BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, October 14, 2009
United States vs Costa Rica
World Cup Qualifying - Wednesday October 14, 2009
The resiliency of the USA was once again put to test Wednesday night as they overcame a two goal deficit in the second half to earn a tie with Costa Rica and finish atop the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings.
Despite having already clinched a place in next year's World Cup in South Africa, USA Coach Bob Bradley started a strong lineup featuring regulars Tim Howard, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Landon Donovan.
The team was playing just one day after learning that their starting forward, Charlie Davies, was seriously injured in a car accident early Tuesday morning. Fans in attendance paid tribute to the fallen player by holding up signs that simply read "9," a reference to the number Davies wears for the Stars and Stripes.
"We're happy he's alive; that, in and of itself, gave us a lift," Tim Howard described. "Charlie would give anything at this moment to put on a jersey and to have it all back. You almost feel lucky and privileged, and that was motivation for us."
So as the Americans were playing with heavy hearts hoping to honor their injured teammate with the result, Costa Rica entered game needing a win to secure automatic qualification to their third straight World Cup.
A failure to win against the USA combined with a Honduran win over El Salvador would drop Costa Rica into fourth place in CONCACAF and into a playoff series with the fifth place South American finisher for a final berth in the World Cup, confirmed just before kickoff to be Uruguay.
Following the opening whistle, the Americans started the game with most of the pressure and possession. In the tenth minute, they had a great opportunity to take the lead when Altidore found a wide open Conor Casey making a run alone on goal. Casey, the hero in Saturday's 3-2 win against Honduras, however failed to capitalize as he shot the ball well over the cross bar.
The USA continued to generate most of scoring chances but it was the Ticos who struck first 21st minute when forward Bryan Ruiz beat Onyewu off a dribble on the left side and fired a shot past Howard.
Just three minutes later, Costa Rica capitalized again and doubled their lead when Ruiz fired home a perfect 22 yard left footed shot to the upper left corner leaving Howard no chance to prevent the 2-0 deficit.
While the first half ended with Costa Rica clutching on to their two-goal lead, the major story of the game to that point was the Americans' poor finishing. Donovan along with forwards Casey and Altidore all saw multiple chances each go to waste.
"We did finish the first half pushing hard. We had a number of really good chances at the end of the first half. We talked about the fact we needed to continue in that regard," coach Bob Bradley said of the first half. "The biggest thing I was unhappy with was just sometimes we weren't playing the ball fast enough."
The second half saw the USA increase their pressure but their run of poor finishing continued.
This finally changed in the 72nd minute when Michael Bradley pulled the USA back a goal when he was in place to score off the rebound of a Donovan shot. For Bradley, it was his third goal of the final CONCACAF qualifying round.
In the 83rd minute, the USA suffered a major setback when Onyewu landed awkwardly after making an effort on a header in the Costa Rica penalty area. The 27 year-old defender immediately signaled for medical attention and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher.
At that time, the Americans had already used all three substitutions and were therefore forced to play the remainder of the game with only ten players on the field.
Adding to the late drama, shortly before the start of injury time in the 89th minute Costa Rican head coach Rene Simoes was ejected from the game for arguing with the officials in an incident which lasted for several minutes, contributing to the five minutes of stoppage time awarded.
Despite playing a man down, USA kept up the pressure and continued to create a flurry of scoring opportunities in the dying moments. Their hard work finally paid off in the fifth and final minute of injury time when a corner kick by second-half substitute Robbie Rogers found an unmarked Jonathan Bornstein who headed the ball into the net for a dramatic equalizer.
"We threw a lot of numbers in the box. I usually don't go up for corner kicks. Usually I stay in the back. This was a last shot effort," Bornstein said of the goal, his first in World Cup qualifying. "[Robbie Rogers] put in a good ball and I found myself wide open, no one marked me. I kind of snuck in there, the ball just kind of fell on my head and I put it away."
The 2-2 final score combined with Honduras' 1-0 win over El Salvador meant that Costa Rica dropped to fourth place in CONCACAF. They will now have to play a difficult two game playoff series next month against Uruguay, South America's fifth place finisher, for a World Cup berth.
Also in CONCACAF qualifying, Mexico tied Trinidad and Tobago by an identical 2-2 score, with the result ensuring that the USA achieved their stated goal of finishing first in World Cup qualifying. The Stars and Stripes finish with 20 points, one point ahead of archrivals Mexico.
After the game, concern centered on Onyewu who was diagnosed with a torn left patellar tendon and is expected to miss up to four months of action.
"Obviously we've had two days of tough news. [Onyewu] has been such an important part of our team," coach Bradley explained. "But again, that's normally three to four months. He's going to get back and he's going to be ready to go, but nonetheless it's another setback for us."
The draw also marked the fifth time in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying that the Americans earned a result in game in which they had been at some point trailing. It was also the second time in qualifying that they managed to turn around a two-goal deficit into a draw.
"When any team goes down it becomes a little bit more urgent," Altidore said following the game. "But we have to do that from the [start]. We were too lackadaisical in the first half. In the second half, the energy was there [and] we matched them physically. We got more chances and fortunately we put them away. "
"You have to look at the whole game," Bradley said about his team's ability to raise its game when trailing. "You have to look at the things you've done well and you have to look at areas you need to improve. In that regard it's a plus that we can compete and keep pushing when we're behind, [but] it's a minus, of late, we've had too many situations where we have to."