November 14, 2016
THROUGH THE YEARS, DARKLY
U.S. is 0-8-1 in WCQ in Costa Rica
By Michael Lewis
|Clint Dempsey scored for the USA in the 2013 encounter at Estadio Nacional in 2013.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
This is not a pretty story -- the U.S. national team's attempts at securing a win in this Costa Rica country. The U.S. has never won there. Its lone bright spot was a 1-1 draw in 1985, which was upstaged by a shocking home defeat several days later. And that result eliminated the Americans from qualifying for the 1986 World Cup.
For the record, the U.S. is 0-8-1 in qualifiers in the Central American country, entering Tuesday night's encounter at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica.
"Beautiful country but a nightmare venue to win a soccer game," said former U.S. international Erhardt Kapp.
Only once did the Americans score more than one goal in a game in a qualifier in Costa Rica.
A look at the U.S. history:
U.S. 1, Costa Rica 1 (May 25, 1985)
As time goes by, this game becomes much more of a legend because it was the only time the Americans had secured a point and a tie in qualifying down here.
"We had beaten Costa Rica, 3-0, in the 1984 Olympics and this was a revenge game for them after that loss," Kapp wrote in an e-mail.
"After both national anthems were played government protesters ran onto the field and about 25 MP's totally manhandled the protesters to the ground, dragging them off the field to the spectators’ cheers."
Only three minutes before halftime, the Ticos grabbed the lead as goalkeeper Arnie Mausser fumbled a low cross as Oscar Ramirez put home the rebound in front of a crowd of 25,000 at Estadio Alejandro Morera in Alajuela.
Minutes later, the Americans equalized. Queens native Mike Windischmann sent a long pass into the penalty area that Jeff Hooker ran down on the left side. He crossed the ball to John Kerr, Jr., who sent an awkward volley into the net (according to The United States Tackles The World Cup, by Roger Allaway and Colin Jose).
"All we wanted to do was come away with a tie, knowing a win at home was all we needed to qualify for the World Cup," Kapp said. "We were so happy after the game because we knew how difficult it was to play in Alajuela. The fans are right on top of you and 20,000 fans cheering for the home team makes it extremely hard to play your game.
"I remember John Kerr scoring to make it 1-1 and then we went into a defensive shell to secure the result," Kapp said. "We just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible because the home crowd was not happy. Luckily we had a police escort back to our hotel. We were so proud of our accomplishment!
"It's never a lot of fun playing in that type of atmosphere but a World Cup berth was riding on these two games and I definitely thought we were finally going to make it."
Only five days later, the U.S. suffered a devastating 1-0 home loss to the Ticos, which eliminated them from qualifying in the semifinal round, exactly a year prior to the kickoff of Mexico '86.
"That dream was never meant to be," Kapp said.
Costa Rica 1, U.S. 0 (April 16, 1989)
In his very first qualifier as coach, Bob Gansler watched his team drop a 1-0 decision at Estadio Nacional. Midfielder Gilberto Rhoden scored the only goal 14 minutes into the match before 26,271.
"We didn't play that well," Windischmann said. "There's not really excuses to be made."
Evaristo Coronado, who scored the goal that eliminated the U.S. from the 1986 competition, fired a shot toward the left post. U.S. keeper Jeff Duback was ready to make the save, but Rhoden deflected the ball into the net.
Exactly two weeks later, the Americans exacted their revenge in a 1-0 victory at the St. Louis Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.
Costa Rica 2, U.S. 1 (Dec. 1 1996)
Without the injured Tab Ramos, Eric Wynalda and Thomas Dooley, the U.S. went down to a 2-1 defeat at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa after a 1-0 qualifying win at Trinidad & Tobago a week earlier.
The Americans could have used those players. They also could have used a helmet or two because the home fans threw garbage, coins, batteries and bags of urine at the visitors. U.S. defender Alexi Lalas was hit in the head by a projectile.
Paulo Cesar Wanchope scored against goalkeeper Brad Friedel in the 40th minute and Wilmer Lopez made it 2-0 with six minutes from time before Cobi Jones struck with seconds remaining to slice the score in half.
Thirteen days later, the U.S. prevailed over the Ticos by the same score at home, to clinch a spot in the final CONCACAF round.
Costa Rica 3, U.S. 2 (March 23, 1997)
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller entered the match with five consecutive shutouts, a streak that ended in this encounter.
This time the Costa Rica fans had to clean up their act or face stiff sanctions by FIFA. They did -- the sellout crowd of 22,000 was on its best behavior - but the U.S. still couldn't overcome an attack by the Central Americans that broke loose for three goals in a 3-2 triumph.
It was a rare feat for the Americans to strike twice on the road as Roy Lassiter, a second-half sub who played professionally in Costa Rica, equalized in the 68th minute for a 2-2 tie after he intercepted a pass from Mauricio Solis that was intended for Ronald Gomez. But Gomez finally got a foot on the ball for the game-winner in the 76th minute. Harold Wallace started the scoring sequence, picking up a loose ball outside the penalty area. He faked Lalas and chipped a cross that defender Mike Burns kicked onto the foot of Gomez at the near post.
"When they give you a point, you should not give it back," then U.S. general secretary Hank Steinbrecher said.
No one had to remind coach Steve Sampson, either. "We had that one point in our hands ... we lost it,'" he said. "We tried to hang on and cover the spaces on defense, but their speed was too much."
Hernan Medford opened the scoring in the 10th minute after Harold Wallace intercepted a bad pass by Dooley that was intended for Cobi Jones. It was the first goal Keller allowed in 562 minutes, which was only 32 minutes short of the federation scoreless record held by Mark Dodd.
Wynalda tied it in the 24th minute, scoring from 15 yards for his 30th international goal, sending the ball into the upper right corner. But eight minutes later, Solis dribbled down the middle of the field and beat Keller with a 35-yard shot into the upper left corner for a 2-1 advantage.
"We shouldn't have allowed those gaps in the back, we should have been tighter," Burns said. "With 15 minutes left, that should never have happened."
Costa Rica 2, U.S. 1 (July 23, 2000)
This game was a disaster in more ways than one.
The U.S. exited Estadio Saprissa furious, claiming they were robbed on a phantom handball call by referee Peter Prendergast of Jamaica. He brazenly made the call two minutes into stoppage time on defender Gregg Berhalter. According to television replays, it appeared the ball accidentally hit Berhalter in the upper arm area after he had headed the ball. Many game officials usually won't make the call unless it was intentional.
But with so much at stake in front of a raucous and rowdy home crowd of about 20,000, perhaps Prendergast gave into some personal survival instincts in what was a deadlocked game at the time.
Medford, who coached the National Team until his dismissal in 2008, converted the ensuing penalty kick and several minutes later Costa Rica walked off with a controversial 2-1 victory.
Afterwards, an incensed coach Bruce Arena, captain Claudio Reyna and midfielder Earnie Stewart needed to be restrained by security guards and U.S. team officials from going after Prendergast at the center circle.
"I told him he cheated us," Arena said before storming out of the post-match press conference. "The call was 'disgraceful' and 'that's not the way to decide a game.' "
Reyna threw his captain's armband at Prendergast. "CONCACAF referees are miles behind the rest of the world," he said. "I don't think the referee was awful the whole time, but that particular play was the game. It's terrible."
Rolando Fonseca's eight-yard header had given the Costa Ricans the lead in the 10th minute, but Stewart tied it, putting home a rebound of an Ante Razov shot in the 65th minute. To further frustrate and complicate matters, Eddie Lewis, a much more accomplished passer than shooter, missed two golden point-blank opportunities to score.
As time was winding down, U.S. TV announcer Ty Keough surmised that Frankie Hejduk's ill-advised trip on Austin Berry in the penalty area in the 89th minute could result in a make-up call. He turned out to be exactly right.
By the time Prendergast had whistled the match over, the field was so littered by paper and heavens knows what else that it looked more like a party paper store than a soccer field.
Medford sent a cross into the area that Berhalter headed down, deflecting off his body and then out of bounds for an apparent Costa Rican corner kick.
"I headed it out of bounds," Berhalter told the Washington Post. "Basically, that's it. . . . It was a case where the referee was under pressure to call something. My hands were at my sides the way they always are."
Added Keller: "To call a penalty on something like that, I've just never seen it before. The Costa Rican players didn't even react that much. They were happy to have a corner kick. ... Personally, I just don't think [Prendergast] wanted to go to the airport [and face the Costa Rican fans] after a 1-1 draw."
Speaking of the airport, ironically, the next day at Miami International Airport, Washington Post writer Steve Goff ran into Prendergast while waiting for a connecting flight to Jamaica.
Prendergast said that "it was pretty clear to me from my angle" that the ball struck Berhalter's hand. He added that the ball hit Berhalter in the face and then "had a change of direction that was not consistent with the ball coming down" in a routine situation. "I looked at my [linesman] and he concurred with me."
Added Prendergast: "It's unfortunate the game was decided that way, but for me, I have to do what is right. … For the good of the game, that's what I'm about."
Asked about the non-call on Hejduk, Prendergast replied, "There was clearly no contact. It was more than a dive."
He referred to a photograph in the San Jose newspaper La Nacion, which showed Berry in the air and the sliding Hejduk a short distance behind him.
Asked about Reyna's outburst, Prendergast said he cited the midfielder for the armband incident in his post-match report. Reyna faced a fine and suspension from either FIFA or CONCACAF. "I understand the emotion and he said what he had to say, but he went too far," he said.
For their conduct, Arena was slapped with a three-game suspension and Reyna with a two-game ban.
Costa Rica 2, U.S. 0 (Sept. 5, 2001)
Desperately needing points after a devastating and rare home loss -- 3-2 to Honduras, the U.S. needed to bounce back -- in Costa Rica, of all place.
The U.S. deployed a revamped lineup that played like it wanted to get out of Saprissa with a scoreless tie and a point, but failed miserably in a 2-0 loss before 30,000 exuberant and screaming fans.
Defenders Steve Cherundolo and David Regis were benched. Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope still patrolled the middle, but Carlos Llamosa and Greg Vanney were on the right and left flanks, respectively. Backup defensive midfielder Richie Williams, a former Red Bulls assistant coach, got a rare start, teaming with Brentwood, L.I. native Chris Armas, now a Red Bulls assistant. Jon Kirovski remained up top, joined by Cobi Jones, subbing for 19-year-old phenom Landon Donovan.
Arena’s ultra-conservative strategy worked for 40 minutes -- until Llamosa pulled down Ronald Gomez in the penalty area. Friedel guessed that Rolando Fonseca would kick right and the Costa Rican booted the ball down the middle for a 1-0 lead. Fonseca added another score in the 68th minute on a through pass by Mauricio Solis.
“The better team won today,” Arena said. “We wanted to get through the first pass but we dropped off too deep on defense.”
Costa Rica 3, U.S. 0 (Oct. 8, 2005)
Carlos Hernandez scored two goals as Costa Rica became the third CONCACAF nation to qualify for the 2006 World Cup with a 3-0 win at Saprissa.
The United States, the first nation to qualify from the region, left its offense home. The defense didn’t fare much better, often looking disorganized in front of former MetroStars and current Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was making his first start in qualifying.
Costa Rica controlled the flow of play for much of the first half, and finally broke through in the 34th minute.
Alvaro Saborio got through the defense on a long through ball and made a point blank shot on a charging Howard. The rebound got to Wanchope, who finished into an open net. In the 61st minute, the U.S. was unable to clear a cross from the right flank that Costa Rica’s Ronald Gomez controlled and slid to Hernandez, who had been on the field barely two minutes. Hernandez’s 25-yard shot beat Howard low to his right, then glanced off the far post and in.
In the 88th minute, Hernandez stunned Howard and the U.S., volleying a misplayed clearance from 30 yards off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
Striker Taylor Twellman had the U.S.'s best chance in the 80th minute, heading down Bobby Convey’s corner kick, but the shot was cleared off the line by Jervis Drummond. Earlier, Twellman had a goal called back as it was ruled offside. DaMarcus Beasley had a last-minute chance as well, on the restart after Hernandez’s second goal. He got off a quick shot that was easily stopped by goalkeeper Jose Poras.
Costa Rica 3, U.S. 1 (June 3, 2009)
The U.S. National Team entered the Monster's Cave Wednesday night optimistic and confident that it could finally get a tie or even a win in that unforgiving stadium.
Instead, the Americans quickly crashed back to reality, leaving with yet another nightmare result at their personal house of horrors, Saprissa.
Buoyed by a goal scored only 79 seconds into the match and another in the 13th minute, Costa Rica rolled to a relatively easy 3-1 World Cup qualifying victory over an embarrassed American side.
To be fair, the score wasn't that close.
"As a group tonight, we came up short in every way," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said.
It was the worst qualifying result for the Americans since their 3-0 defeat in Costa Rica on Oct. 8, 2005. At least the visitors had an excuse in that game, leaving several key players at home because they already had clinched a berth for Germany 2006. Nothing has been decided for South Africa 2010 and the U.S. hardly looked like legitimate CONCACAF contenders -- at least for one night.
The loss dropped the U.S. (2-1-1, seven points) into second place in the CONCACAF hexagonal behind the Ticos (3-1-0, 10). The Americans will face a must-win situation against Honduras in Chicago on Saturday.
"We didn't compete hard enough," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We got beat to balls. They caused us problems we couldn't figure out. A lot went wrong.
"No one is going to feel sorry for us. We've taken our lumps now. We cruised in the semifinal round and we're no longer at the top of the group. We've got our work cut out for us."
Asked if he thought the Americans were embarrassed, forward Landon Donovan replied, "I don't feel embarrassed. I'm disappointed. It's disappointing to play that way. We were never in control because of the way we started the game. and that's what makes it difficult."
Saprissa, its artificial turf and its exuberant fans has been a horrendous place for the U.S., which has never won here (0-6-0).
Howard refused to use that as an excuse. "It's a great place to play," he said. "It's an awesome atmosphere. … That's the least of our problems tonight. We created our own problems tonight, not the turf or atmosphere."
The Americans were on the verge of getting shut out for the third consecutive time here, but Donovan's penalty kick two minutes into stoppage time ended a 295-minute scoreless streak at Saprissa (dating back to Earnie Stewart's goal in a 2-1 loss on July 23, 2000).
It was way too little and way too late for the Americans, who were beaten in virtually every phase of the game continually.
"We were under pressure from the start and we didn’t control the game. They took advantage,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. “I just don't think we were good enough.”
It was one of those nights in which the Americans could do very little right as the Ticos struck first on a beautiful goal less than two minutes after kickoff.
Alvaro Saborio fired a left-footed shot from the top right of the penalty area into the upper right corner of the net. There was no way that Howard could have gotten to the ball it was placed so deftly.
"We were behind the eight ball before we even got started," Howard said. "It's not like the crowd needed any more motivation to be up for the game. We didn't deal with it properly. The guy hits a great shot. It couldn't have started worse, that's for sure."
Costa Rica's second goal came off a give-and-go between Angel Esteban Sirias and Bryan Ruiz on the left side. The ball came to Celso Borges, who connected from the middle of the box in the 13th minute for a 2-0 lead.
"We weren't smart in the first part of the game," Donovan said. "We didn't play the way we should have. In the environment we're in, the situation we're in, playing on turf, playing away, we didn't play the way we needed to and that's disappointing because we have players who know better."
The Americans were forced to press the rest of the match, leaving gaping holes in the back for Costa Rican counterattacks as central defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyweu cleaned up in front of the net.
Even though the U.S. tried to get on the board, players rushed their passes and never truly made many dangerous threats. For example, during breaks into Tico territory, Donovan twice lost the ball on simple tackles in the first half. While trying to set up overlapping left fullback DaMarcus Beasley, Jozy Altidore's pass picked up too much momentum on the artificial turf.
"We were never dangerous in the first half," Donovan said. "We had some good movements and passing sequences. But at the end of the day we never got anywhere."
Pablo Herrera put the exclamation point on the victory as he found himself with plenty of room as no one picked him up in the area and he fired a 10-yard shot past Howard for a commanding 3-0 advantage in the 69th minute.
Costa Rica 3, U.S. 1 (Sept. 6, 2013)
Estadio Saprissa. Estadio Nacional.
It doesn't matter where Costa Rica plays the United States in their country. The Ticos always have their foes number.
That number is usually three, as in the number of points the Costa Ricans accrue when they host the Americans in a World Cup qualifier in San Jose.
The result certainly was no different on Friday night. Costa Rica sprinted out to an early two-goal advantage in front of a loud, enthusiastic and boisterous crowd and recorded a 3-1 victory over the United States before a capacity crowd of 35,000 at Estadio Nacional.
Johnny Acosta and Celso Borges scored first-half goals and Joel Campbell sealed it with an insurance tally for the Ticos (4-2-1, 13 points), who moved past the Americans (4-2-1, 13) and into the lead.
Clint Dempsey converted a penalty kick late in the first half for the Americans, who had their 12-game winning streak snapped.
The loss might have ramifications for the USA against Mexico on Tuesday as the Americans lost three players for that match because they had accrued their second yellow card of the hexagonal -- Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler.
Even before the first ball was kicked, the USA suffered a major loss during pre-game warm-ups when central midfielder Michael Bradley suffered a sprained left ankle that left him on the sidelines in crutches with a big ice bag over his ailing ankle. Geoff Cameron replaced the standout midfielder in the Starting XI and Bradley's absence certainly hurt the U.S.'s composure and defensive structure in the early going.
In fact, the game got off to a rousing start for the hosts, who struck with the game only 119 seconds old.
About 30 seconds prior, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard swatted away Bryan Ruiz's shot for a corner kick. On the ensuing kick, an in-swinger from Joel Campbell was sent into the area that Acosta headed past Howard into the left corner for a 1-0 lead. Acosta beat his man, Dempsey, as the ball deflected off left back DaMarcus Beasley.
Dempsey attempted the Americans' first shot in the ninth minute on a 19-yard bicycle kick that was easily saved by goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Some 30 seconds later, Costa Rica wound up celebrating its second goal off a counterattack as Cristian Bolanos fed Borges, who headed the ball home for a 2-0 advantage in the ninth minute.
There was little doubt as to which team controlled much of the first half as the Costa Ricans constantly won first and second balls while the Americans had trouble clearing their half and get a decent attack going. The Ticos outshot the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, 10-4.
The U.S. tried to halve the lead in the 29th minute, but Navas slammed away Fabian Johnson's 14-yard blast.
Six minutes later, Howard denied Campbell after the talented young striker got behind the U.S. defense to fire a point-blank shot that the keeper saved.
Navas, however, wasn't perfect as he took down Johnson in the penalty area after Johnson fed his teammate with a quick, long free kick and referee Marco Antonio Rodriguez (Mexico) pointed to the penalty spot.
Dempsey, who was playing in his 100th international, took the penalty and he fired a shot into the middle of the goal that Navas got a hand on, but could not save as the U.S. sliced the lead to 2-1 in the 43rd minute.
It was Dempsey's eighth qualifying goal during this cycle and 13th overall.
Dempsey came close on connecting for a second goal in the 56th minute as he ripped a shot off the left post.
As it turned out, the U.S. suffered two more losses in the second half. In the 62nd minute, Cameron was assessed a yellow card for fouling a Costa Rican player. It was his second of the hexagonal, which means he will miss Tuesday’s qualifier against Mexico in Columbus. Matthew Besler also was slapped with his second yellow card of the round late in the match, forcing him out of Tuesday’s encounter.
While trying to secure the equalizer, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a pair of offensive substitutions in the second half, bringing on speedster Eddie Johnson for Graham Zusi in the 58th minute and striker Jozy Altidore for Johnson in the 71st minute.
The equalizer never came as the Ticos tallied an insurance goal in the 75th minute. Second-half sub Jose Miguel Cubero sent Campbell a through ball and the striker was off to the races, running past a pair of U.S. defenders before depositing the ball in the back of the net for a 3-1 advantage.