SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — Costa Rica demolished the U.S. 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, throwing the continued tenure of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann into question and raising concerns that the Americans may not have what it takes even to qualify for Russia 2018.
The brutal loss was the second in a row to start the Hexagonal, the first time the U.S. has ever done that in six editions of the Hex. The remarkably forgiving format—four of the six CONCACAF teams will likely qualify for Russia—means the U.S. still has time to recover and reach World Cup 2018, but it won’t have a chance with continued performances like this one.
The Costa Rica goals came from Johan Venegas, Christian Bolaños and two from Joel Campbell, with the last three coming in a 10-minute span in the second half, which blew the game wide open.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
Sunil Gulati has a decision to make
On Friday before the Mexico game, the U.S. Soccer president went out of his way to say that the U.S. hasn’t fired a coach during World Cup qualifying since 1989 and didn’t expect to this time around either. But the loss to Mexico, keyed largely by Klinsmann’s overly risky decision to change up the U.S.’s formation, and a truly abominable performance on Tuesday in Costa Rica have to make you wonder if Gulati is rethinking that statement.
There’s plenty of time between now and the next World Cup qualifiers in March for a new coach to come in and get settled, and it just so happens that former U.S. coach Bruce Arena, the most likely coach to come in if a change was made, is out of contract with the LA Galaxy at this point. Will Gulati consider making a move?
The U.S. misses Geoff Cameron
Cameron is more than just the U.S.’s best center back. He’s also the vocal leader when he’s on the field, organizing the back line and setting up everyone else to take their defensive cues off of him. Cameron doesn’t get enough credit for that, but maybe he will now that the U.S. has lost two straight World Cup qualifiers without him on the field due to injury.
The U.S. was a step slow all over the back line on Costa Rica’s opener, from Omar Gonzalez’s lack of pressure on the cross to the space John Brooks gave Venegas on his header. There were other breakdowns on that play, including Jermaine Jones’s poor backpass to Brooks, but it wouldn’t have played out that way had Cameron been on the field.
Things just got worse on the succeeding Costa Rica goals: Brooks had an awful night, and Timmy Chandler continued to underperform in a U.S. uniform. Cameron makes other U.S. players better—especially Brooks, who was terrific next to Cameron in Copa América but struggled mightily on Tuesday.
The U.S. central midfield needs something to change
Klinsmann stuck with Jones for a long time in this game—too long. Consider: Jones had played close to one full game in 13 weeks due to injury when Klinsmann went with him ahead of Sacha Kljestan against Mexico. At least Jones had plenty of energy against Mexico, but that was absent for much of Tuesday’s game, and he continued to have difficulties completing passes (even some that were unchallenged). Jones should have come off for Kljestan at halftime, but that didn’t happen either.
Bradley hasn’t been perfect by any means, but a partnership with Kljestan would have worked better in these games. A lot needs to change between now and next March. Jones and Chandler will be suspended on yellow cards for the next qualifier against Honduras.
Will Klinsmann still be around to choose their replacements?