Costa Rica stuns Americans with quick start, takes over qualifying lead.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, September 6, 2013) -- Costa Rica got its revenge on the United States men for losing 1-0 in the March “snow bowl” in Colorado City, Colo., Denver 1-0 by using two early goals and one against the run of play in the second half to defeat the visiting Americans 3-1 in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying’s final round before approximately 35,000 last night at Estadio Nacional in San José.
With three matches remaining in the final hexagonal, Costa Rica (4-1-2, 14 points) grabbed first place, one point ahead of the U.S. (4-2-1), which saw its program record 12-match winning streak, also the longest current one in the world, end.
This match may well have turned to the host during pre-match warm-ups when U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley sprained his left ankle on a field left soggy by five hours of hard rain. Geoff Cameron was selected to take his place, but the fallout was immediate and harsh.
“This team has in large part been built around Michael,” U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan said. “You lose a leader, you lose a good player, you lose a lot of stability.”
The Americans seemed confused from the outset. With Cameron seeming unsure of his role and Jermaine Jones now having to play much more defense than planned, the entire structure in back was thrown into chaos.
The Ticos, as could be expected, came out flying, and the U.S. struggled to keep up. In the second minute the Ticos won a corner after American goalkeeper made a reaction save on a point-blank shot. Costa Rica defender Jonny Acosta nodded home Joel Campbell's delivery at the near post for a 1-0 lead.
Seven minutes later, Ticos midfielder Cristian Bolanos easily beat U.S. defender Michael Orozco and lofted a cross to far post where it was nodded home by midfielder Celso Borges, who easily rose above defender DaMarcus Beasley.
The U.S. had dug a hole from which it was unable to escape.
American striker Clint Dempsey converted a penalty kick in the 43rd minute and the U.S. asserted control after intermission and pout the Ticos on their heels, but could not gain the equalizer. The Americans did come close when Dempsey drove a shot off the left post in the 57th minute.
As the U.S. continued to push forward, the Costa Rica defense blocked a shot by reserve forward Jozy Altidore, who could not start because of a hamstring ailment.
Costa Rica reserve midfielder Jose Miguel Cubero simply cleared the ball over the top and Campbell and U.S. defender Matt Besler took off after it in a 50-yard foot-race. Campbell beat Besler to the ball, fought off his opponent and slipped a shot under charging goalkeeper Tim Howard from 15 yards out.
In some measure, this was a contest in which U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann was simply outmaneuvered by Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto. Pinto started what appeared to be five men on the back-line, three central defenders with two outside backs. In reality, that was only true when the Ticos were being pressed. Otherwise, there were three in the back and five or six in the midfield, which completely overwhelmed the visitor.
In the meantime, the U.S. really played the match without a true forward until Eddie Johnson entered in the 59th minute. On paper, Dempsey was a forward, but he is uncomfortable playing on top. That is also true of Donovan, so basically the U.S. played without a target.
The difference between a good keeper and a great one is that a good keeper will make the saves he should, while a great one will also make the ones he shouldn’t. Tonight Howard was good keeper, while the Coast Rica’s Keylor Navas, who plays for Levante in La Liga of Spain, was great. Navas twice denied the U.S. with stunning saves.
Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodríguez, now considered CONCACAF’s best, is usually quick with dishing out cards, but last night he was restrained. He did end up handing out yellows that will have U.S. players suspended for their second yellows of the final round when the Americans face Mexico in a crucial qualifier Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.
Cameron was carded in the 62nd minute for a foul from behind on Campbell. Besler was shown yellow in the 78th minute for a frustration foul, also on Campbell. Altidore got his yellow for stupidly ramming a shoulder into a Costa Rican defender three minutes into stoppage time. The defender was just standing there, right in front of Rodriguez.
The U.S. must now regroup quickly. In addition to missing Bradley, who was ruled outr after an MRI exam, it will be without its best goal-scorer in Altidore and two frequent starters.
Klinsmann must bring some organization to the team. It will be interesting to see if he can.
Mexico has its own problems after squandering a lead and losing 2-1 at home last night to Honduras, leading to the firing of manager Jose Manuel De la Torre, the manager since 2010. He will be replaced by assistant Luis Fernando Tena, who led Mexico to a gold medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Honduras moved into third place at 3-3-1 with 10 points with Mexico, having earned only three points in four home games, falling to fourth at 1-1-5 with eight points. Panama went to Jamaica and tied 0-0, leaving Panama at 1-2-4 with seven points and Jamaica at 0-4-3 with three points.
The top three finishers earn berths in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil wit the fourth-place team advancing to a two-match series against New Zealand four a fourth spot.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5: He had an off night by his standards. He made several good saves in the first half, but he could have done better on the second Costa Rica goal and should have been able to stop the third goal, which was put through his legs as he came out to challenge Campbell.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 5: With Costa Rica pressing forward, he was forced back on his heels. When he tried to push forward, he was usually double-teams in the crowded midfield. He simply could not get going.
Defender Matt Besler - 4: He simply could not keep up with Campbell. He received his yellow card fouling Campbell from behind and lost the foot race with him on the third goal in a generally poor outing.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 5.5: He was consistently being pulled out of position by the poor play of teammates on both sides of him. He made some good efforts in the air, but given the number of starts he has had, he could have and should have better organized the back-line.
Defender Michael Orozco - 4: He has only played central defense for the U.S., but is an outside defender for his club team. He had a nightmarish night as he was repeatedly beaten by Bolanos, who triggered cross after cross.
Midfielder Geoff Cameron - 4: Pressed into surprise service, he simply was never into the match. He had a great deal of trouble with the speed of the Costa Ricans coming at him and generally added to the chaos in the middle over those first 15 minutes.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5.5: The plan was for Jones to push forward to feed Donovan and Dempsey, but with Bradley suddenly missing and Cameron seemingly confused over his role, Jones was pulled all over the place in the opening 15 minutes and that added to the upheaval. He steadied up and over the final hour played well.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 5: There is no doubt he can cross the ball and did so on a number of occasions, but he had great difficulty finding his way in the crowded midfield. When he was called on to make defensive stops, he came up short on a number of occasions. He plays well when he is not being pressured, much less so when he is.
Midfielder Fabian Johnson - 6: He took up much of the offensive slack in the first half, denied a goal by an amazing save. He did well on the play, earning the penalty kick. He faded in the second half and contributed less as the half wore on.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 6.5: In the first half, he seemed unsure of his role. He became more forceful in the second half and once the U.S. employed a striker, he settled in and caused the Ticos a lot of problems as the Americans pushed forward.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: He did convert the penalty kick, although it was poorly placed and he was lucky to have scored. He should have had a goal in the 57th minute, when he hit the post and should have done better with a weak header in the 70th minute.
Forward Eddie Johnson (58th minute for Zusi) - 5.5: He started as a wing player, but quickly moved on top where he started to cause problems. He was often closely marked and could do little to get free.
Forward Jozy Altidore (71st minute for Fabian Johnson) - 3: He never got on track, coming in as late as he did. In a moment of frustration, he committed a completely gratuitous foul in stoppage time, earning a quick yellow and eliminated him from the Mexico game, where he will be sorely missed.
Forward Aron Johannsson (90th minute for Dempsey) - no rating: This stoppage- time substitution in an official match now binds the Icelandic-American to the U.S. in international play.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Landon Donovan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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