SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Much of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure at the helm of the US national team has been defined by his team’s ability to bounce back during their toughest times.
After a humiliating 4-0 loss to Costa Rica in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in San José, which matched this summer's Copa America Centenario semifinal loss to Argentina as the worst margin of defeat in the Klinsmann era, the veteran coach might not get the opportunity to captain a turnaround this time.
“This is the defeat that hurts the most in my five years here, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann told reporters after the game.
Klinsmann repeatedly said that he takes full responsibility for his team’s inability to respond to Friday's shocking last-minute defeat at home against rival Mexico. On Tuesday, he said his team was unable to restore any momentum after another last-minute goal – this time from Costa Rica in the waning moments of the first half – gave Los Ticos a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.
“We had some chances but I think they gave us a psychological knock with that goal right before halftime,” he said.
Costa Rica proceeded to score three more goals in a 10-minute span in the second half as the US backline completely broke down. Defender John Brooks, who gave up the 89th minute goal against Mexico, was repeatedly beat by Ticos strikers Johan Venegas and Joel Campbell, who combined for three of the team’s goals.
Klinsmann stood up for his 23-year-old center back, saying it would be too easy to blame him for the mistakes made across the board. While he made a surprising decision to come out with a new-look 3-5-2 lineup against Mexico, only to switch midway through the game, the USMNT began Tuesday's game in their familiar 4-4-2 formation.
Even with four in the back and well-versed roles in midfield, the visitors were unable to contain Costa Rica’s high-octane attack from the get-go.
“There’s always things you look back on and think you should have done differently,” Klinsmann said when asked about his game plan. “It’s not about the system.
“It’s about the willingness to fight back, and after the second goal they didn’t have that power or that drive to get back into the game.”
The loss sinks the US to 0-9-1 all-time in World Cup qualifiers in Costa Rica. More importantly, it means the Yanks are without points from the first two games of CONCACAF Hexagonal play. If they are to rally from these early stumbles and earn one of this round's three automatic qualification slots for Russia 2018, they will have to become the first team in CONCACAF history to finish in the top three of the Hex after opening the stage with two losses.
When asked if he believed he was the right man to turn it around one more time for the USMNT, Klinsmann said he was.
“I understand there will be a lot of your comments,” he told reporters. “But that is part of the job.”