USA's World Cup hopes take hit in underwhelming 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica

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Costa Rica-USA
Costa Rica players celebrate Marco Ureña’s second goal against the United States in Friday’s World Cup qualifier. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

The result, underwhelming as it was on the night, will barring catastrophe do little to dent the World Cup hopes of the United States, who remain in favorable position with three matches left in Concacaf’s qualifying hexagonal. But Friday night’s 2-0 defeat by Costa Rica before a spine-tingling atmosphere at Red Bull Arena offered vital and instructive reminders of USA’s shortcomings, lest they allow themselves to peek too far ahead toward next year’s tournament in Russia. Should earnest yet perilously negligent outings like these become the norm, why bother making the trip?

The historic signposts in the immediate aftermath were dire. It marked only the United States’ fourth defeat in a World Cup qualifier on home soil in 32 years and the first where they failed to score a goal. But their predicament pales in comparison to the calamity the team faced nine months ago, when Bruce Arena took over a dispirited, rudderless program that had dropped their opening two qualifying matches, a latter a 4-0 drubbing in the Costa Rican capital of San José that prompted the dismissal of Jürgen Klinsmann.

Since then, the US played 14 matches prior to Friday’s crucial qualifier eight miles from Manhattan, winning nine, drawing five and losing none, buoyed by a renewal of institutional confidence, a Gold Cup triumph over admittedly reduced competition and the emergence of Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old attacking midfielder who’s already been hailed as the most talented player the country of 320m has ever produced. That unbeaten run is no longer thanks to a stunning brace by Marco Ureña, the San Jose Earthquakes striker whose first came against the run of play at the half-hour mark, followed by a second off a grievous defensive miscue that put the proceedings on ice nine minutes from time.

All the while the well-drilled defense of Costa Rica, surprise quarter-finalists at the last World Cup, would deny the United States time and again with no small help from Keylor Navas, the Real Madrid keeper who made a pair of critical hair-trigger saves to keep the hosts off the board.