As the U.S. Men’s National Team walked away from Friday’s 2-0 World Cup Qualifying defeat to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., there were no excuses coming from the home side.
“We obviously didn’t play well tonight,” MNT head coach Bruce Arena said in his post-game press conference.
“You give them credit. They came in here organized, tactically setup in a way to make the game difficult,” added captain Michael Bradley.
Known well for lining up five men on the back line and clogging up the midfield with four more players, Costa Rica executed well on the defensive side and took advantage of two U.S. mistakes which led to Marco Ureña’s goals on both sides of halftime. The San Jose Earthquakes forward’s two strikes were the Ticos’ only two shots on target through the entire 90 minutes.
Even with Costa Rica in its defensive shell, the U.S. had its own chances. In the 24th minute, Jozy Altidore appeared to be fouled in the area just as he was set to receive a pass from Christian Pulisic, but the offense wasn’t deemed penalty-worthy by Panamanian referee John Pitti.
After going into the locker room down a goal, Tim Ream nearly pulled the U.S. level with a nodded effort that bounced over the bar in the 47th minute. Then Keylor Navas took over, making two tremendous second-half saves on Christian Pulisic and Altidore to keep the visitors level before Ureña iced the match late.
“It’s a game of moments,” Bradley said about the way it all played out. “The first goal was always going to be big, and when they go up 1-0 you know it’s going to take a big effort in the second half to get back in the game. We pushed hard, couldn’t get back to 1-1 and they made a play at the end.”
Knowing that it should have taken more from the match, the MNT has no time to sulk as it faces another important qualifier on Tuesday in Honduras.
Nor do they intend to.
“We’re professional, we’re an experienced group,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We’ll bounce back, forget about it and move forward.”
“We’ll move on,” added Arena. “This is how you deal in competition and sports. You don’t win every game, and when you get a bad result you’ve got to put it past you real quick and get ready to play the next game. That’s what we’ll do.”
Despite Friday night’s defeat, the U.S. still sits third in the Hex, but things have tightened up. Following Honduras’ own 2-1 win at Trinidad & Tobago on Friday night, the MNT is level with Los Catrachos on eight points, though still holds a sizable advantage in goal differential thanks in large part to the USA’s 6-0 win in the first meeting in San Jose.
Just behind those two teams is Panama, who still hold seven points after dropping a narrow 1-0 result at Mexico on Friday night. Los Canaleros will be expected to win when they host Trinidad & Tobago Tuesday in Panama City, making it even more imperative that the U.S. gets a result in San Pedro Sula before it welcomes Panama to Orlando on Matchday 9.
With Mexico clinching its World Cup berth on Friday and Costa Rica having one foot in Russia, Arena was simple in his assessment for the next three games.
“It’s going to be a battle amongst the remaining four teams," he said.
Luckily, the U.S. does have some history of success in Honduras. In 2001, Arena guided the MNT to a 2-1 victory at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, and eight years later the USA actually clinched its berth to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with a dramatic 3-2 win there.
“The group is strong,” said Bradley, who appeared in the 2009 match. “The group is ready to respond to this in a big way.”