“It’s really disappointing to watch the team, especially when we are not playing as good as we know we can play,” said Robinson, a standout left back who, like goalkeeper Zack Steffen, did not travel to Panama to avoid a pandemic-related quarantine when they return to their English clubs later this week.
“It was a bit of an off-day,” Robinson added. “Having to watch and not being able to try and help out is frustrating.”
Disappointment came in not just the result but the performance, and it resonated with both the traveling party and the group that watched in Columbus, which also included midfielder Weston McKennie (quadriceps injury). The team was whole again Monday, committed to getting back on track after its worst display in five qualifiers and its first defeat since a May 30 friendly in Switzerland.
With nine matches left, the Americans (2-1-2) sit in second place behind Mexico (3-0-2) in an eight-nation regional competition that will send three teams directly to the World Cup in Qatar and another to a playoff. The defeat in Panama dropped them only one spot, but it left less room for error in coming games and sounded alarms about depth, decisions and execution.
“We were off,” Coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Make no mistake about it: It was not a good game by us.”
Berhalter came under fire from fans and media members about his seven lineup changes and whom he selected. The group was never in sync, played passively and created no serious scoring opportunities. Five second-half subs did not make much of a difference against the energetic and confident hosts.
After the match, Berhalter took responsibility for the outcome, but Tuesday he offered no remorse for his choice of players.
“We believe in every single player, and I don’t regret in any moment playing that lineup,” he said. “I regret more of our performance and attacking adjustments we could’ve made but not personnel.”
Changes were necessitated by the congested schedule — three matches in seven days and travel to and from the most southern country in Central America — and by how back-to-back appearances would affect certain players.
Forward Ricardo Pepi, who scored twice against Jamaica, recently has been playing 90 minutes every game for FC Dallas. So to ensure he was ready for the match in Columbus, Berhalter used him as a sub in Panama. It was the same arrangement for Brenden Aaronson, a terror on the left flank against Jamaica.
Midfielder Yunus Musah, a sensation last week, played only the first half in Panama. Defenders Miles Robinson and Sergiño Dest and midfielder Tyler Adams also should be ready Wednesday. Robinson and Dest did not play in Panama; Adams entered at halftime.
McKennie and Antonee Robinson (minor knee ailment) were slated to test themselves at the team workout Tuesday evening. Robinson seems further along than McKennie. “The signs are [McKennie] is making progress, but we’ll have to see in training,” Berhalter said.
Besides fielding a strong lineup, Berhalter will need to see his team play with greater intensity and initiative. It was flat Sunday, an unmistakable drop-off following an effervescent performance against Jamaica.
“It’s massive,” center back Walker Zimmerman said of the Costa Rica clash. “We all have to be up for it. There is no other option. You look at the home games — those are the games you have to win. They become increasingly more important when you don’t get a result on the road.”
Costa Rica (1-1-3) revived its World Cup hopes Sunday by recovering from a halftime deficit to defeat El Salvador, 2-1. Four years ago, the Ticos delivered a damaging blow to the U.S. campaign with a 2-0 victory in Harrison, N.J. And, as usual, they won the home leg against the Americans.
Unlike the United States, the Ticos rely heavily on players in their 30s. This week, they lost forwards Joel Campbell (ankle sprain) and José Guillermo Ortiz (positive coronavirus test). The replacements are Christian Bolaños, 37, and Álvaro Saborío, 39.
“Their strength is experience,” Berhalter said. “They’ve been through this before. They know exactly what it’s about [and] exactly how to get this job done. No surprise they climbed their way back into this.”
To prevent Costa Rica from overtaking them in the standings — and to get back on course — the Americans cannot afford another dud.
“A win puts us in a brilliant spot at the end of this [three-game] window,” Antonee Robinson said. “There is definitely pressure on the game. There is pressure on all the games because of what’s at stake at the end of it — qualifying for the World Cup. That sort of pressure we enjoy.”