Yanks Capitulate in Costa Rica, Fall 4-0 in Hex Match
November 15, 2016
HOW WOULD THEY RESPOND?
That was the question on everybody's lips after the U.S. men's national team lost on a late goal Friday night against Mexico. Would the players dig down, outwork their opponents, and find a way to secure a point or three in Costa Rica? Would they make American supporters proud?
Not even a little.
The U.S. fell 4-0 to the Ticos, giving up a late first-half goal and then failing to show up after intermission in a dreadful 45-minute stretch of play. Jurgen Klinsmann didn't have the answers, and perhaps did not have the players either. The Americans looked inferior to Costa Rica on every level, and the score was an accurate reflection of the action on the field.
In fact, it could have been worse.
Costa Rica came out with guns blazing and nearly hit the target in the early going. In the eighth minute, Johan Venegas nutmegged John Brooks—who had a terrible, terrible day—and moved in on Brad Guzan's goal. Fortunately for the U.S., the Middlesbrough backup made a sliding save to keep the game scoreless.
Costa Rica came close again when Clint Dempsey's former teammate at Fulham, Bryan Ruiz, found himself on the edge of Guzan's six-yard box with the ball at eye level and his back to goal. The crafty midfielder leaned back and blasted a mini-bicycle kick that slammed straight into Guzan's face. A few inches to the left or right and Costa Rica would have taken an early lead.
The Yanks' first legit chance came in the 20th minute when Jermaine Jones dispossessed a Tico midfielder and promptly passed the ball to the supremely gifted Christian Pulisic. Working down the left flank, Pulisic moved forward, created space for himself, and connected with a streaking Bobby Wood, who nudged the ball toward goal but was denied by Costa Rican goalkeeper Keyor Navas.
Wood returned the favor in the 41st minute, from the opposite side. Streaking down the right side, he moved past his marker and delivered a perfect pass across the face of goal. Unfortunately for the U.S., Pulisic was a step or two behind the play and could not convert.
The Ticos outplayed the Yanks throughout the first half, as Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley failed to influence the game from the center of the pitch and Jozy Altidore could not establish any sort of offensive rhythm.
In the 44th minute, the Ticos finally scored the goal they deserved.
The play seemed innocuous at first, as a hopeful past bounced slowly toward the end line halfway beween the corner flag and Guzan's goal. Christian Bolanos raced to retrieve the ball but his marker, Omar Gonzalez, jogged over to cover him. The extra few seconds Gonzalez gave Bolanos allowed the Costa Rican to pick out Venegas, who outhustled Brooks and headed the ball past Guzan into the far corner of the U.S. goal.
Just like that, right before the half, an ineffectual American side fell behind 1-0.
Defiant as always, Klinsmann elected to leave the same 11 on the field despite everything. Sacha Kljestan might have brought some possession to the midfield, but no. Aron Johannsson could have added some technique in place of Altidore, but Klinsmann stuck with "his guys."
Twenty minutes into the second half, Klinsmann's approach proved ineffective. With no possession, no attack, and no freshideas, the Yanks looked utterly hapless.
And then Costa Rica put the game away.
The home team's second goal came on a counterattack, as the Ticos pounced on a turnover and then pushed down the right flank. Ruiz made the decisive play, zipping a lovely left-footed cross that flew past Brooks and straight to Bolanos, who beat Chandler and headed the ball past Guzan.
In the 75th minute, substitute Joel Campbell took advantage of a sloppy touch from Brooks, took possession of the ball, slipped past the Hertha Berlin defender easily, walked in on goal, pushed shot to Guzan's right, and put Costa Rica up by three goals.
And then Campbell scored another to make it 4-0.
How bad was it? It certainly appeared that the players had given up on themselves, and their coach. Few players demonstrated heart or resolve, and as the second half moved to a close, you couldn't help but wonder if Klinsmann was heading for the unemployment line.
Sunil Gulati would certainly be justified in making a change, but it's an open question as to whether U.S. Soccer's top executive views the German coach as part of the problem or part of the solution.
For now, however, the U.S. is in dead last in the Hexagonal with zero points after two games.
It's going to be a cold winter in America.