Bruce Arena’s honeymoon is over.
It lasted exactly four 2018 World Cup qualifiers, as the old-boss-turned-new-boss helped the U.S. national team out of a deep hole following the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann, before suffering his first defeat (this time around) in the Hexagonal at the hands of Costa Rica, the side which routed the USMNT 4-0 last November, on Friday.
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With only three games still to play, Arena’s men sit third in the Hex, now six points behind Costa Rica, and as many as nine behind Mexico (pending their result versus Panama). A victory would have pulled the USMNT level for second. In short, it’s a disastrous result, particularly given the level to which the Yanks controlled the vast majority of the game.
The USMNT was denied its clearest chance of the opening half-hour, when Jozy Altidore was taken down inside the penalty area by Kendall Waston, but the referee was unmoved by the American pleas and waved for play to continue. It was a clear penalty, and a monumental let-off for Los Ticos.
Right on the half-hour mark, Costa Rica made the Yanks pay for their failure to turn spells of possessional dominance into a goal. Marco Ureña found 30 yards of empty space between Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron, and the San Jose Earthquakes striker twisted and turned the former as he dribbled into the penalty area, worked the ball onto his right foot and beat Tim Howard far post.
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Christian Pulisic was denied by Keylor Navas, in unbelievable fashion, in the 67th minute. Clint Dempsey‘s free kick pinballed around the penalty area and fell to Michael Bradley, who played the ball into space for Pulisic’s left-footed strike. The ball deflected off a defender, wrong-footing Navas in the worst way, but the Real Madrid goalkeeper was spectacular in his reaction, throwing his right hand in the air to palm the ball onto his foot and clear his lines.
With nine minutes left in regular time, Costa Rica landed the knockout punch. David Guzman strolled through the heart of midfield and played Ureña, who had acres of space himself, behind Ream and Cameron, and Howard could do nothing to deny him one-on-one.
The USMNT travels to San Pedro Sula next, for a matchup with Honduras, the side with which they’re tied for third place, on Tuesday.