A nice long ball hit by Cameron set up a chance for Altidore and outside backs Jorge Villafana and Graham Zusi contributed to some promising attacks. Yet for long stretches the Americans failed to convert recoveries into significant possessions and of their many mistakes, two were punished severely.
2. Dempsey unable to rescue U.S. off the
The Gold Cup semifinal was locked up at 0-0 midway through the second half when Clint Dempsey came off the bench to single-handedly turn the game around. He poked a ball that Jozy Altidore drove into the net to break the deadlock and scored the clincher himself with a clever free kick that skipped under the defensive wall and inside the near post.
At nearly the same point in the match, Arena sent on Dempsey to replace Villafana with an extra attacker. The moment seemed perfectly poised for Dempsey; the USA trailed by only a goal and by scoring Dempsey would break the all-time men’s record of 57 goals he shares with Landon Donovan.
Dempsey breathed a bit of life into the offense without landing either of his two shots on target. He hit a free kick into the wall from roughly the same spot he’d scored in the semifinal and also in a 6-0 rout of Honduras in March. Dempsey was one of several U.S. attackers to end the match utterly frustrated.
A couple of hard, early fouls slowed down Pulisic and he burst alight only rarely before Paul Arriola replaced him in the 87th minute. For violently shrugging off Johnny Acosta in the final minutes, Dempsey -- who had appealed for a penalty when tangled up during a free kick -- was cautioned, as was Altidore, whose yellow card for a similar incident of indiscipline imposes a suspension on him for the Honduras game.
Altidore had been boiling about several punishing hits and an apparent foul by Waston in the 24th minute in the penalty area that was ignored by referee John Pitti.
None of the American attackers carried their weight tonight and it’s telling that Bobby Wood, who was sharp and lively in the first quarter-hour, played the full 90 minutes but ended up with just one shot, which was blocked.
3. Costa Ricans felt at home and played like it.
When the teams met in the infamous 1985 World Cup qualifier in Southern California, Costa Rican colors predominated in the crowd of 11,800 and the festivities included musicians and folk dancers in traditional dress. They celebrated lustily a 1-0 victory that eliminated the U.S. from contention and sent Costa Rica into the final round, from which it reached Mexico ’86.
The split was more even at Red Bull Arena, which still gave the match a very Costa Rican feel to which their players, seven of them in the match-day squad employed by MLS teams, responded enthusiastically. They carried more of the play and it must be said, physically dominated the Americans most of the time in 50-50 duels. Man for man, they were better, and their big players came through.
Costa Rica drew a good crowd when it beat the USA, 1-0, in a friendly two years ago at Red Bull Arena. Its game at the venue during the Copa America Centenario last year also lured a large contingent of its fans.
Ironically, one of the few criticisms of Urena’s play for the Earthquakes is that he hasn’t scored enough goals (four in 20 games). Two of his four shots hit the net behind Howard, who was a bit too close to the near post and off-balance on the first goal.
At the other end of the field, Keylor Navas did his job by spectacularly swatting away a deflected Pulisic shot and smothering an Altidore attempt more routinely from close range.
Rather than blowing his fuse and being ejected as he’s been four times playing for the Whitecaps, Waston kept his cool and let Dempsey take the caution. His club teammate, Cristian Bolanos, pulled the strings masterfully and along with Bryan Ruiz, knit together sequences that stretched and disrupted the Americans’ shape.
In planning his tactics and melding his players from different sources – MLS, Europe, and domestic clubs – Ramirez gave Arena a harsh lesson.
Physically and psychologically, the Americans weren’t up for the fight, and now are looking more like a playoff team than an automatic entrant for Russia 2018.