HARRISON, N.J. >> With another stunning home loss, the United States’ hopes of reaching an eighth straight World Cup berth are in peril.
Marco Urena took advantage of defensive mistakes to score in the 30th and 82nd minutes, giving Costa Rica a 2-0 win tonight that brought the Americans’ resurgence under coach Bruce Arena to a crashing thud.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves, and we’re not,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. “We’ve got three games to play like our lives depend on it, and we will.”
Urena dribbled around defender Tim Ream, then caught Tim Howard leaning and beat the goalkeeper to the far post for the opening goal. The lone forward in a 5-4-1 formation, Urena doubled the lead with a shot from 18 yards after David Guzman intercepted a poor pass by Geoff Cameron.
“On the night, we didn’t make any plays that mattered. We were probably outplayed in most positions on the field and made some critical errors,” Arena said. “They outplayed us and outcoached us tonight.”
Mexico leads the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 17 points and clinched tonight, and Costa Rica is second with 14.
“It’s not complete yet but this is a very important step,” Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said through a translator.
The U.S. is third with eight points, ahead of Honduras on goal difference. Panama has seven points, and Trinidad and Tobago three.
“It’s going to be a battle amongst the remaining four teams,” Arena said.
The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place team advance to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 finisher.
“It puts more pressure on us,” Howard said, “but we’re still right in the thick of it.”
The Americans have lost two home games in a World Cup cycle for the first time since 1957 and likely will need points on the road to qualify. They play at Honduras on Tuesday and close the hexagonal next month at home against Panama and at Trinidad and Tobago. American forward Jozy Altidore is suspended for Tuesday’s game after an 80th minute yellow card for pushing Johan Venegas.
The U.S. opened the final round with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 rout at Costa Rica, causing the USSF to fire coach Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the Americans’ coach from 1998-2006. The U.S. had been 9-0-5 since Arena’s return, winning home qualifiers against Honduras and Trinidad and gaining draws at Panama and Mexico.
Christian Pulisic, the Americans’ emerging 18-year-old star, had the best U.S. scoring chance in the 67th minute but was denied by goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who batted the ball with his right hand off his right foot, and it was cleared to safety. Navas then made a sliding stop on Altidore just before Urena’s second goal.
“He had a tough game today and obviously they paid a lot of attention to him,” Arena said of Pulisic. “I think he got a little frustrated.”
Many Costa Rican fans were in the sellout crowd of 26,500 at Red Bull Arena for the first World Cup qualifier in the New York area, avoided in the past by the U.S. Soccer Federation as it sought overwhelmingly pro-American venues.
Arena repeatedly hectored Panamanian referee John Pitti, who did not call penalty kicks when Altidore was pushed to the ground in the first half and Clint Dempsey was knocked down in the second.
Desperate for a goal, Arena finished the match with four forwards after inserting Dempsey in the 65th minute and Jordan Morris in the 84th.
Costa Rica went ahead after Howard cleared the ball to past midfield and the Ticos won possession. With Ream and Cameron split wide, Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz played a through ball to Urena — the U.S. claimed Ruiz handled the ball before passing. Urena took several touches to get around Ream and from a wide angle spotted Howard committing to his left to defend his near post. Urena slotted the ball to the far post, past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right arm.
“I was worried about him slotting it to the near post,” Howard said.
Ream, taking over from injured John Brooks, was paired with Cameron in central defense for the first time. Just before the goal, Arena slapped his arms in disgust when Ream played the ball back to Howard rather than advance it upfield.
“We got split there, our center backs, which shouldn’t happen,” Arena said.
Cameron’s gaffe led to Urena’s 13th goal in 56 international appearances. The U.S. quickly turned its attention to Tuesday.
“We’ll have to go to Honduras now and win,” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “There’s no question about that.”