Deprived of talisman forward Charlie Davies -- seriously injured in an automobile accident -- a day before playing its final Hexagonal game against Costa Rica, the Americans rallied from a two-goal deficit and scored in stoppage time a man down to earn a 2-2 tie in a spirited and thrilling match that yanked away Costa Rica's grip on third place. Instead, Honduras finishes third by beating El Salvador, Costa Rica must play off with Uruguay, and the Americans top the Hexagonal.
The Americans created chances early in the game with balls played up to Jozy Altidore, who in the absence of Davies drifted out wide to open up space in the middle for Conor Casey. The pair connected just after fans displayed placards and posters in the ninth minute honoring Davies and his No. 9, when Altidore played a ball from the right wing to Casey wide open on the left, but he shanked his shot well wide and high of the top corner.
When not aiming balls to Altidore, the USA relied on Landon Donovan's scything runs and dribbles. Dangerous as ever in these situations, Donovan's finishing in the first half lacked sharpness. He fired over the bar after boring clear on the left side and as Casey waved for the ball at the far post. Just before the visitors scored, Casey turned on a ball and hit a weak dribbler to keeper Kelor Navas.
For the first 20 minutes, the Costa Ricans moved the ball into the attacking third confidently, and nearly took the lead when Walter Centeno ran onto a cross and volleyed a thunderous shot front point-blank range that keeper Tim Howard fended off. The openness of the game practically guaranteed goals would come sooner rather than later and it was Costa Rica that broke through.
Twice within three minutes, Bryan Ruiz stunned them with audacious moves. In the 21st minute, he slipped down the left side behind Steve Cherundolo and Stuart Holden; Onyewu seemed to have the situation covered, but Ruiz cut past him near the goal line and found enough space and angle to jam the ball left-footed off Howard and into the net.
On the right side a few minutes later, Ruiz started a superb combination move and ran onto a slightly redirected ball from Centeno to hit an incredible, unstoppable blast into the top far corner as Jonathan Bornstein got caught ball-watching. Once again, soft U.S. defending on the flanks had been exploited.
The Americans were testing Navas with some threatening crosses and set pieces, but he came up with all manner of methods to fist and punch balls out of the goalmouth. He didn't always escape the menace of Casey but courageously still got enough of the ball to clear the immediate danger. Once he went down after jumping with Casey and Carlos Bocanegra for a corner kick; Bocanegra jumped into his teammate going for the ball yet was whistled for a foul, to which he reacted incredulously. A minute before halftime, Altidore failed to beat Navas on a one-on-one.
Admonished at halftime by Coach Bob Bradley for sluggish play, the Americans turned up the tempo for the second half, and pushed up outside backs Jonathan Bornstein and Steve Cherundolo on nearly every possession. Buoyed by the additions of Robbie Rogers (for a lackluster Stuart Holden) and Jose Francisco Torres (for Benny Feilhaber), they pressed forward but still ran aground. A nice sequence granted possession to Casey in the penalty arc, but he couldn't work the ball free to get a shot.
Their reward for pushing bodies forward came in the 71st minute when Rogers, lively and adventuresome playing on the "off" wing, centered a low ball from the right that Donovan touched and shot low on goal. Navas parried the shot but as he scrambled to recover the ball Michael Bradley, who had pushed higher several times in the second half, poked it into the net off the keeper.
Cherundolo hit an excellent cross that Rogers headed wide as Costa Rica defended more and more desperately. Kenny Cooper replaced Casey to add fresh legs up front, but momentum fizzled a few minutes later when Onyewu twisted his knee backing up to head a ball and had to be stretchered off. Preliminary diagnosis is a torn left patella that will sideline him three to four months.
With Onyewu out, the Americans had to fight for the equalizer with only 10 men.
The pulsating match took another dramatic turn when Costa Rican coach Rene Simoes accosted the fourth official, who had signaled an incorrect substitution on his board and apparently refused to change it. The exchange escalated and referee Benito Archundia had to step in to end it and eject Simoes.
A frenzied, boisterous American crowd imploring its team for an equalizer got it deep into stoppage time.
The Costa Rican substitutes and staff members had been waving their arms angrily for several minutes as Archundia let play continue through set plays and a final sub - the one that Simoes had tried to make earlier when he was still on the field - until the 95th minute.
Rogers drilled an inswinging corner kick from the right corner flag and Bornstein timed his run and jump perfectly to drill the ball home.
Coming back from deficits will be much harder in South Africa, and a propensity to fall behind is one deficiency to be addressed.
Oct. 14 in Washington, D.C.
USA 2, Costa Rica 2.
Goals: Bradley 72, Bornstein (Rogers) 95+; Ruiz (Barrantes) 21, Ruiz (Centeno) 24.
USA -- Howard, Cherundolo, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Bornstein; Holden (Rogers, 69), Feilhaber (Torres, 63) , Bradley, Donovan, Altidore, Casey (Cooper, 79).
Costa Rica -- Navas, Montero, Marin Marshall (Sequeira, 92+), Sirias (Diaz, 74), Azofeifa, Centeno, Barrantes, Herrera, Saborio, Ruiz (Bolanos, 83)
Stats USA/Costa Rica
Shots on Goal: 5/5
Corner Kicks: 8/3
Yellow cards: USA -- Altidore 14; Costa Rica -- Montero 35, Saborio 89.
Referee: Benito Archundia (Mexico)
El Salvador 0 Honduras 1
Trin. & Tobago 2 Mexico 2
USA 2 Costa Rica 2
TEAM GP W T L GF GA P
*USA 10 6 2 2 19 13 20
*Mexico 10 6 1 3 18 12 19
*Honduras 10 5 1 4 17 11 16
Costa Rica 10 5 1 4 15 15 16
El Salvador 10 2 2 6 9 15 8
Trin. & Tobago 10 1 3 6 10 22 6
*Qualifies for 2010 World Cup.