HARRISON, N.J.—When it comes to World Cup qualifying, Costa Rica has found a way to bring out the worst in the U.S.
Consider what happened Friday when, for the second time in 10 months, the Central Americans dealt the U.S. a loss of historic proportions, getting two goals from Marco Urena in a 2-0 victory before a sold-out crowd of more than 25,000 at Red Bull Arena.
The victory, combined with a loss to Mexico last fall, marks the first time the U.S. has lost two home games in the same qualifying cycle since 1957. That was also the same year the U.S. failed to score in a qualifier it lost by at least four goals, another piece of history Costa Rica visited last November with a 4-0 win over the U.S. in Central America.
The difference between then and now, however, is the U.S. wasn’t expected to qualify for the World Cup in 1957. This year the Americans are trying to do so for an eighth-straight cycle. And Friday’s loss, the third in seven qualifiers, dealt a serious blow to those efforts, leaving the U.S. with eight points and facing two road tests in its final three games of the 10-game tournament.
The loss was also the first in 15 games for U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann after the November embarrassment in Costa Rica. And it was the first victory by the Central Americans in a qualifier played on U.S. soil since a 1985 win at El Camino College.
The U.S., which entered Friday third in the six-team field, must finish in the top three to earn an automatic berth in next year’s World Cup in Russia. Unbeaten Mexico, which led the qualifying table with 14 points, played Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago faced Honduras in Friday’s late CONCACAF qualifiers.
Urena got things started in the 30th minute, latching on to a through ball from Bryan Ruiz and outracing U.S. defenders Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream deep into the U.S. end.
Friday’s game marked the first time Cameron and Ream have started together in the center of a four-man back line and the lack of chemistry showed at times. Near the edge of the 18-yard box, Urena spun away from Cameron to the right, got around Ream to the outside, then slipped a sliding right-footed shot under goalkeeper Tim Howard at the back post.
It was the first time in 10 games that the U.S. allowed the first goal — an ominous stat considering the Americans entered Friday having won only once in 37 qualifiers that they trailed at the half.
On the second goal, Costa Rica’s David Guzman intercepted a poor pass from Cameron and sent the ball ahead for Urena again — and the San Jose Earthquakes’ forward caught Howard flatfooted again, rolling a shot by him from the edge of the penalty area.
The best U.S. efforts both came midway through the second half and Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas thwarted both, reaching up with his right hand to stop a Christian Pulisic shot, then smothering an attempt by Jozy Altidore minutes later.
Altidore also drew a yellow card in the second half, which makes him ineligible for the next qualifier Tuesday in Honduras — a game that is now a must-win match for the U.S.