The US national team effectively placed their own backs up against the CONCACAF Hexagonal wall on Friday night, with an especially irksome showing that deserved the 2-0 loss they suffered against World Cup qualifying visitors Costa Rica.
With a few obvious exceptions, the Nats were alright between the boxes in the first half, but failed to make good on some dangerous attack postures. Unfortunately, their performance devolved into a messy, desperate second act that was duly shut down by the Ticos.
Tim Howard (3) - On most other days, Howard would have comfortably stopped both shots that got past him. He badly overplayed the angle on Marco Ureña's first. On the San Jose forward's second, the netminder kicked off the trouble with a poor long ball out of his penalty box and then was unable to make some signature kick saves.
Graham Zusi (5.5) - In the opening frame, the Sporting KC veteran enjoyed one of his more solid all-around right back halves in a US shirt. He made a couple of important interventions and sent some encouraging lead balls up the flank. While not as bad as several of his teammates after the break, Zusi did disappear from view.
Geoff Cameron (2) - Normally the best organizing force in the back line stable, Cameron complicated matters all night. He committed no less than five bad giveaways in the US end, culminating in the poor pass (and ensuing missed assignment) that aided Ureña's insurance tally. To put it mildly, this was a highly uncharacteristic display from the Stoke City stalwart.
Tim Ream (4) - Right off the top, the Fulham defender allowed Ureña to waltz past him for the opening goal after being woefully out of position to handle the initial lead pass. After that 30th-minute flub, Ream was actually decent at the back, piling up 14 total defensive stops to give the transition game a shot to get the team back in the game.
Jorge Villafana (5.5) - The left back really only got forward for one dangerous cross into the box, but did some decent work in his defensive corner. He doesn't always make it look seamless, but Villafana did snuff out a few potentially troublesome crosses and forced turnovers up the flank.
Michael Bradley (6) - The bald eagle should probably take the least heat after this miserable loss. Bradley stepped into several passing lanes, with a couple of his interceptions coming high up the field to spark quick counter moves. Aside from a pair of second-half turnovers in his own end, the captain passed fairly well considering how much chaos surrounded him. His patience teed up a couple of chances and he coolly picked out some runners with long lead balls.
Darlington Nagbe (6) - Like Bradley, Nagbe routinely did his damnedest to point the team in the right direction. The Portland ace took on defenders to reach the Ticos area and tried combos to bust into it. Both central midfielders would have benefited greatly from the lessened load of having some sort of playmaker ahead of them from the start.
Christian Pulisic (4.5) - It simply wasn't the wunderkind's night. Pulisic ate up valuable space on the dribble in the first half, only to lack the final pass. However, he was repeatedly relieved of possession while trying to do too much by himself after the break.
Fabian Johnson (3) - The 'Gladbach winger looked positively drowsy out there for much of the game. Johnson never tried to harass defenders like he usually would and his off-the-ball runs were wholly uninspired. To be fair, it was definitely too much to ask of him to start this key contest (let alone go the distance) with just a weekend injury-return cameo under his club belt since May.
Bobby Wood (4) - The Hamburg forward offered a good hold-up turn here and a nice bit of high pressure there. But he simply never found space to show off his finishing touch and to often handed the ball away cheaply when the hosts made it onto the front foot.
Jozy Altidore (5.5) - On the one hand, nearly every breach of Costa Rica's box came through the Toronto FC hit man, who linked far more cleverly than his strike partner. On the other, Altidore spent way too much time wandering out to the flank and took a wildly pointless yellow card that ruled him out for Tuesday's now-extra important trip to Honduras.
Coach Bruce Arena (2) - The boss has pulled the right levers all year long, but that certainly didn't happen on the night. The formation was naive. There were far too many starters operating two games (or in the case of Johnson, 10 minutes) into their club season. The adjustments were late and toothless.
Clint Dempsey (4.5) - Unlike in his previous "super-sub" attempts, our man Deuce provided nothing to change the tide.
Jordan Morris (-) - Came on too late to have any effect or share the blame.
Paul Arriola (-) - See Morris.