The United States and their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia were dealt a major blow following a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica.
It was a USA-based player who heaped misery on the Americans as San Jose Earthquakes forward Marco Urena scored twice for Costa Rica on Friday.
Urena held off Tim Ream to sensationally score past Tim Howard from an acute angle in the 30th minute before sealing the points on the counter-attack with eight remaining in Harrison, New Jersey.
The result saw second-placed Costa Rica move level on points with Mexico – who are scheduled to play later on Friday – after seven games, and left USA on eight points and facing the possibility of being leapfrogged by Panama and caught by Honduras for the third and final automatic qualification spot.
There were five changes to the USA team who beat Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in July, with Borussia Dortmund sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Fabian Johnson, Ream and Geoff Cameron coming into Bruce Arena’s starting XI at the expense of Kellyn Acosta, Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas returned to the Costa Rica line-up, along with Bryan Oviedo, Cristian Gamboa, Celso Borges and Cristian Bolanos, who did not start in Costa Rica’s 2-0 loss to USA at the Gold Cup.
Playing for the first time since claiming their sixth Gold Cup title to move within one of Mexico’s record, USA looked below par at Red Bull Arena.
While USA struggled, Costa Rica were composed from the outset, comfortable in possession as they pushed forward away from home.
Appeals for a USA penalty were turned down by the referee in the 24th minute after Jozy Altidore fell to the ground inside the box following a low cross from Pulisic.
There were some encouraging signs for USA fans but the Costa Ricans were first to strike on the half-hour mark.
Urena – in space between two USA defenders – received the ball and while he was shown the line by Ream and forced away from goal, he managed to beat Howard with a low shot across goal and into the far corner.
USA had a chance two minutes into the second half when Ream rose highest to meet Graham Zusi’s corner but his header bounced into the ground and over the crossbar.
Navas was called into action in the 67th minute and he had to be at his best to deny the Americans after using a strong hand to stop Pulisic’s deflected shot.
The Madrid keeper was at it again with nine minutes remaining as he came off his line to prevent Altidore from equalising and that led to a counter-attack, which Urena completed with a fine finish into the bottom corner.