Costa Rica went on the road and earned a critical 2-0 victory over the United States during Friday's CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
The Americans had no answer for forward Marco Urena and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who assumed the starring roles in front of a crowd with a number of Costa Rica supporters. Urena scored both goals for the Ticos, and the combination of the defense and Navas stopped every opportunity for the Red, White and Blue when the game was still hanging in the balance.
ESPN Stats & Info put the loss into historical perspective for the United States:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Loss snaps United States' unbeaten streak of 17 competitive home games vs Costa Rica, only prev home loss was in a 1985 World Cup qualifier.2017-9-2 00:49:28
This contest took on massive importance considering the respective positions of each team in the CONCACAF table. Entering play Friday, Costa Rica was second with 11 points and the United States was third with eight. Both were chasing Mexico's 14, but Panama was looming with seven points in fourth with only the top three automatically qualifying.
Ian Quillen of the MLS' official website called Friday "the Yanks' biggest match since Brazil 2014" because "Costa Rica have been the United States' greatest threat" to joining Mexico as "the region's giants in the World Cup picture."
Costa Rica was more than just a threat from the early going when it created an opportunity after a lackluster giveaway from defender Tim Ream. While the Ticos didn't convert the initial chance, Urena beat Ream and goaltender Tim Howard for the opening goal later in the half, causing Andrew King of the MLS to call for a substitution:
Andrew King @AndrewKingMLS
Bruce should absolutely yank Ream at the half. He seems mad enough that he might.2017-9-1 23:31:29
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Urena's goal in the 30th minute broke the Americans' streak of scoring first in nine straight games.
The one first-half silver lining for the United States was its control of the possession. The Red, White and Blue tallied 63 percent of the possession in the opening 45 minutes, per ESPNFC, and Christian Pulisic created a number of chances.
One play stood out in particular when Pulisic crossed it to Jozy Altidore, who was taken down by Kendall Watson inside the box without a whistle.
U.S. Soccer reacted to the non-call:
U.S. Soccer @ussoccer
Bruce is all of us right now🤔. #Get3 | #USAvCRC https://t.co/Qc64FDjgGG2017-9-1 23:24:36
The Americans had a number of chances early in the second half, including a couple notable ones from Ream and Bobby Wood, but Costa Rica's defenders and Navas were up for every challenge. They also swarmed Pulisic any time he was near the ball, taking away the Americans' best player for extended stretches.
United States coach Bruce Arena changed things up by inserting Clint Dempsey as a second-half substitute in the 64th minute. He started a set piece that resulted in another brilliant save from Navas on Pulisic's shot.
Costa Rica then parked the bus for much of the final 25 minutes and continued to rely on a strong defensive effort. Urena also added his second goal in the 82nd minute on a counter after a crippling turnover from Geoff Cameron.
It was symbolic of the defensive breakdowns for the Americans throughout the match, as Costa Rica took advantage of its limited chances even though it had just 39 percent of the possession, per ESPNFC.
As if the loss wasn't enough of an issue for the United States, Altidore will miss the next match after picking up a yellow card in the closing stretch. He also missed a golden opportunity to tie the match when Navas blocked his shot inside the box after he got past the defense.
The Americans will face Honduras on Sept. 5 without him and then finish their World Cup qualifying matches on Oct. 6 against Panama and Oct. 10 against Trinidad & Tobago. If they don't drastically improve from Friday's showing, a World Cup spot will be in serious jeopardy.