By Ronald Blum
HARRISON, N.J. (AP) — The United States put its hopes of an eighth straight World Cup berth in peril, giving up a pair of goals to Marco Urena in a 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday night that brought the Americans’ resurgence under coach Bruce Arena to a crashing thud.
Urena spun around defender Tim Ream, then caught Tim Howard leaning and beat the goalkeeper to the far post in the 31st minute. Urena, the lone forward in a 4-5-1 formation, doubled the lead in the 82nd with a shot from 18 yards after David Guzman intercepted a poor pass by Geoff Cameron.
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 reach next year’s tournament in Russia.
It was just their third home loss in qualifying since 1985 — and came 16 years to the day the U.S. and Arena lost 3-2 to Honduras at Washington’s RFK Stadium.
With three games left in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the United States was clinging to third place — the last automatic berth — and results later Friday could drop the U.S. down the standings.
The Americans play at Honduras on Tuesday night, then 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.
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 Jozy Altidore just before Urena’s second goal.
Many Costa Rican fans were in the 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 pro-American crowds.
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.
Mexico and Costa Rica lead the standings with 14 points each, followed by the U.S. with eighth, Panama with seven, Honduras with five and Trinidad with three.
In later games, Honduras was at Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico hosted Panama.
While the top three teams qualify, the fourth-place finisher advanced to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 team.
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 under Arena, winning home qualifiers against Honduras and Trinidad and gaining draws at Panama and Mexico.
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 pass to Urena.
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.
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, who played for New York at Red Bull Arena in 2010-11, played the ball back to Howard rather than advance it upfield.
Cameron’s gaffe led to Urena’s 13th goal in 56 international appearances.
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