SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- Costa Rica got its revenge over the U.S. and then some on Friday night, prevailing 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier.
Johnny Acosta and Celso Borges scored goals inside the first 10 minutes, and with a vociferous crowd roaring on the home side, that momentum was enough to carry the Ticos to victory. Clint Dempsey scored from the penalty spot just before halftime to bring the U.S. back into the match, but the visitors couldn't find an equalizer before Joel Campbell put the game away with a 75th-minute goal. The loss ran the Americans' all-time record in Costa Rica to a depressing 0-8-2.
In the process, Costa Rica delivered some payback for the "Snow-Clasico" last March, a 1-0 victory for the U.S. in blizzard conditions that the Ticos insist should have been abandoned. As for the Americans, not only did they see their 12-game winning streak snapped, but the U.S. also fell into second place in the World Cup qualifying standings, a point behind Costa Rica.
Overall, it was a score that in some ways reflected the match but in other ways didn't. The Americans were brutally punished for a slow start only to play the better soccer from the 30th minute onward. But ultimately the team's inability to play a complete game proved to be the difference. A spate of late yellow cards, some of them needless, also soured the evening.
As suspected, striker Jozy Altidore was forced to the bench due to the hamstring strain that has plagued him for the past week. But with Landon Donovan coming into the lineup, it was expected that there would be little-to-no dropoff even if it did change the look of the U.S. attack. Meanwhile, United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann also delivered a surprise with his choice of right back. With Brad Evans out with a calf injury, it was thought that Geoff Cameron would step in, but Klinsmann opted for Michael Orozco instead.
But the biggest loss came during pregame warm-ups, when Michael Bradley was forced out of the starting lineup with a left ankle sprain. Cameron was selected to take his place, but the magnitude of the loss was evident in the opening minutes. Without Bradley there to settle the game and control the tempo, the U.S. struggled mightily to connect passes in midfield.
Not that the defense was much better. With the game not even two minutes old, the Ticos won a corner, and when Acosta nodded home Joel Campbell's delivery at the near post, five months of frustration erupted out of the Costa Rica fans. Seven minutes later the Ticos doubled their advantage. Cristian Bolanos tore down the left wing and his lofted cross was nodded home at the far post by Borges, who easily skied over Beasley.
It was a start that was reminiscent of the 2009 World Cup qualifier in Costa Rica, when the U.S. fell behind early and never recovered. Worse yet, the Ticos had chances to make the game a complete runaway. Campbell gave Beasley a torrid time down the right wing all game long, collecting the ball in wide areas and then cutting inside to have a crack at goal.
- Report: U.S. thumped by Ticos in San Jose
The U.S. began to make some headway midway through the first half. A quick combination involving Donovan and Graham Zusi in the 29th minute saw the latter player's cross fall to Fabian Johnson, but his bullet shot was miraculously saved by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
The home side responded with Campbell being put clean through in the 35th minute but U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard did well to cut down the angle and save the attempt.
The U.S. was then thrown a lifeline in the 42nd minute. Zusi's quick free kick found Johnson in the box, and Navas upended him for an easy U.S. penalty. Navas got a massive chunk of Dempsey's spot kick, but the ball caromed into the net, cutting the deficit to one just before the half.
The second half began with the Americans doing more to assert themselves thanks to some incisive play from Donovan and Dempsey. Dempsey shook loose near the top of the box in the 57th minute, but his bending effort hit the post.
Klinsmann brought on Eddie Johnson for Zusi shortly thereafter, with the substitute moving up top and Donovan sliding to the right side of midfield. This move was later followed by Altidore coming on for Fabian Johnson, giving the U.S. frontline plenty of size and power.
But with the U.S. pressing, the Americans' defense came unglued. A tight-angled shot by Altidore was easily blocked and fell to substitute Jose Miguel Cubero. His long ball over the top in the 75th minute found Campbell in the clear and he outraced Matt Besler to slot his shot past Howard.
That completed the scoring, but not the Americans' misery. Besler picked up a yellow card just a few minutes later while Cameron had received an earlier caution. Topping it all off was the sight of Altidore also picking up a caution late, meaning that the U.S. will now be without all three players for the match against Mexico on Tuesday.
Without Besler, Cameron, Altidore and possibly Bradley, the U.S. will see its depth severely tested ahead of the Mexico match. Fortunately, the U.S. will face a Mexico team in similar disarray following its 2-1 home defeat to Honduras earlier on Friday evening. That said, Klinsmann will need to do some repair work on his team's psyche before Tuesday.
Player ratings: (0-10)
G - Tim Howard, 6: Left hung out to dry on all of the goals but did well to save Campbell's breakaway in the 35th minute.
D - DaMarcus Beasley, 4: Looked overmatched, either in the air against Borges or on the ground against Campbell. Recovered a bit in the second half, albeit not enough to make up for shaky opening.
D - Matt Besler, 4: Did his bit by putting out several fires, but was guilty of simple turnovers late in the first half. Looked more composed for much of the second half, though was simply outrun by Campbell for Costa Rica's third goal.
D - Omar Gonzalez, 5: Didn't make any glaring mistakes and did cut out a few crosses, but wasn't as assertive as he needed to be early on. Was more of an aerial presence in the second half.
D - Michael Orozco, 4: Did little to contain Bolanos, who got off numerous crosses, but he was on hand to provide a key block of a Bolanos shot in the 25th minute.
M - Jermaine Jones, 4.5: Had a nightmare opening 15 minutes but then managed to assert himself as the first half progressed. Continued that trend in the second half and was much improved.
M - Geoff Cameron, 4.5: Looked overmatched early on, with passes going every which way. But he eventually settled down and started helping the attack by carrying the ball up field. Picked up a yellow card and now will miss the Mexico game.
M - Fabian Johnson, 5.5: Unlucky not to get a goal of his own in the first half, when Navas produced an otherworldly save. Did well to earn the penalty as well, but was quiet in the second half.
M - Graham Zusi, 5.5: Some early passes went astray, but recovered well to be at the heart of the U.S. team's best moves and showed good awareness to spring Fabian Johnson prior to the penalty.
M - Landon Donovan, 6.5: Picked out Zusi in one promising attack, but just wasn’t as impactful as he needed to be early on. That changed in the second half as he began to link with Dempsey more frequently.
F - Clint Dempsey, 6: Scored the crucial penalty, although there was an element of good fortune involved. Unlucky with his 57th-minute effort that hit the post, but should have done better with a 70th minute header.
F - Eddie Johnson, 5.5: Provided more of a physical presence up top, and did well to link with his teammates.
F - Jozy Altidore, 4: Got off one ill-advised shot that was blocked, launching the breakaway that led to Campbell’s goal. Then picked up a silly yellow card late and now will sit against Mexico.
M - Aron Johannsson, NR: Late cameo for the AZ Alkmaar forward.