All the USMNT had to do to qualify for the World Cup was forfeit and take a 3-0 loss, instead they played soccer. Costa Rica would need to win by six or win by another number of goals and have Mexico lose and other things that are more math than soccer hopefully wouldn’t be relevant for the match anyway in order to qualify outright. Or there’d have to be an even more improbable set of events to see the Ticos eliminated.
The Americans set out a strong lineup as Gregg Berhalter sought to finish the qualifying campaign with a win. Tim Weah and DeAndre Yedlin were back following their suspensions and Ricardo Pepi was back at striker. Notably, Berhalter went with a more defensive option in midfield with Kellyn Acosta getting the start of Luca de la Torre.
Costa Rica went with playing the kids in an effort to give younger players a shot and keep others in danger of yellow card suspension available for the World Cup playoff game against New Zealand.
In the end, there were some weird vibes. The USA didn’t need to win but couldn’t lose by more than six but wanted to win for the first time in Costa Rica. It almost felt like a really important friendly. The Ticos scored two goals on set pieces while a strong effort from Keylor Navas kept the Americans off the scoresheet. It might have been a loss, but at the end of the day the USMNT has achieved its goal of qualifying for the World Cup.
GIFS OF not a lot really, this was a weird one
Costa Rica’s 4-4-2/5-4-1 formation did what it was meant to do and gave the USA possession, but pressed the Americans to slow their build up in the back, and then fell back into well organized blocks of four or five and four. The Stars and Stripes could get to the edge of the 18 but not work much into the box and did plenty of fouling to slow the visitors’ attack down.
Miles Robinson did manage a shot that Keylor Navas initially dropped, it looked like maybe the ball would backspin it’s way into goal, but it wasn’t meant to be. The result was that the first 30 minutes saw a bunch of corners, but few real chances for the USA.
After taking a knock early in the first half, Tyler Adams came off to begin the second 45 for Luca de la Torre. A free kick for the Americans nearly gave the USA a 1-0 lead but a header from Robinson was pushed away by Navas, the Americans managed to work a cutback to Walker Zimmerman, but the center back sent his shot soaring toward Nicaragua.
DENIED BY KEYLOR NAVAS pic.twitter.com/cdUTFK18pq— Watch Costa Rica vs USA on Paramount+ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 31, 2022
Just five minutes into the half, Costa Rica broke the deadlock on a corner that the Americans probably could have defended better, but did come thanks to a very well placed kick. If you watch the replay, the ball clearly strikes the back of the net and then bounces back to hit Zack Steffen in the head... it would be that kind of night for the USA.
Juan Pablo Vargas with the header to give Costa Rica the lead over the USMNT. pic.twitter.com/S4XPZhIvzx— Watch Costa Rica vs USA on Paramount+ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 31, 2022
The Americans then forced Navas into another save and... promptly gave up the second goal of the game. Occasional sloppy defending hasn’t been badly punished by opponents of the USA so far in qualifying, but the backline failed to clear three chances following a Costa Rica set piece and punishment was doled out.
ANTHONY CONTRERAS MAKES IT TWO FOR COSTA RICA . pic.twitter.com/YFdiFO6hW1— Watch Costa Rica vs USA on Paramount+ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 31, 2022
Following the goal, Weah, Yedlin, and Pepi made way for Gio Reyna, Shaq Moore, and Jesus Ferreira. Things then calmed down and the Ticos stopped scoring every eight minutes. The Americans would work a few more shots as Reyna gave a boost of energy and creativity to the USA in the attack.
In the 79th minute Navas would need to come off after jamming his leg in the turf after charging out of goal attempting to close down Pulisic. While the Ticos were solid defensively, the netminder was definitely the difference in the game as a few American chances would have been good enough to beat other less world class keepers. With about 10 minutes left Pulisic also made way for Jordan Morris after a solid showing both creating chances and being a punching bag for Tico defenders.
As it wound down, the match seemed to lose its steam. Perhaps the Ticos realized that the comeback wasn’t on or the Americans wanted to keep things at 2-0, but it never seemed like a third goal was coming. After four minutes of stoppage time, the official blew the whistle and the USMNT would celebrate a successful failure by losing but qualifying for the World Cup anyway.