USA-Costa Rica: U.S. youngsters begin to live up to expectations

The USA ended the October window of World Cup qualifying like it ended the September window.

It came back from a goal down in the first half on Wednesday night to beat Costa Rica, 2-1, just like it recovered from a goal down in the first half to win at Honduras, 4-1.

The USA already has two comeback wins in two windows, matching the total of the other seven teams in the Octagonal. (Costa Rica rallied to beat El Salvador, 2-1, on Sunday while Canada came back from a goal down to beat Panama, 4-1, on Wednesday night.)

The USA was tied with two other teams in second place, three points ahead of three teams tied for fifth place, at the end of the September window. Now it sits alone in second place, three points ahead of the fourth-place team, Panama, and five points ahead of Costa Rica in fifth place. A small gap has opened up in the battle for the top three spots.

The USA's two comeback wins were crafted in different ways.

Against Honduras, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter fielded a patchwork lineup that was lucky to get through the first half just a goal down, then he brought on a wave a subs who took advantage of some puzzling moves by the Catrachos and blew them off the field with three goals in the last 15 minutes.

The USA beat Costa Rica with close to its first team, missing only three players who figured to be automatic choices in the starting lineup when the Octagonal started: Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, its two best attacking players, and John Brooks, one of the Bundesliga's top center backs and one of only two holdovers from the 2014 World Cup team in the current squad.

The USA beat Costa Rica with its youth -- the youngest lineup it has ever started in World Cup qualifying -- and despite its inexperience -- four more players made their World Cup qualifying debuts on Wednesday to bring to 25 the number of players who played their first World Cup qualifiers this fall.

But the USA won because its young players have started to the live up to expectations. The average age of the 10 field players in the starting lineup was 21.1. Including goalkeeper Zack Steffen, seven starters have already played in the UEFA Champions League.

Sergino Dest: 'The sky's the limit for him.' Sergino Dest was disappointing in the Concacaf Nations League and the September window, but he was the difference in the wins over Jamaica and Costa Rica.

The amazing thing about his golazo against the Ticos was that you could feel it coming -- the only difference between his first goal he scored for the USA earlier in the year and this one is that he beat Keylor Navas with his left foot -- but it will overshadow his other contributions, his perfectly flighted ball that Ricardo Pepi headed for the opening goal against Jamaica and his soft ball into space that Timothy Weah ran on to and smashed with such force that it ricocheted off the post and and backup goalkeeper Leonel Moreira and spun over the goal line.

"Sergino is an interesting player because it's almost like the sky's the limit for him," said U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter. "He can be as good as he wants to be and you saw today with his attacking play. It's unreal."

Dest has struggled at time with his defending -- he was partly responsible for Costa Rica's goal in the 1st minute -- but he is in the U.S. lineup for his attacking.

"We're forgetting how young of a player he is," said Berhalter. "A lot of times, defenders rely on experience, and he just needs to gain experience. He's doing a great job. Now, he's played over 60 games for Barcelona already. It's a  really impressive record. He just needs to keep working."

Timothy Weah: 'I'm so happy for him.' Until now, Weah hasn't had much of a chance to produce for the USA because he has often been injured. It was 23 months into Berhalter's tenure before he even played for the U.S. coach. And he missed the September window because he was injured in training at French club Lille two days before he was supposed to fly to Nashville.

Weah was a sub against Jamaica and was very dangerous. He started at Panama and was largely invisible, like his teammates. He wasn't supposed to start against Costa Rica, but Paul Arriola was injured in warm-ups.

“It was kind of a rush,” Weah said. “I had to warm up, get ready quick but mentally I was prepared for this game. Coach gave me the task. I just needed to focus and then just get in with the boys and do what we have to do.”

The 21-year-old son of the great George Weah, now the president of Liberia, was only supposed to play for about an hour. At that point, he looked over to the bench and could see Matthew Hoppe and DeAndre Yedlin getting instructions and readying to enter the game for him and Dest.

“It’s really funny because I saw Hoppe and DeAndre on the sideline getting ready to come in, so I kind of had the idea that I was getting subbed out,” Weah said. “My goal was just to stay focused.”

The winger doesn't just bring speed, he has the anticipation and timing to make runs on the overlap, like on his contribution to Dest's opening goal, and into space, like on the winning U.S. goal.

About the only thing Berhalter didn't like about the evening was the scoring on the goal.

“I don’t think it’s an own goal,” Berhalter said. “I think we got to get that change."

What he liked was how Weah responded after the disappointment of the Panama game.

"We had a long meeting yesterday," Berhalter said. "We watched video together, and it was great to see him actually applying that to his performance today because he was disappointed with his performance in Panama, and he really responded with a great attitude and good performance. I'm so happy for him, happy that he got the goal and happy that we didn't make that sub."

Chris Richards: 'We wanted to put him in the best possible position to succeed.' The other 21-year-old player to get the start was Chris Richards. It has been a long wait to get his first start on the national team, but it was only a matter of time before he broke in at center back. Like Weah's progress at Lille in the last 12 minutes, Richards has become an automatic starter in the Bundesliga at Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich, since the beginning of the year.

Like Steffen in goal and Gianluca Busio and Hoppe off the bench, Richards made his World Cup qualifying debut on Wednesday night. He had a close call on a tackle that might have been called a penalty but he covered a lot of ground and looked very comfortable on the ball, a rarity among U.S. defenders.

In the September window, 21 of the 22 field players on the U.S. squad played. In October, all 23 players played.

"The guys aren't here to be passengers," said Berhalter. "We make that loud and clear. I said to Chris, 'Be patient.' We were debating starting him against Panama and we thought that we wanted to put him in the best possible position to succeed. We're playing in Columbus, we knew what the fans would be like, we knew what the stadium would be like, so we opted for him."

25 comments about "USA-Costa Rica: U.S. youngsters begin to live up to expectations".
  1. humble 1, October 14, 2021 at 8:58 a.m.

    Costa Rica was underwhelming, but credit to Greg and the boys, they are sitting on 11 points in second place with a +5 GD.  This is a damn sight better than 8 points and with a +3 GD that was only on the + side due to the 6-0 victory over Honduras after 6 games in Hex of 2016/2017.  One can also see a stark contrast to the, perhaps, lack of forsight, into player selection in 2018 WCQ, where-in we did not develop or manage our youth, and did not develop players during WCQ.  You can go after GB and Co. all you want on tactics, but not on chances given. Giving players a chance to feel what is CONCACAF on the pitch, in the heat, maybe to a fault, they have done far better.  Not always pretty, still a ways to go, but maybe a foundation has been put in place.  For sure, everyone has gotten a look, everyone has feedback and knows what they need to improve and strengthen to get the next chance.  Cheers!  

  2. Kent James replied, October 14, 2021 at 11:19 a.m.

    Well said.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, October 15, 2021 at 8:52 a.m.


  4. Johan Aarnio, October 14, 2021 at 9:46 a.m.

    Humble...agreed...still a ways to go...we don't take care of the ball, too many give aways, service to the box is poor, last pass not there...and defense has not landed on its feet yet. Important win though.

  5. George Miller, October 14, 2021 at 10:31 a.m.

    Happy for the win. Great fun  to watch as well but we beat an OLD VERY TIRED poverty stricken under resourced national team. The great Pepi...All that hype last game? Today he was marked tight. But he's our best hope just needs time to grow. But is there enough time

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, October 15, 2021 at 9:08 a.m.

    Pepi is doing his job. Marking the CF tight is common and creates space elsewhere. CBs cannot tightly mark the CF and provide cover for the fullbacks at the same time (unless we play dumb). Just as CP draws extra coverage creating space elsewhere. The objective is to punish teams for unbalanced defenses. Three dangerous forwards has been the bedrock of the USWNT's style of play since Anson Dorrance coached them. 

  7. Grant Goodwin, October 14, 2021 at 10:40 a.m.

    Just happy to see all of the players get on the field and contribute.  The US has such a vast array of talent all over the world.  It should be exciting for the foreseeable future.

  8. beautiful game, October 14, 2021 at 12:04 p.m.

    Much better team play and intensity, yet consistency in decision-making process is lacking.

  9. Billy Logan, October 14, 2021 at 12:51 p.m.

    Looked to me like Pepi drew a penalty when he was knocked down from behind. No?

  10. Billy Logan, October 14, 2021 at 12:52 p.m.

    An uncalled penalty

  11. R2 Dad replied, October 14, 2021 at 1:56 p.m.

    Yeah, you're not going to get that call in CONCACAF. Pepi has to learn the diving protocol but more importantly improving his finding the seam and creating space for teammates with his off-the-ball movement. He's very young and promising, so it's just a matter of time.

  12. Kent James, October 14, 2021 at 1:40 p.m.

    Calling Weah's goal an own goal seems harsh on the keeper and unfair to Weah.  It was a rocket from 8 yds out, narrow angle that the keeper did his best to stop.  We need to have a statistical overrule on this one, that goal should be Weah's...

  13. James Madison, October 14, 2021 at 2:44 p.m.

    Great efforts getting clear on the flanks, marred by either poor crosses or poor timing of runners or a combination of both.  Vigorous play marred in the final minutes---after the subs had been inserted---by sloppiness.

  14. Larry Chen, October 14, 2021 at 2:54 p.m.

    This group is being created for a SF run in WC26. If you had to choose between 1 or 2 .. which we you select ?
    1- Qualifying for WC22 but missing knock phase;
    2- Qualifying for WC26 & making a run to the SF;

  15. Larry Chen replied, October 14, 2021 at 2:56 p.m.

    Really messed up my comment but I hope you get the idea :-)

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, October 14, 2021 at 11:55 p.m.

    Larry, we don't have to Qualify for 2026... We are Host... 
    If we do 2022 properly, SF 2026 looks Good

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, October 17, 2021 at 10:17 p.m.

    Our presenters wanted the three countries to skip qualification as hosts, but it hasn't been decided yet. I don't see it happening. It isn't fair to the rest of CONCACAF.

  18. Ben Myers, October 14, 2021 at 7:41 p.m.

    "U.S. youngsters begin to live up to expectations".  How do these youngsters live up to expectations when they do not play, as in the Panama match?

  19. William Shine, October 15, 2021 at 11:34 a.m.

    In terms of the possible penalty call on Richards, I saw it as him cleanly getting his leg in the space between the CR player and the ball.  He has a right to that space and the attacker naturally ran over his leg.  No PK in my view but others may see it differently.

  20. Kent James replied, October 16, 2021 at 1:46 p.m.

    You are correct.  He's shielding the ball (which is playing it).

  21. frank schoon, October 15, 2021 at 12:15 p.m.

    "Beginning to live up to expectations"!!!... Against a team like CR which is an embarrassment to be called an opponent. Six players over 30, couldn't string 2 passes together, showed no fight, gave us tons of space and time, had one of their players on a break away all alone in front of our goal  too tired to even shoot , scored against us while we were all ball watching.....If  that is how you measure our improvement, count me out......

    When we play a team that virtually parked their walkers along the sideline, then I think it would have been better to take stock in the mistakes we made against such weak competition, in order to prepare against stronger teams; for these same mistakes will be made against better teams as well....

  22. Philip Carragher, October 15, 2021 at 12:57 p.m.

    I agree with Frank. Had this not been a WC qualifier but a friendly, I wonder how many comments would have called that game a waste of our time, called the coach and Ernie out for scheduling it, and insisted that, in order to improve, we need better competition?

  23. frank schoon replied, October 15, 2021 at 1:46 p.m.

    Philip, you're so right. I look at it this way. If we play a team that is below par, then we criticize and look for the mistakes we made so that we can improve on them for obviously if we make them against low quality team we'll make them against a better team as well.
    If we play against a super good team then we see how we can better judge how we are and what we need to work on.

    My men's team years ago beat this team in Northern Va. 17-0. It is still the record. I was so mad at them after the game, because you know when a team smells blood they forget and lose their discipline and individual roles and everybody wants to score. They couldn't understand why I was seething mad. While I was in Europe the following weekend, I called to find out how they did against the last place them....They lost 1-0. They couldn't put the ball in, although they hit the goal post numerous times. They knew then why I was so mad after the game for they didn't learn a thing and to top if off they lost against a weak team. How embarrassing...

  24. R2 Dad, October 15, 2021 at 9:15 p.m.

    I want to see Busio, Musah and Adams in the middle as the attacking/technical side against Mexico. GB wants to use a 4-3-3 but after looking at this more I think a 4-1-4-1 could work for us, too.

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, October 17, 2021 at 5:07 p.m.

    If the 433 has 3 CMs then there is no difference between the two "formations". It is just a matter of the labels you give to the persons functioning as wingers (winghalf or winger).

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