U.S., 2-0, in World Cup Qualifier

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

downloadHARRISON, N.J. — It was all there for the United States men’s national team.

Its first significant game in the New York metropolitan area. A packed, boisterous house at Red Bull Arena. A chance to virtually assure automatic advancement to the 2018 World Cup in Russia next year. But someone forgot to tell Costa Rica and striker Marco Ureña.

Not once, but twice, Ureña exploited the copious space between the two U.S. center backs — Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream — to punish the U.S. for two goals in the Ticos’ 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory on Friday night. It was the first loss by the U.S. since Bruce Arena returned late last year as the team’s coach.

After controlling the ball in the game’s opening minutes, the U.S. was forced to scamper back when defender Ream had trouble controlling the ball, which led to a break for Costa Rica. It ultimately came to naught.

In the early going, Costa Rica made it clear it would do all it could to avoid Christian Pulisic exploiting room on the right. The Ticos surrounded him with four players, but the Borussia Dortmund player was able to break with pace in the 13th minute, only to be fouled by David Guzmán, who drew a yellow card from the Panamanian Referee John Pitti.

Pulisic led a break a minute later, passing to Bobby Wood who moved it to the left flank where Jozy Altidore lofted a cross that Pulisic chested down at the near post. But he failed to get his hips turned and his attempted cross spun harmlessly over the end line.

The U.S. appealed for a penalty when Altidore was knocked to the ground by defender Kendall Watson at the top of the penalty area. Defender Graham Zusi started the play with a searching ball down the right flank that Pulisic ran onto before crossing in the direction of Altidore.

The American team’s apparent control of the match went by the wayside in the 30th minute. Costa Rica’s captain Bryan Ruiz found the San Jose Earthquakes striker Ureña about 35 yards from the goal. He turned Ream around, dribbled into the area on the right and rolled a shot the eluded goalkeeper Tim Howard and landed inside the near post. Should Howard have done better? Was he too deep? Ream seemed to have forced Ureña wide enough, but. …

Pulisic had another chance snuffed out by the chest of a defender eight minutes later. Altidore led Zusi down the right flank for a short pass to Pulisic for a short from a sharp angle.

At halftime, Arena told ESPN that “We were very poor in our passing.” He wasn’t wrong. Too often the U.S. managed to create chances that fizzled because of a poor final pass.

The U.S. made no changes for the second half, and nearly drew even only two minutes in. Zusi’s corner from the right side found the head of Ream between the six-yard box and the penalty spot. But his effort was nodded down and bounced high over the crossbar.

Arena went to his bench for the first time, in the 65th minute, when he inserted Clint Dempsey and removed defender Jorge Villafaña. The move pushed Fabian Johnson to the back line and gave the U.S. an addition option on offense.

Dempsey immediately had an opportunity on a free kick from 30 yards out. His low shot struck Costa Rica’s defensive wall and fell to Bradley, who, with his back to the goal, rolled a pass to Pulisic. His shot bounced, appeared to take a deflection and was swatted away by a sprawling and stupendous save by Keylor Navas, who had dived to his left. Kick save and a beauty.

As matters became desperate for the U.S., an impetuous push by Altidore brought the yellow card from Pitti’s pocket in the 79th minute. The card means that Altidore will be suspended for Tuesday’s match at Honduras.

Costa Rica stuck a dagger in the U.S. with less than 10 minutes to play when another pass split the U.S. center backs and Ureña walked in alone and beat Howard with a right-footed shot from the top of the penalty area for a 2-0 lead.