Tim Weah is about to score the game-winning goal, which was ruled an own goal. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
What began as nightmare start for the U.S. men’s national team Wednesday night turned into a dream finish.
After conceding an opening-minute goal, the Americans rallied for a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in a vital World Cup qualifying match at Lower.com Field.
Sergino Dest netted the equalizing score and set up Tim Weah’s shot that was ruled an own goal in the 66th minute to give the hosts much life in the Concacaf Octagonal before a sellout crowd of 20,165.
Anything less than a win would have been considered unsatisfactory for the Americans, who played horribly in a 1-0 loss in Panama Sunday.
The win lifted the USA to 3-1-2 and 11 points and retain at least second place, pending the result of the El Salvador-Mexico encounter, while the Costa Rica (6) dropped to 1-2-3.
The result gave the USMNT six points during the October window.
“We faced a lot of adversity so far, throughout this qualifying process,” USA captain Tyler Adams said. “We said coming into this it’s going to be a learning process. We had a little bit of a struggle in Panama a couple days ago. But the good thing about these three-game windows is you have another opportunity to bounce back. The team stuck together, dug in and I was really happy with the performance.
“We said coming into this window [that] we’re going take everything game by game and that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t look ahead. We didn’t dwell on the past.”
On the game-winning goal, Dest sent a short pass to Weah on the right side of the penalty area. The Lille forward penetrated and drilled a shot that hit the right post and then goalkeeper Leonel Moreira, who had replaced Keylor Navas at halftime, and into the net.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) October 14, 2021
Slowly but surely, things started to tip in favor of the younger Americans against the older Ticos, who tired as the game wore on. The visitors had several players well into their 30s in their starting lineup. That included 36-year-old captain Bryan Ruiz and the 34-year-old Navas.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter made 10+ changes from the 1-0 loss at Panama Sunday as he essentially implement the same Starting XI that was used in the 2-0 win over Jamaica last Thursday.
One switch was essential as Paul Arriola suffered an injury during pregame warm-ups and Tim Weah was inserted into the lineup only 10 minutes prior to kickoff.
The other change was shocking and controversial as Matt Turner, who has played so well for the Americans in qualifying and Gold Cup, was benched in favor of Zack Steffen. Steffen, who once played for Columbus Crew SC, has seen little action for Manchester City this English Premier League season.
With the game just getting underway, it looked like an horrendous decision, one that could get a coach fired.
Former New York City FC defender Ronald Matarrita, who now plies his trade with FC Cincinnati, beat r Dest down the right flank and floated in a cross to Keysher Fuller, who fired a shot, one bounce, past Steffen from eight yards exactly at the one-minute mark.
“It happened quick,” Steffen said. “It was a cross and Serg tried to block it. It felt like the guy was in front of me and I thought he was offside, or he was offside and blocking my view, but I’ll have to go back and look at the video and see it again.”
That early goal quieted the partisan-USA crowd down, as the hosts tried for the equalizer.
As it turned out, Dest can taken away and giveth as well. The Barcelona wing back equalized in the 25th minute with a spectacular strike from the edge of the penalty area, a curling shot from his left foot that landed in the upper left corner and out of reach of Navas.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) October 13, 2021
It was a team goal with several passes leading up to the score. Dest penetrated deep into the box before a left-wing air ball was sent to Yunus Musah. While the ball was in the air, Dest jogged out to the top of the area, from which he scored after Musah’s pass.
“I was just so happy,” Dest said. “We needed a goal … because the points are important. We all want to go through the World Cup, so I think it was really important.”
Added Adams: “Class man. He’s on his right foot, comes in on the left side. He has to strike the ball. He deserves that. He’s been working hard. It was good for the team.”
The goal snapped an eight-game, 428-minute streak in which the USMNT had failed tot score in the first half.
The USA dodged a bullet in the 37th minute, when center back Chris Richards came close to tackling Moya for a penalty kick in the box. Referee Daneon Parchment (Jamaica) thought it was a clean tackle and no call was made.
The Ticos suffered a bad break at halftime as Navas was forced out of the match with a right adductor injury. His understudy, Leonel Moreira, replaced him.
Moreira was called into action in the 55th minute when the Americans stretched the Central Americans’ defense a bit in the box. The USA, however, could not get off a dangerous shot as Moreira snared Brenden Aaronson’s shot from the left side.
A couple of minutes later, wily veteran Bryan Ruiz found himself on a breakaway, but the Costa Rican captain lacked pace and Miles Robinson easily swooped in to knock the ball away before he could get close to Steffen.
On Nov. 12, the USA will take on another Concacaf archrival in qualifying, playing Mexico a little further south in Ohio in Cincinnati.
Adams said the team was “going into the next window we go again in on a strong note. … Obviously Mexico is a very strong opponent. We’re excited to head to Cincinnati and have another home game. We’ll look forward to the crowd, the energy, stick together and will dig into trying to get our points.”