By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Never has the U.S. men’s national team celebrated a World Cup qualifying defeat like this.

Despite dropping a 2-0 decision to Costa Rica, the USA qualified for the World Cup for the first time since the 2014 competition, at Estadio Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica on Wednesday night.

Due  to a superior goal differential – +13 to +3 – over the hosts, the U.S. would have needed to have lost by six goals to deny their qualification to Qatar.

The Americans booked a spot in the World Cup for the eighth time in their last nine attempts since 1990. They also put the ghosts of 2017 behind them. Five years ago, the USA failed to qualify f or the 2018 World Cup in Russia when its lost at Trinidad & Tobago, 2-1.

The win ensured the USA with a third-place finish in the Concacaf Octagonal. The top three teams receive automatic qualification to Qatar, while the fourth-place side, Costa Rica, will meet New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand in the Middle East country on either June 13 or 14.

The visitors have never won a WCQ in Costa Rica, as they are winless in 11 matches (0-10-1).

“It’s amazing what this group of guys have been able to do this last seven months and really seen the team grow,” USMNT head Gregg Berhalter told Paramout+. “And this is a great accomplishment and we’re looking forward to the World Cup.”

Veteran defender DeAndre Yedlin, who played the full 90 minutes in that loss in Trinidad, put Wednesday’s match into context.

“It’s not the way we want to end the night, but it’s it’s about the journey,” he said. “This obviously was a small step, a little slip up in the journey by the end of the day we achieved what we want to achieve. And that’s to qualify for the World Cup. So I’m just so happy for this whole group, for the federation, for the country.

“I spoke to the guys before the game and I just thanked them for giving me a chance to redeem myself and giving the country a chance to redeem itself, giving the federation a chance to redeem itself because obviously, we slipped up four years ago and now we’re at a point where we qualify for the World Cup.”

Asked about the maturation of the team from when qualifying started in September until now, Berhalter replied, “It’s hard to describe really how quickly the group learned what these games are about what what what qualifying in Concacaf really is. And then the next man up mentality. The guys didn’t skip a beat. Whoever’s available just came in and did their jobs. It’s a really special thing. It’s a good group of guys.”

Berhalter became the first USMNT player and coach to qualify for a World Cup.

“I don’t think that’s sunk in yet,” he said. “Just being at the World Cup as a player is one of the most special things you can do. You think about the world stage and the gains and the impact the games have and how the nation’s behind you. It’s really a beautiful thing. And now to be doing it as a as a coach with this group of players is something special.”

The USA faced a much less than optimal Costa Rican lineup as head coach Luis Fernando Suarez decided to rest several key players and instead deployed an extremely young Starting XI. The hosts’ field players had perhaps three dozen total caps, including three players making their international debuts in contrast to 35-year-old goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who had 105 matches under his belt. The Central Americans did not start their top three scoring threats – Joel Campbell, Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz.

The Ticos had nine players on yellow cards and Suarez obviously did not want to lose anyone for the intercontinental playoff.

Early on, it appeared the USA played as though it needed goals and not the host side.

In fact, the first half seemed to be a clinic of defending set pieces by the Ticos, whether it was deflecting corner kicks by Christian Pulisic or free kicks by Kellyn Acosta. The visitors enjoyed a 60-40 possession advantage and attempted seven corner kicks to the Costa Ricans’ two.

Navas certainly had a busy opening half, stopping three shots, two of them difficult saves.

He had an easy save as defender Miles Robinson headed the ball softly to him, off a Pulisic free kick from the right side in the fourth minute.

Four minutes later, Navas was really tested. Robinson drilled a shot from the left side of the box. The ball slipped out of Navas’ hands and was heading for the net before the veteran keeper managed to grab it in mid-air to keep the game scoreless.

Navas was called on yet again in the 13th minute as he knocked away a hard shot by Ricardo Pepi from the right side.

At halftime, U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter took out midfielder Tyler Adams, who suffered an apparent leg injury, and replaced him with Luca de la Torre.

Despite the USA taking more corner kicks, Costa Rica broke the ice, scoring one of its own in the 51st minute. Brandon Aguilera swung a corner into the area that Juan Pablo Vargas headed past goalkeeper Zack Steffen from six yards.

The Central American side took advantage of some sloppy defensive play by the visitors in the 59th minute, as Steffen was caught well out of the net. Jewison Bennette found an unmarked Anthony Contreras in front of the goal as he tallied from close range to increase the lead to 2-0.

Realizing the USA needed fresh legs, Berhalter pulled off a triple substitution in the 61st minute, bringing on Shaq Moore, Jesus Ferreira and Gio Reyna for DeAndre Yedlin, Ricardo Pepi and Tim Weah, respectively.

Navas was forced from the match with an apparent knee injury in the 79th minute. Esteban Alvarado came on for the veteran netminder in what could have been Navas’ final WCQ match in San Jose.

Some 15 minutes later, it was time for the USA to celebrate. The Americans did in their locker room as champagne flowed to celebrate a World Cup qualification for the first time since 2013.

“It was a full-on party,”Berhalter said. “These guys earned it they deserve it. Although we’re disappointed with the results tonight … we’re in the World Cup.”