(Thursday, June 4, 2009) -- The United States men embarrassed themselves, losing 3-1 to a good Costa Rican team in a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier before a packed Estadio Stadium in San Jose, Costa Rica last night.
There is not a lot that can be said about the U.S. effort. It was confused on defense, consistently outplayed in the midfield and completely ineffectual in the final third. How bad was the attack? The Americans managed only two shots on goal all night and the only dangerous effort was Landon Donovan's penalty kick in stoppage time -- a gift from Trinidad and Tobago referee Neal Brizan after U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu was pulled down by defender Junior Diaz following a long throw-in.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley was forced to use something of a makeshift lineup with his top two right-side defenders -- Steve Cherundolo and Frankie Hejduk - injured, as were midfielder Maurice Edu and striker Brian Ching. None of the players who replaced them did well, but then neither did the regulars.
The U.S. has never had much luck at Saprissa. Costa Rica won the last game there between the nations 3-0 in 2006. Tonight, however, it was not the venue, the hostile crowd or the awful old, worn down artificial playing surface. The Americans simply played a dreadful match, surely its worst outing since the 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic in the opening match of the 2006 World Cup.
"As a group tonight, we came up short in every way," Bradley said. "I don't think there was any area at all where we were good enough to win a game against a good team. We were under pressure from the start. We fell short. We recognize that and we have a quick turnaround for the next game."
From the start, the Ticos attacked the flanks of the U.S. defense. In the second minute, DaMarcus Beasley, playing on the left side of defense for the second match in a row, made a poor clearance that hit a teammate and fell to Costa Rica's Andy Herron. He squared it to Alvaro Saborio, who turned and split two U.S. midfielders before hitting a perfect curling shot that went over Tim Howard and into the top left of the net for a 1-0 lead
In the 13th minute, it was the other side. With U.S. right defender Marvell Wynne upfield and out of position, Costa Rico's Junior Diaz made a run down the left wing. Both U.S. central defenders moved to cover when he played the ball to Esteban Serias. Serias passed to an unmarked Celso Borges running up the middle for a one-time volley of the bouncing past Howard for a 2-0 advantage.
In the 69th minute, there was another American defensive breakdown. Beasley was absent when Pablo Herrera received the ball from Walter Centeno on the right side of the penalty area. Before a defender could challenge, he fired a low shot inside the right post from about 10 yards out to make it 3-0.
Both Bradley and his predecessor Bruce Arena preach defending as a team when playing against a good opponent or in a pressure situation. That is exactly what the U.S. didn't do tonight. The Americans lost their defensive shape too often. With the outside defenders flaying around and pulling the central defenders every which way, the midfielders provided little defensive help on any of the three Costa Rican goals.
The best example of the poor U.S. midfield play was that Ticos defensive midfielder Borges was allowed to run free down the middle into the American end without ever really being challenged.
At the other end, with Costa Rica dominating in the midfield, the U.S. was never able to get a coherent offense going. The Americans made a more determined effort in the second half, but were off target with long shots or found they were attacking against greater numbers.
"We need to learn from tonight, but the most important thing is getting over it as quickly as possible, taking what you can from it," U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan told reporters. "We have three days physically and mentally to turn it around against a very good team (Honduras, Saturday's qualifying opponent in Chicago) who has been resting and preparing for us all week"
The Honduras match at Soldiers Field, likely be played in front of an almost sold out pro-Honduran crowd, has now become extremely important. With the next U.S. match slated for Mexico City's Azteca Stadium in August, less than a victory Saturday will spell real trouble for the American World Cup effort.