The United States went into this weekend’s home match against Costa Rica with the path to Russia laid out in front of them. All they needed to do was get 6 points to get in, and at the least get 4, to almost guarantee a spot in the World Cup. Then, it all went wrong.
Soccer is a match that primes itself on momentum; an intangible source of strength a team can gain to pull off almost any upset in the sport. The United States had momentum in spades going into the match against Costa Rica, going unbeaten in all 14 matches in the year of 2017 and winning the Gold Cup. But those 14 matches don’t matter in World Cup Qualifying, as anything can happen against anyone in those 90 minutes. And in New York against Costa Rica, it all went wrong for the United States and it all went right for Los Ticos.
Everyone knew Costa Rica’s initial gameplan; sit back for the first 20 minutes and keep the score 0-0. For those who don’t know soccer well, this is the best thing you can do when you feel you are the underdog; don’t let the team get off to a good start. They could not have executed that gameplan any better; keeping the United States to a goose egg through the first 20 minutes. They held a solid backline and they weren’t letting Pulisic or any playmaker get the ball in dangerous areas (except once). They were going to let the United States play with it all day, knowing that all they needed was one single chance to break through and deliver a crushing blow to the Americans.
The first 20 minutes weren’t all bad from the Americans, as they enjoyed most of the possession and were beginning to pose a threat to Costa Rica. It was clear the Yanks were trying to get the ball to Pulisic as much as they could, and although they rarely forced it to him, they created a style that was too one-dimensional. Costa Rica pressured him every time he got the ball to the point where he wasn’t given a foot of space when the ball was at his feet. They were extremely physical every time the ball was received, making Pulisic (only 18 years old) very frustrated. It was all working for Costa Rica, and it paid off in the 30th minute.
After absorbing pressure for 30 minutes, Costa Rica took advantage of one of the worst defensive moments I can maybe ever remember from the Americans. After winning a header in the middle of the pitch, Costa Rica played a through ball into the biggest piece of land in the United States behind the Grand Canyon, as Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron were about 20 yards apart. Marcos Ureña took the ball into the box, forced Tim Howard to overcompensate his front post and slotted a shot home to put Costa Rica up 1-0. Since maybe 5th grade every Center Back is taught to stay compact in the middle when the other team has the ball, especially on the counter attack. Instead, this was Cameron and Ream:
Yeah, big no-no. The United States went into halftime down 1-0 and it didn’t get better from there. Costa Rica were happy to sit back AGAIN, and let the pressure come to them forcing the United States to create. They were pressuring Pulisic and Nagbe, wasting time and making the Americans frustrated. They went on to score a winner off of another defensive howler from Geoff Cameron as he gave the ball away with an attempted pass from the back. The United States were exposed, and even if our best defender was out injured (Brooks) it was no excuse for the defensive breakdowns that occured. A horrible showing for the Americans as they dropped all 3 points in their home match in qualifying, which can be the sole reason you don’t make a World Cup.
It was a very similar story from the Americans in Honduras on Tuesday night. But this time literally nothing was set in place to go the Americans way. The game was played at 3:30 local time to take advantage of the 92-degree heat (felt like 110 at kickoff), the President of Honduras called for a national holiday so people could get to the game, the field might as well have been a field from a middle school, and the vuvuzelas were wailing at a bajillion decibels. Case in point; it is not easy going to a Central American country to get a win, period.
I’ll keep this one shorter; we played like shit. Very similar start to the game, as the United States held most of the possesssion early for the first 20 minutes as well as most of the solid chances. But something started to become glaringly clear; we were getting beat at the wing with Honduras’ pace. Even with the grass playing the ball slow, they were beating us down the wing the whole time. They almost never tried breaking us down throught the middle for this exact reason. They played Pulisic the same way that Costa Rica did; physical and with pressure. And what do ya know they scored off of a counter attack in the 27th minute off of another horrible defensive play; this time from Omar Gonzalez.
Another through ball played through our backline, but this time Omar Gonzalez was right on the ball and somehow let it roll by him. By the time he could make a play on the ball, Quioto the Honduran winger, had possession in the box after a failed Gonzalez tackle.
See that white thing above our defender’s foot? Yeah, that’s the ball. Why Omar Gonzalez didn’t make a play on the ball in that moment baffles me. Every American fan promptly after that goal, “Yup, here we go again!” At this moment, it looked as if America’s road to Russia looked improbable, as tempers rose and we weren’t getting through the Honduran back line for the next 50 minutes. Bruce Arena then switched to 3 at the back (which can turn into 5 if needed) and put more numbers in the midfield to try to string more passes together and alleviate the pressure on the wingers (an adjustment he didn’t make against Costa Rica). It began to work, but Honduras was wasting every second available knowing how crucial 3 points would be. Then off of a free kick in the 85th minute which created a scrum in the box, the ball fell to Bobby Wood (thank god it was a striker) and he just kicked it somehow into the net to give the United States the point it desperately needed. Was it ugly? Absolutely. Does any American give a shit? Absolutely not. We got the point that keeps us alive and still somewhat in the drivers seat to get at least the 4th place playoff spot.
Here is how we stood (top) before the game vs Costa Rica, and here is how we stand (bottom) now after Honduras.
The schedule to close it out in early October goes as follows:
The first set of games on October 6th have Panama @ United States and Honduras @ Costa Rica. If the United States get 3 points and Costa Rica get 3 points, the United States will be in 3rd place with a 2 point advantage on Panama and a 3 point advantage to Honduras. Then on the 10th, it’s the United States @ Trinidad & Tobago, Costa Rica @ Panama, and Mexico @ Honduras. BUT Honduras has a Goal Differential (tiebreaker after Head to Head) of -7, which is 8 less than the United States. Point being; if we can get 3 points, we don’t get blown out by Trinidad and Tobago the week after and Honduras only gets MAX 1 point from the games against Costa Rica and Mexico, we are guaranteed a spot in the playoff. Of course if we beat Panama and they only get a point at home to Costa Rica we would get the 3rd place spot and the automatic bid to Russia assuming at least 1 point in Trinidad.
Quick update on my record from Qualifying:
Went 1-1 in parlays and 2-2-1 in total predictions bringing my total to:
I’m hoping to post a quick preview for the premier league action before the weekend, but can’t guarantee anything.
May God bless us all, and may God Bless America.
Stay kickin’ it. Peace.