COLUMBUS, Ohio — It never mattered at the start of the qualifying for the 2022 World Cup how the U.S. men’s national team made the field of 32 in Qatar. It could be by the slimmest of margins and all that would be remembered would be how the U.S. exorcised its demons from four years earlier.
The slimmest of margins is what it took Wednesday night against Costa Rica, with a double-bounce off the post and one of the top goalkeepers in the world having to leave the match at halftime with an injury.
Beginning the match down 1-0 only 60 seconds into the game, the Americans came back for a critical 2-1 win against Costa Rica at Lower.com Field, on goals from right back Sergino Dest in the 25th minute and a shot on target from forward Tim Weah that was credited as an own goal.
After a turnover from Costa Rica just outside the penalty area in the 66th minute, Dest passed down the flank to Weah who ripped a shot at goalkeeper Leonel Moreira. The shot first hit the post, then hit Moreira’s left side and bounced off the post again before spinning across the face of the goal and over the line.
The USMNT’s chances for winning the game undoubtedly increased when Costa Rica starting goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who starts for one of the world’s top clubs in Paris St. Germain, was subbed off to begin the second half after an adductor injury.
But the Americans played as well as they had in any of the previous six qualifying games and deserved all three points against a much older, more experienced, but less dynamic Costa Rica side that never had control of the match.
"I felt we dominated the first half, dominated the second half and we got the reward for it," Weah said.
With the win, the U.S. went to 10 points through six games and held the second spot in Concacaf qualifying ahead of the next set of international games in November that features the top home game of the 14-game qualifying schedule — against Mexico.
Following a loss at Panama three days earlier, the last thing the USMNT wanted was to be playing from behind from the opening minute in a game it needed to make this October international window a success.
On the first chance Costa Rica had, left back Ronald Matarrita beat Dest down the left flank and sent in a cross that landed at the feet of Keysher Fuller.
The defender didn’t hit the ball well, but goalkeeper Zack Steffen froze, anticipating a deflection off Costa Rican forward Jonathan Moya directly in front of him as the ball rolled by him and into the net for a stunning opening goal that had American fans fearing the worst.
On Sept. 1, 2017, it was a 2-0 loss at home to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey that seemed like the kiss of death for the USMNT’s hopes of making the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Part of the reason Columbus was given the home qualifying match against Costa Rica was because of the Americans’ impressive 7-1-2 record in Columbus in qualifying.
Despite allowing the first goal, the USMNT was into the match and quickly had Costa Rica defending deep in its own end for long stretches. Transitioning out of their own end in the 25th minute, the Americans got the lift they needed.
Weah sent a cross from the far-left side of the field all the way across to midfielder Yunus Musah, who was excellent in the midfield for the U.S. Musah gave the ball off to Dest who took two dribbles into the middle of the field and torched the top-left corner of the net for one of the best goals the U.S. has scored under coach Gregg Berhalter.
"It was an excellent half," Berhalter said. "I said to them (at halftime), 'Listen, if we keep up like this we're winning the game. Just keep going.'"
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) October 13, 2021
U.S. center backs Chris Richards and Miles Robinson each had goal-saving tackles to hold the game even. Robinson had a careless giveaway in 56th minute to Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz, but made up about 25 yards on a dead sprint to make the tackle on Ruiz to deny a goal-scoring opportunity.
After Weah’s shot led to the go-ahead goal, Costa Rica’s defense opened up at the back, but the U.S. couldn’t find the third goal that would’ve put the game away.
TIM WEAH GETS THE BOUNCE TO PUT THE USMNT UP 2-1 🙌 pic.twitter.com/9rzF6zztok
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 14, 2021
Still, the USMNT stayed dangerous until the final whistle, negating any potential chance the Costa Ricans had the other way.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: USMNT erases early deficit, beats Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying