Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The U.S. Men’s National Team’s winning streak is over, but their winless run in Costa Rica? That remains.
Costa Rica defeated the U.S., 3-1, on Friday night in front of a jam-packed crowd at Estadio Nacional. A slow start doomed the Americans, who found themselves down 2-0 inside of the first 10 minutes and without midfielder Michael Bradley due to an ankle injury he suffered in pre-game warm-ups.
Johnny Acosta and Celso Borges both scored off of early headers and Joel Campbell made sure there would be no comeback for the United States with a goal in the 76th minute. Clint Dempsey tallied for the U.S. with a late first-half penalty kick.
The win now gives Costa Rica the top spot in the Hexagonal with 14 points and snaps Jurgen Klinsmann’s team’s 12-game unbeaten run. It also drops the U.S., on 13 points, to second place.
“It was an intense game, it was a hectic game and a game that anything could have happened,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Obviously for us, it’s a little bit of a difficult start because of the injury to Michael Bradley right at the very end of the warm-up, so we had to make a last-second switch and it kind of shocked the team for a good couple of moments and then when you get in the game and you’re 1-0 down after a minute, it makes it even more difficult.”
As if the defeat wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. team saw three players pick up yellow cards that rule them out of Tuesday’s qualifier vs. Mexico. Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore are all out after being booked on Friday night.
The Americans endured a nightmare start, as the Costa Ricans came out buzzing from the initial whistle before scoring an opener in the third minute. After the Americans scrambled to prevent a goal, Acosta rose up to meet the ensuing corner kick at the near post and nod it into the back of the net.
Seven minutes later, the Ticos doubled their lead off another header. Borges beat Tim Howard after a cross came in from the Americans’ right flank, where Michael Orozco was given a somewhat surprising start over Cameron at right back.
“We knew that was going to happen and we had to weather the storm and we didn’t,” said Landon Donovan of Costa Rica’s strong start to the match. “But give them credit, they made a great play on the corner on the goal, a good cross and good header, picked us a part a little bit on the second goal. From then on, I thought we actually played a decent game but when you give away two goals, it’s a tough hole to get out of.”
“Right now, it’s hard to analyze that, it really is, because we got hit so quickly,” said Howard. “It was chaos out there during that. It’s hard to kind of figure it all out. Once we go down 2-0, the game is a wash, we’re just trying to push and get back into it. We did a good job in the end but when you push like that, you leave yourself exposed.”
Feeding off the noise from its boisterous crowd, Costa Rica continued to show tons of energy and confidence. The Ticos put together a number of impressive passing sequences, were confident on the ball and threatened the U.S. goal constantly before tiring a bit near the half-hour mark.
That is when the Americans began to pick things up. Central midfielders Cameron, who started in place of the injured Bradley, and Jermaine Jones bounced back from their rough first 30 minutes and helped the overwhelmed U.S. team win more possession.
“I think towards the end of the first half, we got back in the game,” said Klinsmann. “Also, playing wise, we moved the ball around good, (the last) 10-15 minutes was really good, and also the second half I think we controlled the game and thought it was a question of time before we score the equalizer until that breakaway that came basically from a surprising element there.
“Obviously, their energy, the atmosphere, the stadium gave the Costa Rican team so much support and it was difficult to turn it around again.”
Klinsmann’s side still needed a big Howard save late in the first half to avoid going down 3-0, a play which opened the door for the Americans’ lone goal of the day.
In the 41st minute, a quickly-taken free kick was played by Graham Zusi to a streaking Fabian Johnson, who was clipped by Ticos goalkeeper Keylor Navas inside the penalty area. Dempsey, who again captained the Americans, converted the spot kick to give the U.S. a big lifeline and some momentum going into halftime.
The Americans came out looking much improved in the second half and nearly pulled level, but a Dempsey shot from about 18 yards stung off the post.
“We were a little bummed that halftime came because we were playing well as we got back in the game,” said Donovan. “In the second half, I thought we started very well. Clint’s good chance hits the post. I thought we had a chance to get back in the game and then we get one play where we fall asleep a little and that’s the way qualifying is.
“You’ve got to make your chances and if you don’t, you can get punished.”
Punished the Americans were. Campbell put the game out of reach 14 minutes from the final whistle, getting on the end of a pass played in behind the Americans’ high back line before slipping a shot past a helpless Howard.
The U.S. will now shift its focus to Tuesday night, as the Americans host arch-rival Mexico at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Mexico will be desperate for a win, having allowed Honduras to rally and pick up a 2-1 victory at Estadio Azteca on Friday night.
“We’ve been on a lot of ups and now this is a down,” said Donovan. “We’re going to see how we recover, we’re going to see what we’re made of and we’re playing Mexico now in a must-win game for them and we’ve got to see how we respond.”
If there was any consolation for the Americans on Friday night, it was that the results in the rest of the Hexagonal went as well as they could have hoped. Mexico’s loss and Panama’s scoreless draw at home vs. Jamaica were both positive results for the U.S., which can qualify for next summer’s World Cup on Tuesday if it beats El Tri and Honduras picks up at least a draw at home against Panama.