The United States Men’s National Team always seem to face various stumbling blocks during World Cup Qualifying.
During the campaign to qualify for South Africa 2010, Costa Rica pounded the U.S. in San José. Then, Mexico beat the Americans in the Estadio Azteca. Finally, Bob Bradley’s squad dropped points again against Costa Rica, this time at home. Yet, the United States topped the Hex.
Four years later, they dropped the first game on the road in Honduras and were once again drilled in Costa Rica. But, again, the USMNT finished atop qualifying to reach Brazil 2014.
Failing to qualify for Russia 2018 was a well-documented disaster. Not only did the Americans drop points at home, but the squad also lost outright to both Mexico and Costa Rica. Bruce Arena’s squad were especially bad on the road. They failed to win a single game on foreign soil, only picking up three points in five games.
USMNT sits second in qualifying
So far, overall standings show improvement compared to previous qualifying attempts. In fact, the United States sits second in the Octagonal.
However, the warning signs are there.
For example, Canada came to Nashville and held the U.S. to a draw. Then, most recently, Panama knocked off Gregg Berhalter’s squad. Previously, the U.S. owned an undefeated record against the Panamanians in World Cup qualifying. These serve to remind the USMNT that there’s still a long way to go. They better tighten things up if they don’t want to miss out on a second-consecutive World Cup. The next chance to take another step closer to the World Cup is against Costa Rica, in the city widely regarded as the spiritual home of American soccer: Columbus, Ohio.
Gregg Berhalter made a gamble on Sunday in Panama by heavily rotating the squad that had beaten Jamaica 2-0 a few days earlier. He made a total of seven changes and it’s pretty safe to say that it backfired spectacularly (very similar to the way Bruce Arena’s heavy squad rotation after the Panama win in 2017 blew up in his face when facing Trinidad & Tobago several days later). The US was outshot 8-5 and failed to register a single shot on goal.
The lone goal on the night came straight from a corner kick that Gregg Berhalter’s favorite player Gyasi Zardes was able to latch onto and beautifully head into the back of the net. The only problem was that it was his own net and not Panama’s (though the goal was inexplicably credited to Panama’s Anibal Godoy). The US response, as has so often been the case when falling behind under Gregg Berhalter, was to just completely wilt and pray for the final whistle. There was no effort, no heart, and no attempt at a fightback. Many fans were justifiably upset with the results, though many in the American soccer media were once again quick to jump to Berhalter’s defense and explain why losing is perfectly fine with the usual tired argument of it’s just nearly impossible to win on the road in CONCACAF (despite the fact that the US has never lost in Panama before).
Costa Rica has long been on almost the same level as the US and Mexico in CONCACAF. But the last several years have not been kind to the Ticos and 2021 has been no different. They finished a disappointing 4th place in the Nations League in June before getting bounced out of the Gold Cup at the quarter-final stage by Canada.
The jump into World Cup Qualifying hasn’t been much better. They posted two draws and a loss in the September window and only just won their first game on the Octagonal on Sunday against El Salvador.
Luis Fernando Suarez is now the manager, having been appointed in June. He’s the 5th manager for Costa Rica since the 2018 World Cup but might just be the right man for the job having guided two other countries to the World Cup before (Ecuador in 2006 and Honduras in 2014).
The roster he called in for this round of qualifying is made up of almost entirely domestic based players, though there are a few elderly, European-based exceptions. In goal, as ever, is Keylor Navas of Paris Saint-Germain and in defense is 32 year old Oscar Duarte of Levante (in Spain). Four players also ply their trade at US clubs: Francisco Calvo of the Chicago Fire, Ronald Matarrita of FC Cincinnati, Randall Leal of Nashville SC, and Luis Diaz who is something of the hometown hero for Costa Rica in this game as he plays for the Columbus Crew.
1. Sunday’s loss to Panama snapped a 13-game unbeaten run for the US dating back to June.
2. While the US may be returning to Columbus for the first time since 2016, the game is being played in the Crew’s shiny new stadium and not Historic Crew Stadium.
3. Standings in the Octagonal after five games: Mexico (11pts), USA (8pts), Panama (8pts), Canada (7pts), Costa Rica (6pts), El Salvador (5pts), Honduras (3pts), Jamaica (2pts)
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Live on ESPN2, UniMas, TUDN and ESPN+
USA leads 18-16-6
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Rio Tinto Stadium
USA 4-0 Costa Rica
Current FIFA Ranking
Costa Rica: 44
Friday, November 12, 2021
World Cup Qualifying
USA vs. Mexico
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