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Match Report

Lost Without Bradley, U.S. Falls to Costa Rica, 3-1

The United States continued its string of futility in Costa Rica, losing yet again to the Ticos, 3-1, in a brutal World Cup qualifying performance. Michael Bradley's injury and two quick goals were the difference.

BY Noah Davis Posted
September 06, 2013
11:57 PM
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica—It was the worst start imaginable for the United States men's soccer team.

With Jozy Altidore already held out due to injury, disaster struck the U.S. before the opening whistle when Michael Bradley hobbled off the field with an apparent ankle injury.

"He just rolled his ankle really, really bad. It swelled up right away. He couldn't put his foot down," head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match. Bradley will be evaluated and undergo an MRI after the team returns to Columbus on Saturday morning.

Geoff Cameron stepped into the vacated starting spot, but things really went downhill.

The Americans gave up two goals in the first 10 minutes and could not claw their way back into the contest. Costa Rica won, 3-1, moving past the United States into first place in the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying.

Johnny Acosta Zamora started the scoring in the second minute when he beat Clint Dempsey to Joel Campbell's corner kick and nodded the ball toward the near post. The ball flew straight at American left back DaMarcus Beasley, who was hugging the upright, but Beasley was slow to react and the ball ricocheted off his head and into the back of the net to put Costa Rica ahead, 1-0.

Eight minutes later, the Ticos scored again. Pushing down the left flank, Christian Bolanos had plenty of space to send a long, lofted cross toward the six-yard box. Hesitant once again, Beasley allowed Costa Rica's Celso Borges to soar above him and push the ball past Howard to give Costa Rica a two-goal lead.

The game seemed over before it had even begun.

"We knew we needed to be strong from the jump and not concede early. We conceded early. We couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, I thought," Clint Dempsey said. "Then we conceded another goal."

Landon Donovan, playing with Dempsey for the first time in 16 months, agreed. "We had to weather the storm, and we didn't," he said.

It did get better for the Americans—eventually. The United States finally started to string a few passes together as the half-hour mark approached. In the 29th minute Geoff Cameron sliced a nifty pass into a dangerous spot in front of the Costa Rica goal. Fabian Johnson caught the pass on the half volley and blasted a left-footed shot on frame, but Ticos goalkeeper Keylor Navas parried the shot away.

Right before half, however, the Americans turned a half-chance into a timely goal.

Given a spot kick in a semi-dangerous area, U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi caught the Costa Rica defense off guard and shrewdly lofted a quick pass to Fabian Johnson. The ball landed just inside the Costa Rica penalty area and Johnson beat Navas to the ball, was tripped by the keeper, and earned the penalty.

Dempsey stepped up and took the penalty kick, blasting the shot right at Navas. Fortunately for the U.S. captain, the ball caromed off the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The Yanks had played poorly but were trailing by just one goal at the intermission.

After the break, the Americans dominated possession for long stretches, and seemed likely to score. Dempsey hit the goalpost in the 56th minute after he created space for himself on the edge of the 18-yard yard box. His left-footed strike beat Navas but not the upright.

When U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought Altidore and Eddie Johnson into the attack, the U.S.' confidence lifted to a still-higher level. But right when the Americans looked poised to strike, Costa Rica's Joel Campbell got loose on a breakaway, outran and outmuscled U.S. defender Matt Besler, and pushed a shot past Tim Howard.

"In the second half, I thought we really dictated the game and thought it was just a matter of time until we scored the equalizer. That breakaway came basically from a surprising element," Klisnmann said.

The 3-1 loss meant that the 12-game win streak for the U.S. was over. It had to end eventually. "We've been playing unbelievable the last four or five months. We've dug out some results we shouldn't have. Tonight maybe was a bridge too far and it happens," Tim Howard said.

The Americans play Mexico on Tuesday. Cameron, Besler, and Altidore will miss the match on yellow card accumulation but a victory combined with a Honduras win or draw at home would see the U.S. qualify for the World Cup. Despite the defeat, Klinsmann and his crew are nearly there. But as the final whistle blew on Friday night, the Costa Rican flags flew, the "Ole" chants rained down from the top of the open air stadium, and the Ticos were on top of the Hexagonal with three games remaining.

Noah Davis is American Soccer Now's deputy editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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