Soccer Outsider: USA-Costa Rica match diary, player ratings

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The U.S. men’s soccer team has never won in Costa Rica. Ever. Not in the ‘50s, when we would slap jerseys on the staff of an Italian deli in St. Louis, not at the height of American popularity in Central America in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and not when John Harkes and Tab Ramos were wearing those floppy pirate-shirt jerseys in the ‘90s. Never.

One of the main culprits was San Jose’s intimidating Saprissa Stadium, but FIFA has declared Saprissa unplayable. By comparison: The Raccoon Den (RFK) is still FIFA-approved! Now we get to play in the brand new Estadio Nacional, which was built by the Chinese government in exchange for Costa Rica ending diplomatic relations with Taiwan. I’m tempted to denounce that as a craven sellout, but I have to ask myself: Who would I sell out for a new D.C. United stadium? I would denounce my mother as a communist sympathizer for a 25,000-seater at Buzzard Point.

Michael Bradley limped off after warmups Friday night — he’s a scratch. I’m suddenly realizing I don’t believe any of that “we’ve got depth!” BS I was spouting during the Gold Cup. The lineup is: Howard | Beasley, Besler, Gonzalez, Orozco | Fabian, Jones, Cameron, Zusi | Donovan, Dempsey.

After the U.S. anthem, we got this announcement (it came in Spanish first): “Ladies and gentlemen, we now listen national anthem Costa Rica.” Yeah, I could have guessed that was coming. It would be weird to line the teams up and then play Steppenwolf for 10 minutes. Here’s kickoff…

1’ – Is that William Wallace doing color commentary? Or a sentient haggis? Ah, no — it’s the inimitable Ray Hudson.

2’ – Sloppy play (along with a missed offside and a hand ball) leads to a save from Howard! Costa Rica has a corner…

2’ – And a goal! Acosta got in front of Dempsey and made no mistake with the header. Terrible, terrible start. This reminds me of the last time the United States was here; Costa Rica scored early and the Americans were never really in the match.

6’ – The United States is rattled, looking uncertain and slow. The next 15 minutes are just about survival; if the Americans can get through without giving up a goal, then maybe we can think about getting back into the game.

8’ – Dempsey mowed down at the top of the 18, but no call. Someone leaned to Aron Johansson on the bench and said, “It’s always like this.”

9’ – Goal Costa Rica! It’s a disaster, an embarrassment. They’re being being torn apart. Nothing is going right. It’s not too late to recover, but the first step is to show signs of recovery. Right now, they’re simply playing like crap.

12’ – The biggest advantage Costa Rica had at Saprissa was that terrible field, which was basically like playing on a giant mouse pad. But good news for the Ticos: The field is still terrible. It looks like the golf course at the end of “Caddyshack.”

15’ – Michael Orozco is a road cone on the right. Something needs to change, and fast.

18’ – The Americans’ entire “offense” so far is hopeless long balls. I feel like I’m watching D.C. United.

20’ – Where are Johnson and Zusi? Did they miss the team bus? They can’t be on the field.

23’ – Costa Rica gets behind the defense again, but Orozco slides in and makes the block! Good last-ditch defending by Orozco, bad first-ditch defending by Orozco.

25’ – Play-acting by the Costa Rican ‘keeper. We’re about to see more bad acting than an episode of “JAG.”

28’ – Navas makes a great save off a Johnson volley! The first bit of actual soccer from the United States leads to a good strike. Maybe they’re catching their breath.

30’ – New rule: no passes longer than 15 yards. Because they haven’t connected one all night. Add this to the “Beasley doesn’t shoot from more than 10 yards” rule.

33’ – Donovan has started to act as a fulcrum but Dempsey doesn’t understand what kind of game he’s in. He needs to get his back to goal and make himself available.

40’ – Penalty kick United States! BeIN continues their cutaway fetish so we didn’t see what happened in real time, but the replay shows Johnson being brought down by the ‘keeper. I don’t think that was a “denial of a goal-scoring opportunity” red card, but it could have been a red card for a rash, two-footed challenge. Seems that Zusi was clever with a quickly-taken free kick.

42’ – Dempsey steps up. Why Dempsey, not Donovan? This should be Donovan. This should be Donovan. This should be Donovan. Goal! Navas got a hand on it but it’s a goal! Wow, am I glad that went in. I did not want to dive into the “who should have taken that?” controversy.

43’ – One more rule: Landon takes the penalties.

Halftime: 2-1 Costa Rica. The Americans got smacked like knuckles at a Catholic school, but strangely they have the momentum. One obvious change: Orozco needs to hit the bench and start massaging Altidore’s hammy, move Cameron to right back and bring in Beckerman or Johannsson.

46’ – No changes. I don’t agree with that. How could Klinsmann conclude “I like what I’m seeing”?

51’ – The United States has come out of the locker room well. I don’t imagine Klinsmann yells much, but maybe his half time positive energy puppet show did the trick.

55’ – Donovan finds Dempsey, and Dempsey puts it off the post! Donovan and Dempsey … with no Bradley or Altidore, that’s the combo that has to get it done.

56’ – The longer the Americans play well, the more Costa Rica’s “this should already be over” nerves will build.

57’ – Eddie on for Zusi. Landon will move to the wing, because Eddie has a classic case of striker’s hair.

62’ – Cameron goes in the book, and he’ll miss the match against Mexico. But his play tonight was already going to keep him out against Mexico.

70’ – Jimmy Chitwood – I’m sorry, Jozy Altidore – in for Fabian.

75’ – Goal Costa Rica! Out of nothing – a clearance gets all the way through, as Besler can’t catch Campbell! What a dagger – they’re just making too many mistakes.

77’ – Now Besler gets a yellow card for reasons we may never know. BeIN — which loves to show replays of goal kicks and linesmen raising their flags — decides not to show a replay of the incident.

78’ – Let me identify this as the precise moment when all the good will built up during the winning streak was exhausted.

90’ +2’ – NO! Jozy with a very stupid yellow card, and he’ll miss the Mexico match! NOOOOOOOOOO! JUST DON’T DO EXACTLY THAT!

Full time: 3-1 Costa Rica. Embarrassing loss, injury to Bradley, stupid yellow to Jozy in stoppage time, Mexico lost in Azteca and will be desperate on Tuesday. This night is a full-blown disaster.

Player ratings:

BeIN Sport: 0. There are morning announcements at junior high schools with better production value.

Howard: 4.5. I wasn’t going to say this, but after tonight I might as well: On current form, Guzan is slightly better than Howard.

Beasley: 4. In the Bob Bradley era, the DaMarcus Beasley-at-left-back experiment started and ended in Costa Rica. I don’t think he’s lost his spot, but it was another rough night.

Besler: 3. On the third goal: I don’t expect a center back to be able to run down a striker. But I expect a center back to be positioned well enough that he doesn’t have to run down a striker.

Gonzalez: 3. The defense was bad, the passing was atrocious. Way too slow.

Orozco: 2.5. So, tell me again … what did Timmy Chandler do that was so terrible?

Cameron: 3. Great reporting on Bradley’s injury, BeIN (they didn’t say a word). He could have a mild sprain or his tibia sticking out of his skin — I have no idea. Cameron made us miss Bradley even more.

Jones: 3.5. Every third pass went straight to Keylor Navas.

Fabian: 3. Lucky for him, his two best plays will show up on the highlight reel. But I watched the other 88 minutes.

Zusi: 3. If Zusi saw Michael Orozco pinned under a barbell, would he help, or just stand there and say “dude … good luck!” Because that’s an apt analogy for what happened tonight.

Donovan: 6. Give the armband to whoever you want; without Bradley, Donovan is the obvious leader of this team, and he acted like it tonight.

Dempsey: 3.5. I was prepared to give him a “2” after the first half, but he woke up in the second. I’d like to see him prove that his move to Seattle won’t damage his form.

Eddie: 3.5. Addicted to the back pass — he’s the Debbie Downer of counterattacks.

Altidore: 0. That was the dumbest yellow card I’ve seen in my life. He just damaged his team’s qualification prospects for no reason at all. Idiocy.

Johannsson: No rating. He’ll benefit from what I call the D.C. United Striker Ascendancy Theory: He who plays the least gains the most.

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Steven Goff · September 7, 2013

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