USMNT vs. Costa Rica: Americans Hammered 4-0

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Joe Hojnacki

Four days after the United States Men’s National Team floundered away their dos a cero winning streak against Mexico in Columbus, they traveled down to Costa Rica and came back with only more pain and misery. Goals from Johan Venegas, Christian Bolanos, and two from Joel Campbell sent them crawling back home with a 4-0 loss and a nothing for two record to open the Hex.

USMNT vs. Costa Rica: Americans Hammered 4-0

The United States was heading to Costa Rica in search of something they had never found there before, a win. They needed it, too. A loss would mean they’d start 0-2 in the Hex for the first time since this format was adopted. Sloppy play in the midfield and defensive apathy made sure that they would not leave with that treasure.

Poor Midfield Play Set the Tone

Even though Jurgen Klinsmann came out in the much demanded 4-4-2 formation that he switched to against Mexico, there was still a massive disconnect between the midfield and forwards. Much like the first half against El Tri, Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore were more or less non existent. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Fabian Johnson were unable to punch their way through Costa Rica’s front lines and set up their strikers.

The only attacking player making any sort of threat was Christian Pulisic. He was the only one capable of running by any Los Ticos defenders before setting up a cross. The team was aching for a true midfield fulcrum. They needed a player who could distribute the ball at will to set up the forwards. Sacha Kljestan was the name immediately coming to mind.

The Defending Was Woeful

The real issue was the defending. Costa Rica earned a couple chances that ended in wayward shots. In the 42nd minute, they would go on the board through a Johan Venegas header that can be attributed to poor positioning from Timmy Chandler and John Brooks. Chandler was too far up the pitch, which allowed Christian Bolanos to get free for an easy cross. Brooks was caught ball watching and not pursuing Venegas as he made his run through the penalty area. The Montreal Impact striker was gifted the open header thanks to a simple cross and made sure Brad Guzan never stood a chance in goal.

The same thing happened on the second goal. There was nobody at left back to prevent Bryan Ruiz from bolting up the wing and picking out Bolanos for the header. At that point, the USA was in full desperation mode. They tried to pour numbers forward, but they lacked the ability to set up the forwards for anything dangerous.

That forward play allowed Joel Campbell to get free on a long ball for the third goal. It certainly didn’t help that Brooks misplayed the ball in the air. At that point, the team just stopped playing, period. Campbell put home a second when the defensive line didn’t even bother to mark him.

Full back play was costly all night. Either Matt Besler (normally a center back) would find himself drifting too far towards the middle or Chandler would creep too far forward. Both situations opened up space along the wings and directly led to the first two goals. Several other chances were created out wide for the same reason.

Klinsmann’s Job Must Be in Doubt

Instead of earning a landmark win, the USA instead pursued personal lows for futility. It was their first four goal defeat since 1968. Their first time going four goals down since the 1950s. Jurgen Klinsmann will no doubt be constantly reminded of these facts as the assault on his job status continues.

His growing number of critics will also point to his lack of ability to adapt to the glaring issues from the Mexico game, His use of experimental tactics in one of the biggest game of the World Cup cycle, and his inability to trot out a consistently effective lineup. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

His substitution plan was awful in this match. Down 2-0, he decided to bring on Lynden Gooch. It was a great idea. They needed his speed to try and crack the Costa Rican defense out wide. However, they pulled Christian Pulisic for him. Pulisic was the one force in the midfield that was making an impact. A more logical change would have been to pull Fabian Johnson, who was having an awful night on the ball and was more or less absent on the attack.

Johnson ended up coming off for Graham Zusi after the third goal had already gone in. DeAndre Yedlin, a more like for like switch for Johnson, was sitting on the bench aching to see the field.

World Cup Qualifying will now take a long winter’s break with the United States in last place in the Hex. It picks up again in March. The USA will next host Honduras on March 24 and then travel to Panama four days later. It’s going to be a long, cold winter for the USMNT as they try to find a way to dig out of this deep hole.