HARRISON, N.J. – It was a night of frustration for the US national team, who struggled to consistently find their movement and spacing in the final-third against a compact Costa Rican side in a 2-0 loss on Friday at Red Bull Arena.
Most noticeably, it was a difficult night for young star Christian Pulisic, who rarely found the ball with time or space. The attention from Costa Rica forced the Borussia Dortmund winger to stay wide and isolated, not letting him cut in centrally. As the game wore on, Pulisic was starved for quality touches, dropping back deep into the midfield to find the ball and posting four shots on the night, with only one on target.
“He had a tough, tough game today. Obviously they paid a lot of attention to him. You could see early in the game, they sent a second player to him; I think he got a little frustrated,” head coach Bruce Arena said after the loss.
“They defended very well against. Give them credit, they came out with a very aggressive posture and pressed us up the field. Clearly, conceding the first goal, they weren’t going to come out a whole a lot so we had to try and break down seven, eight players for long periods of the game.”
Early pressure by the Ticos seemed to knock the USMNT off their game. After the opening 15 minutes, where forwards Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore were making runs and receiving balls in their channels, the Costa Rican backline stayed the course. Their back five cut off service as their holding midfielders shifted in front to clutter the angles for the United States.
Then, when Costa Rica scored in the 30th minute against the run of play, they were happy to sit back and clog things up centrally.
“The first goal was important. I thought we had five or six good advantages in the first half that we couldn’t get right in terms of the timing of the last movement,” captain Michael Bradley said. “When they made the play there to go up 1-0, it was going to be an uphill battle to get back into the game.”
Bradley didn’t characterize Costa Rica's defense as more committed – “nothing more than usual” – but it was clear the combination of good defense and lack of incisive attacks on the US side did the job.
While Pulisic did direct an attempt on goal in the 67th minute, a deflected shot that Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas somehow got his right hand to, it was a frustrating night for the United States and their teenage star. In total, the US had 14 shots but managed just two on goal.
They won’t panic ahead of Tuesday’s match at Honduras (5:30 pm ET | beIN Sports, NBC Universo), as the US remain in third place, the final automatic qualifying spot in CONCACAF, but hold it over Honduras only via goal difference. Still, the next game looms for the North Americans.
“I don’t know if you’ve been around the past year, but qualifying has been in jeopardy since last year for most teams,” Arena said. “Right now, Mexico and Costa Rica – I would think, I don’t know the math and all that – have likely qualified. So it’s going to be a battle amongst the remaining four teams.”