This writer pleads with U.S. Soccer to avoid playing future World Cup qualifiers at Red Bull Arena. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer)
By Michael Lewis
What a debacle.
That is the only way to describe the U.S.’s 2-0 crushing defeat to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier.
A few thoughts from Friday Night’s Fright at Red Bull Arena:
It was the worst shutout home loss in U.S. qualifying history. The only other time that happened to the Americans? By the Costa Ricans in a 1-0 result that eliminated the U.S. from contention for the 1986 World Cup on May 31, 1985.
That defeat was devastating. The team played lousy.
This one was a damning result in so many ways, but certainly not the end of the world or the World Cup for the U.S. With three games remaining, the U.S. still can book a spot at Russia 2018. It probably will have to win two of its final three games to secure a berth, starting with a Tuesday confrontation in Honduras. At one time, a draw seemed to suffice. Now, a win is mandatory if the Americans want to offset Friday night’s headache of a loss.
The final two games are set for Panama in Orlando Oct. 6 and in Trinidad & Tobago Oct. 10. Both games are doable, but it certainly won’t be a bed of roses.
As for Friday’s game, when I saw the Americans’ Starting XI, I immediately questioned head coach Bruce Arena’s decision to start Tim Ream. No problem with Geoff Cameron (even if his passing blunder led to the second goal), who consistently has been the Red, White and Blue’s most consistent defender.
I always thought of Ream as cover at center back for the national side, someone to bring in when there was an injury, not necessarily a first-choice there. While Arena did not criticize the former Red Bull, Ream struggled in the back, having an early pass intercepted and then, of course, Marco Urena beating him on the goal that lifted the Ticos into a 1-0 advantage.
While I have agreed with many of Arena’s tactical decisions through his comeback run as coach, I have to deeply question utilizing Ream as a starter. Bad decision, as simple as that.
Speaking of decisions, here was the U.S., struggling through the first half and the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Yet, no substitution was made until the 65th minute.
Way, way too late. If Arena said that the U.S. did not play well, he should have made a change at halftime. And if needed, then bring someone on in the 60th minute and again sometimes around minute No. 75.
Who knows? Perhaps an early sub still would not have made a difference with the way the team was playing. But his substitution was off-kilter.
His substitution pattern for the night?
* Clint Dempsey for Jorge Villafana in the 65th minute
* Jordan Morris for Graham Zusi in the 84th minute
* And Paul Arriola for Christian Pulisic in the 87th minute
Way, way, way too late.
If you think two players can help turn things around dramatically and drastically in only six minutes and some stoppage time, you have another thing coming.
As for the future of WCQs in New York/New Jersey, don’t hold your breath for one any time soon. Yes, it was a sellout in the most beautiful stadium in all of Major League Soccer, but playing an international match of any consequence in the most cosmopolitan area in the world has its risks. In the most cosmopolitan area in the world — what? 30 million-plus people and counting in the region — there are hordes of fans from every country in the world who would love to root their national team on.
That’s why U.S. Soccer avoided NY/NJ for years, outside of friendlies or U.S. Cup games. There was always that possibility of a crowd rooting for the visitors. Some fans complained that there were more Costa Rican supporters there than they counted on and wondering how that happened. Just wondering if Red Bulls season ticket holders sold their tickets they bought on the secondary market and you don’t know who is buying your seats.
While I certainly enjoyed having a qualifier in the area as a New Yorker, my unsolicited advice to U.S. Soccer in the future:
Avoid NY/NJ like the plague for future qualifiers, please, please. There are plenty of soccer-specific stadiums that will sell out, such as Kansas City, Kansas, Commerce City, Colo. and Sandy, Utah, among others.
Let’s use this as a lesson learned, a lesson learned the hard way.
And that goes double for the national team on the field as well.