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September 2, 2011
USA falters against Costa Rica

Brek Shea’s solid play helped the U.S. dominate Costa Rica through the first 45 minutes of Friday’s 1-0 loss at te Home Depot Center.
Brek Shea’s solid play helped the U.S. dominate Costa Rica through the first 45 minutes of Friday’s 1-0 loss at te Home Depot Center.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
CARSON, Calif.—The U.S.A. got off to a promising start against Costa Rica Friday night, but faltered at the end of the first half and never recovered. Rodney Wallace’s 66th-minute goal provided all the offense the Ticos needed to hand coach Jurgen Klinsmann his first loss as U.S. National Team Coach, 1-0 at the Home Depot Center.

The first half offered a tantalizing glimpse of the chemistry still developing within Klinsmann’s heavily retooled U.S. lineup, particularly between FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea and forward Jozy Altidore, whose U.S. career to date has been notable mostly for its unfulfilled potential. Shea and Altidore factored heavily into back-to-back U.S. chances in the seventh minute. A quick give-and-go between the two down the left side drew the Ticos defense out of position, leaving Landon Donovan with a wide-open shot that he sent just wide of the right post. Seconds later, Shea found Altidore in the left side of the penalty area, and the former New York Red Bull put the ball into the outside of the net.

The U.S. held possession for most of the opening half, but as time wore on it was the veteran Donovan who became the focal point of the offense. In the 21st minute, Donovan’s 22-yard free kick cleared the defensive wall and passed inched over the crossbat. Seven minutes later, another Donovan free kick dipped dangerously off the far post, only to be plucked out of the air by goalkeeper Keylor Navas. And just before the half-hour mark, Donovan fed the ball deep into the area for Altidore, but Navas once again snatched it away.

Costa Rica were on their heels for most of the half, but nearly snatched a goal in the closing seconds of stoppage time. First, Randall Azifeifa got a long, low shot through the U.S. defense, forcing ‘keeper Tim Howard to make his first save of the match. Seconds later, Howard parried a point-blank screamer by Alvaro Sanchez over the bar, berating his defenders while Sanchez set up the ensuing corner kick.

Shea’s clever early pass through the six-yard box notwithstanding, Costa Rica retained the momentum going into the second half. The largely untested U.S. defense showed some ragged edges, with a pair of poor passes from Michael Orozco giving the Ticos a couple of openings that they were unable to exploit.

Near the hour mark, Russell Brenes latched onto the rebound of a blocked header, but sent his short-range shot straight at Howard.

The U.S. for most of the half contented themselves with an against-the-grain offense, coming closest to scoring in the 55th minute. Robbie Rogers brought the ball into the upper right side of the penalty area before centering for Altidore and darting in for the return ball. However, Altidore was whistled offside just as Rogers deposited the ball in the net.

The Americans had no choice but to pick up the intensity in the wake of Wallace’s goal. The 66th-minute strike was created by Real Salt Lake midfielder Alvaro Saborio, who split the U.S. backline with a perfectly-timed run and brought the ball deep into the right-hand side of the box before cutting it back through two defenders. Howard blocked Michael Barrantes’ initial, point-blank shot, but was no match for Wallace’s seven-yard diving header that deflected off the goalkeeper’s hand and into the net.

Slowly but surely, the U.S. regained control of the ball, and Jose Torres gave Navas an anxious moment in the 71st minute, with a 30-yard knuckler that the netminder inelegantly blocked out for a corner kick.

Shortly after, Donovan created a couple of dangerous U.S. chances, lofting in a free kick that was cleared out of the six-yard box, and sending a pass into the goalmouth for substitute Juan Agudelo, who tripped over falling defender Michael Umana and came up screaming for a penalty call.

Barely a minute later, Agudelo and Shea were both in the six-yard box going for a ball in from Sacha Kljestan, but could not manage a shot. The U.S. mounted another foray in the 78th minute, which did not produce a shot, but resulted in yellow cards to Shea and Kljestan after a rhubarb sparked by Shea’s bump-and-run with Umana as the ball was headed over the endline.

Navas was the hero for Costa Rica in the late going, blocking close-in shots by Agudelo and Shea. Two more U.S. shots, by Agudelo and Torres, were blocked at the top of the box as the match moved into stoppage time.

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