By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The United States had clinched its World Cup berth four days earlier and was safely on its way to South Africa next summer for soccer's quadrennial party. But after defender Jonathan Bornstein scored on a header with seconds remaining in a 2-2 tie with Costa Rica before 26,243 at RFK Stadium last night, the Americans celebrated as if they had just earned a bid all over again.
As the Costa Ricans fell to the soggy turf in disbelief, an imminent World Cup slot derailed in agonizing fashion, fireworks boomed overhead and smoke obscured the revelry at midfield. Another evening of great theater by the U.S. team capped the 16-month qualifying odyssey and provided a dose of joy in the wake of forward Charlie Davies's automobile accident early Tuesday.
"It was a hard week for everyone," midfielder Landon Donovan said, "and it was a nice night to do something special."
The incredible finish ruined Costa Rica's pursuit of the final automatic berth from CONCACAF, the region encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean. The Ticos (5-4-1, 16 points) must now play Uruguay, the fifth-place team in South America, in a two-game playoff next month.
At Costa Rica's expense, Honduras (5-4-1, 16 points) claimed third place behind the United States (6-2-2, 20) and Mexico (6-3-1, 19) by virtue of a 1-0 victory at El Salvador on Wednesday and superior goal differential against the Ticos in the final round.
Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz scored twice in a brief span midway through the first half, but Michael Bradley countered in the 72nd minute and, in the fifth minute of added time, Bornstein drove a seven-yard header off Robbie Rogers's corner kick into the lower right corner.
The rejoicing was tempered by an 83rd-minute injury to veteran defender Oguchi Onyewu, an Olney native who, according to Coach Bob Bradley, tore his left patella tendon and won't be able to play for his Italian club, AC Milan, for at least three or four months. Onyewu's knee gave way while backpedaling in Costa Rica's penalty area, and because Bradley had already used his three substitutes, the Americans played shorthanded the rest of the match.
The Ticos looked as though they'd withstand the U.S. pressure, but Bornstein was left unmarked.
"I don't usually go up for corner kicks, but for that one, I was like, 'I am getting in there -- this is like a last-shot effort,' " said Bornstein, a left back from MLS club Chivas USA. "The whole team wanted to go out and put a good effort for Charlie, for his family, for everyone involved in the situation."
Davies was on the mind of both players and fans. In the ninth minute, hundreds of spectators honored Davies by holding up sheets of paper stamped with his uniform number ("9"), a poignant campaign that spread via Internet message boards all day.
Davies remains in serious condition after being involved in a one-car crash on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. He had surgery for a fractured femur and tibia in his right leg, a broken elbow, facial fractures and a lacerated bladder. Another passenger died and the driver was hospitalized.
Early Wednesday, Bradley visited Davies at Washington Hospital Center. Davies, 23, will remain hospitalized for at least a week and faces six months to a year of recovery, ending hopes of playing in the World Cup and jeopardizing a promising career.
"We're happy he was alive and that, in and of itself, gave us a lift," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Charlie would give anything at this moment to pull on a jersey to have it all back, and so you kind of feel lucky and privileged -- that was motivation for us."
A goal would have punctuated the ninth-minute tribute, but with a delightful opportunity to put the Americans ahead, Conor Casey, the two-goal hero of Saturday's clinching victory over Honduras, missed terribly. It was the beginning of a frustrating evening for the Americans, who squandered several chances before rallying late.
Though hardly in desperate need of a win, the Americans had plenty of motivation: the desire to finish ahead of nemesis Mexico in the CONCACAF standings -- perhaps enhancing their seeding at the World Cup draw in December -- and to avenge a 3-1 loss at Costa Rica in June.
Ruiz shattered the deadlock in the 21st minute, collecting a pass in stride in the penalty area and turning on Onyewu to bear down on Howard. Carlos Bocanegra, Onyewu's central partner, was slow to cover, allowing Ruiz to slide a shot under Howard.
The large Costa Rican contingent was still buzzing when Ruiz struck again in the 24th, a picturesque drive from 22 yards that streaked beyond Howard's reach and reached the upper left corner.
The Americans dominated the remainder of the half, to no avail. Donovan's finishing touch was particularly faulty and goalkeeper Keilor Navas batted away crosses and commanded the penalty area. But in the 72nd minute, after Donovan's low bid was stopped, Michael Bradley swept in the rebound.
In the late stages, Onyewu was carried off on a stretcher, chaos erupted on the sideline as Costa Rican bench personnel berated the fourth official, and on a final, desperate bid, the Americans' persistence paid off.
"We're very proud to win the group. It took a real determined effort," Bob Bradley said. "Tonight is not the way you draw it up on the board before the game, but it still showed the mentality, the spirit."